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Lions and Dogs and Baboons, oh my: Botswana February 2013 Trip Report


SafariChick

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SafariChick

Itinerary:

3 nights Little Mombo
3 nights Vumbura Plains
3 nights Chitabe
4 nights Little Kwara
3 nights Lagoon

I just returned from 16 nights in Botswana, and since some are clamoring for a trip report, and I do better when the memories are fresh, I’m going to try to start one now. But I warn you, I’m still bleary-eyed from about 40 hours of travel (including long layovers at Maun/Jo’berg and Heathrow) so hopefully this will actually make some sense!

Things started out a bit frustratingly as my first Air Botswana flight from JNB to Maun was delayed quite a bit. I can’t remember now how much but I didn’t end up arriving at my first camp, Little Mombo, until 3:55 p.m. - I think it was over an hour late, maybe 1.5 hours. I had hoped to have a little time to unwind before my first game drive, considering I had not overnighted in Jo’berg but rather had come directly from California via London, but I could see that was not to be.

When I had first arrived at the Maun airport, I was surprised how tiny it was! I was quickly introduced to my pilot, James, a young English guy who seemed to me right out of central casting: I mean I hadn’t thought about how a bush pilot should look but when I saw him, he seemed exactly right.

 

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The plane was tiny - 6 seats including the pilot’s. The passengers were a young couple on their honeymoon and me, plus someone who worked at Little Mombo returning to the camp. I am a nervous flier in small planes and felt glad when James said that we were very lucky that it was totally calm & sunny because he said it would usually be incredibly bumpy this time of day, but it would now not be.

The weather was warm and breezy, not too hot. It was hot in the plane hot until we took off, but then the vents worked well and we kept comfortable. After we took off, I relaxed. I just loved the view of green and waterways as far as the eye could see. I could not believe I was really there and seeing these beautiful views with my own eyes instead of on a computer screen, as I had seen them before.

 

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The other couple was dropped off first at Vumbura, then James took me the additional 10 minutes or so to Little Mombo. I felt very regal being the only passenger arriving in this little plane. Again, kind of was pinching myself that I was actually doing this! When I arrived, I was greeted by a guide named Tsile with a huge smile and very friendly, outgoing personality. He gave me an ice cold Wilderness water bottle, which I unfortunately ended up leaving at my third Wilderness camp, and began to drive me from the airstrip. He told me that Russell, who was to be my guide, was probably just leaving for afternoon drive with his other guests (Little Mombo only has 3 rooms so a maximum of 6 guests. Therefore, they allocate 1 guide for all of LM) so he was going to radio him and then drive me to meet him where I would go straight on to drive while Tsile took my bags to my room. Despite being rather tired from my trip, I was energized just being there and wouldn’t have wanted to miss a minute of drive, so this plan sounded fine to me.

As we left the airstrip, we saw an elephant, and then noticed a larger group. After driving a few minutes, Tsile stopped and said “ah, look!” I looked to my right and saw a pride of 7-8 lions resting very near the track on which we were driving, including the two below. I exclaimed happily “oh, wow, lions already!” or something to that effect.

 

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Tsile said, “yes, but look on THIS side”, pointing to the left. Unbelievably, walking even closer to us than the lions was a leopard!

 

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I’m thinking what?! Little Mombo is already living up to it’s reputation!

 

I will have to leave it there for now as family duties are calling but will continue ASAP ...

 

 

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Thanks, @@graceland   The next day was our last full day at Lagoon, another beautiful sunny day as all the days had been for me at Lagoon. I am trying to remember if this was the day that we had a

The next morning it was not raining and there was a pretty sunrise through white clouds.   P1110370   P1110371   P1110372   P1110374   I learned that no new guests were arriving that da

We soon met up with my guide-to-be, Russell Crossey. He was a charming, well-spoken and very knowledgeable South African who had been guiding for many years in Bots, and seemed to consider Bots his ho

Welcome back, SC. What a great start! It's going to be fantastic reliving the delta through you. Just back from safari myself. My post safari high is just about done after four days in the office. Thanks for your speed that puts most of us to shame although I will hopefully finish loading my pictures and start my own report soon.

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SafariChick

Thanks, AKR1! I so loved your trip report, so I do hope mine will "take you back" to your trip. I know that feeling of being back to work and the memories fading - I'll be back at work myself Monday - but I do look forward to hearing about your trip as well!

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twaffle

What a start, leopard and lion. Incredible.

 

I think your bush pilot could be a character in one of Tony Park's future books, looks the part.

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madaboutcheetah

Lovely start, SC - Hopefully you didn't forget the Kwando water bottle!!!

 

You must be tired from the long trip - but, I'm certain you will be all finished with this report by the time i return from Tanzania. Gosh, with the other on-going reports (Twaffle's among them), I'll have a lot of reading to do!

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SafariChick

We soon met up with my guide-to-be, Russell Crossey. He was a charming, well-spoken and very knowledgeable South African who had been guiding for many years in Bots, and seemed to consider Bots his home more than S. Africa these days. He guides at both Vumbura and Little Mombo and also does Wilderness Expeditions, though he was planning to start phasing the latter out, wanting to be based in one place more. The only other guests at Little Mombo when I arrived were an older English couple, very nice, who were on their sixth trip to Little Mombo! They were staying there for 6 days and going to Cape Town, no other camps. So I joined the vehicle and off we went.

 

The weather had become somewhat cooler and breezy, which was pleasant as I'd feared I'd be too hot the whole trip. The first things I noticed were a couple of beautiful trees: A Baobob with all its leaves (Russell said we were lucky to be seeing it with all its leaves as that only happens for about one month per year - I did not know that)

 

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and a Acacia

 

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We soon ran into a few elephants, one of whom trumpeted and acted like he might charge at us. I did not take a picture as this was occurring, though I did take a quick video in which I can be heard making some slightly worried sounds as I was not at all sure the ele was just pretending.

 

We passed some birds - a sacred ibis

 

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and a bunch of starlings. (As a side note, In fact I saw a TON of birds on this trip, which makes sense since it was the rainy season and one expects to see a lot of birds this time of year. I don't know that I'll have the energy to mention them all every time we saw them, and that would probably get boring to some anyway, but I'll mention some that I particularly liked or got a decent picture of. If anyone's interested, maybe I'll try to make a list at some point of the different birds I recall seeing on the trip. I'm not particularly a birder but I have to say I did gain a greater appreciation for them this trip than I had before, and there are a few of which I'm particularly fond).

 

We then just came upon another pride of lions, the Maporota pride (lions seem to just pop up wherever one goes around here, don't they?)

 

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There were seven of them there (I think this might not have been the whole pride). Russell told us they'd killed a buffalo three days earlier. They still seemed full and were resting, with one grooming another as you can see if you look closely at the above photo.

 

As we continued to drive around, we talked about what I hoped to see there. I mentioned that I was aware that Legadema, the leopard made famous by Derek and Beverly Joubert's film Eye of the Leopard, still lived at Mombo, and I wondered if I might be lucky enough to see her. Russell explained that she was seen that morning (and my vehicle-mates had seen her) so she was around, and we'd have to see if we were able to find her again.

 

I also said that I really really wanted to see the lone wild dog who interracts with the jackals. Russell mentioned that she'd been seen the day before and we'd also try to find her. We got into a discussion of the dog's unusual behavior and I learned some things I hadn't known about her. Apparently, she was the alpha of her pack, and all the other dogs in her pack were killed or died one by one until she was the only one left. Other packs of dogs have come through Mombo but she's never tried to join them, even though she clearly does crave social interaction as evidenced by her behavior with the jackals. Russell said the guides' theory on this is that if she tried to join another pack, she couldn't be the alpha and she probably wasn't comfortable in a lesser role. It's really amazing she's survived for several years on her own with all the lions around, hunting all by herself, etc. Russell also told me that a film crew had recently filmed her for a documentary - he said it was a cameraman from the Jouberts' crew but I read somewhere else that the Jouberts are not involved- so I guess we need to keep an eye out for a film starring Ms. Lone Wild Dog! Another interesting part of her story: I knew she'd taken care of some of the jackals' pups and regurgitated food for them as she would for her own offspring. What I didn't know was at one time, she actually "stole" the pups and took them off to a den of her own! The jackals, however, managed to steal them back (I think when she was off hunting). Despite that, they still continue to associate with each other. Russell said they like having her around as she shares food she kills with them, and she likes having them around for company and to help protect her when she sleeps as they are more watchful by nature and don't sleep for long, always looking around. All of this discussion about her was making me hope even more I'd get to see her!

 

As we continued to drive, we came upon my first lilac breasted roller which was one of the birds I could actually identify and also one of my favorites. We also saw herds of impala with babies, and this was a sight that would be repeated many times throughout the trip. So many babies! We next came upon a big herd of elephant, perhaps about 30 with a few babies that I had to try to capture. It's difficult as they are all constantly eating grass and moving and the view of the little ones would get blocked, but I managed to snap a few shots:

 

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Next we came across some hippos (of which I would see many many more on this trip - they probably should have been in the trip report title, in fact, though I'm not sure which I saw more of, hippos or baboons!), then a large journey of giraffes, maybe thirty or more, with babies. I didn't get a good picture of these, though I did get some better pictures of them later in the trip. The sun came out and it got warm but pleasant with a breeze, and we had a roof on the vehicle. We passed some zebra and another breeding herd of eles. We had now gotten to the area in which the dog was last seen, and we were all looking around when suddenly somone spotted her! She was just hanging out alone lying down looking around, sometimes getting up - we thought maybe looking for the jackals.

 

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I was so thrilled to see her, and she looked healthy to me, which I was glad to see. But I felt sad for her, being all alone. We stayed with her for a while, but it didn't appear she was going to go do anything and it was getting towards dark, so after a while, we left her there and continued on, figuring we'd try to find her again the next day. After that, I only wrote down that we saw a few birds such as a Saddle Billed stork, which became another of my favorite birds, and some Marabou stork, another favorite just for their distinctively morose look. I think I took pictures of them on other days as it was getting too dark for me to get a good picture with my limited camera skills. That was about it for the first drive, but I thought that was quite a lot! They do have to stop driving by 7 pm at Mombo, so we headed back to camp, but it really was plenty of time to get in a lot of good sightings.

 

Thanks for the encouraging comments, Twaffle and MAC - I'm glad you're enjoying it, and it is fun to do as I'm now getting to relive the trip! Oh and MAC, I did manage to come home with the Kwando water bottle!

Edited by SafariChick
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twaffle

It must be sad for a social animal to live alone but she seems to cope with it all. I love you little elephant, very cute. The baobab in leaf is really good. Continuing to enjoy it all very much.

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michael-ibk

Russell also told me that a film crew had recently filmed her for a documentary - he said it was a cameraman from the Jouberts' crew but I read somewhere else that the Jouberts are not involved- so I guess we need to keep an eye out for a film starring Ms. Lone Wild Dog!

 

 

First of all, great report and magnificent pics.

I have already seen the "Ms. Lone Wild Dog"-documentary, it was on TV here in Austria a few weeks ago. It showed her - called "Solo" - befriending the jackals, stealing their pups, the jackals stealing them back and a few encounters with other packs. It was said that she avoided them because the packs were too big and there was danger of them not accepting (and attacking) her. The docu is made by "Richard Mathews and Brad Bestelink".

 

I don´t know it this will work outside Austria but here´s the link to the trailer:

 

http://tv.orf.at/program/orf2/20121127/606884601/349336

 

And it´s even on Youtube, as I just found out, here:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaoODBgEEO8

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Great report so far.... I must get back to Botswana one of these days.

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Atravelynn

You started with a bang despite Air Botswana. Air Bots caused me to miss my first night on safari once and it got me home a day late too. Oh well.

 

What surprises me is that the Ms. Lone Wild Dog has not tried to join a pack of her own species when it has come through. How nice you could see this unusual occurrence in nature. Such a cute baby ele.

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Game Warden

Were you at Vumbura at the same time as Russel Friedman, founder of Wilderness? He took this series of images of a zebra birth... right place, right time :)

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Pennyanne

Wow! Your trip got off to a wonderful start, especially seeing Ms Lone Wild Dog. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the report.

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Lovely! Your leopard just as you left the airstrip takes me back to our first visit to Little Mombo back in 2001.

Happy days!

Can't wait to read / see more!

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graceland

How did I miss this last night! Well welcome back! Great start, and I may have had to STAY on the plane with that cute pilot! "Just circle the Delta, please" :rolleyes:

It is tiring to go straight out on a game drive after days of travel, but fortunately the first encounter makes it all so worthwhile!

 

Love the baby ellie, and of course the cats. The lone dog story did make me sad; they are so social, no wonder she is looking for "friends" and family!

Glad to hear Little Mombo lived up to its rep...and of course waiting for more!!

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I am loving and reliving Africa in your trip report. We were at Mombo in 2010 and spent time with the wild dog. She was usually by the air strip with her friends. The times that we saw her out hunting she was followed not only by the jackals but also a hyena. She also regurgitated for the young jackals. We will hopefully see her again this September. And, you did find Legadema I am certain....please write soon.

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SafariChick

Thanks again everyone for the nice comments!

 

Michael-ibk thank you so much for sharing that video - when I met a Canadian man later in the trip at Chitabe and mentioned the lone dog and her documentary, he told me he'd seen something on youtube recently that sounded like this - he didn't mention it being in German, so I wonder if it's also available with English narration? I will have to look, but meanwhile, my husband and I watched it this morning at 7 a.m. on my iphone after our dog had woken us up! Then I went back to sleep and just woke up again at 11 a.m.! I am tireder today than yesterday for some reason.

 

Lynn, I would have been so mad if Air Bots made me miss my first night at Little Mombo! I understand they used to have a monopoly on this route, but since there's now the option to use SAA (which I hear is more on time) I think that's they way I'd go next time.

 

Matt, no I did not hear about the zebra birth. From looking at the link you provided, it sounds like it was after I was there. I was there from February 7-9 and the link was dated February 22 and says it happened a few days before. That would have been amazing to see. It's funny as I think I actually asked Russell (my guide at L. Mombo who also guides at Vumbura) if they ever see births and he said it was extremely rare to see as the animals usually go off somewhere that's protected and hard to see.

 

Ok, I will continue with this in a little while once I've had coffee and am slightly more coherent.

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SafariChick

When we got back from the game drive, I met the manager, Kaylee (hope I am spelling it right), who was lovely, and got to see my room, which was massive. Actually too big, as I was constantly walking back and forth trying to remember where I left something! The food was great. Since it was Monday, it was "African" night and a large group came to sing and dance for us before dinner as we were having drinks, which was fun - until they made me get up and dance with them and I had a hard time with the rhythm - can I blame it on the jet lag? Luckily, there are no pictures of this, as far as I know.

 

The next morning, we got up bright and early and set off on our drive. Russell had mentioned that there had been lions in the camp at night and they were chasing buffalo - darn, why didn’t I look outside?! I did hear lions calling or roaring or generally making lion sounds but I didn’t realize they were chasing anything! I had actually heard baboons barking alarm calls that woke me up during the night, which must have been because of the lions.

As we drove out, we encountered some of the lions that had been chasing buffalo in camp the prior night lying on the road near the guides’ and manager’s houses. We paused to look at them for a little while, then had to drive around them off the road to get out of camp. We then passed a herd of elephants with babies.

I think Russell said he knew of a hyena den (I had mentioned being interested in baby animals of all kinds) and asked if we wanted to go see if there was any activity there. Of course we said yes. When we got to the den, we found the hyena mother outside, and a cub coming out to nurse - I was in heaven.

 

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After we watched the baby nursing for a little while, and watched a couple of older cubs come out and one of them play fighting with the younger cub

 

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We drove over to get closer to the den and found there were six cubs of the younger age group - Russell said they were about 6 months old - plus a couple of older cubs. The cubs were very curious and bold.

 

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They came right up to the vehicle and were very interested in the car tires and sniffing at the car - they were so close to us, I thought they might jump up onto the running board and try to climb in the vehicle with us!

 

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Russell said hyena always seem to be interested in sniffing the vehicles, and they may be trying to sniff to determine what other animals marked on the vehicle during the night. After they sniffed for a while, Russell made some little noise or hand motions to shoo them off as he said it’s best for them not to become TOO used to getting that close to humans. Here's a video I took of the hyena pups:

 

edited to add the video - it was in there but I somehow took it out, oops!

 

Edited by SafariChick
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SafariChick

 I thought the singing and dancing went on a little long but I still enjoyed it. I think that is probably the same Russell because I know he guided in the Kalahari too and did the Wilderness Expeditions or Explorations or whatever it's called where he takes a group from camp to camp, and I think private guiding as well. I found this with his bio and photo: (Scroll down)

 

http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/safaris/guide/our_people_detail.jsp?people_id=38819

Edited by SafariChick
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stokeygirl

In defence of the singing and dancing- I can see how this might seem cringeworthy to have the staff perform for guests but, having worked in camps I know that these are not instigated by management but by the staff themselves. The staff choirs are set up by staff themselves, and are actually a social activity and a relief from the daily grind of work and looking after guests. In an environment where there isn't much in the way of entertainment outside working hours, the forming of a choir is one of the few leisure activities available (along with football or volleyball). In fact, I know that the performance of choirs in camps is seen by "higher management" as an barometer of staff morale in general. I can see where .... is coming from (and that's my gut reaction too) but lots of guests enjoy these performances, and putting them on benefits the staff as much as it does most of the guests.

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madaboutcheetah
On 2/24/2013 at 12:56 AM, SafariChick said:

Thanks, .... I thought the singing and dancing went on a little long but I still enjoyed it. I think that is probably the same Russell because I know he guided in the Kalahari too and did the Wilderness Expeditions or Explorations or whatever it's called where he takes a group from camp to camp, and I think private guiding as well. I found this with his bio and photo: (Scroll down)

 

http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/safaris/guide/our_people_detail.jsp?people_id=38819

 

Off topic - the Motswana gentleman in the pic on top of the link, is Brooks Kamanakao ...... awesome guide. He was my first guide in Bots (also at Mombo) although many many years ago - 2003.

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SafariChick

 

Yes the expansive view of the aquatic grasses was lovely and relaxing. I too would sit on the comfortable outdoor couch on the deck outside my tent and watch birds and other animals. I didn't happen to see ny larger mammals from my room although the staff said usually lechwe could be seen out there, but definitely heard hippos tromping through the water at night! Yes, the bar was very nice to have and the fan over the bed surrounded by mosquito netting was very luxurious!

Edited by Tdgraves
A
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graceland

Love the hyena cubs...a great start at LM to your 16 days in Botswana.

 

 

For a time I did not want to be "entertained" by the staff; I "thought" management put them up to it - however, when we were at Duma Tau last Nov. and they put on a show "worthy" of touring, I talked to a few of the staff afterwards -and they did indeed say they looked so forward to it as it was their "release" from the stress of 24/7 for months on end.....that truly made me appreciate their efforts - and some very very talented singers and dancers. I certainly would not be invited to join!

 

So, no complaining from me after that experience; I agree with SG; they do need something to look forward to other than waiting on guests constantly, day in and day out.

 

Better than many "lounge" acts I've seen, btw.

 

SC - great report and so quick to it!

thanks! As usual, waiting for more! Any pics of Little Mombo????

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SafariChick

I agree it's tricky to know whether the staff enjoys it or not, though if they were not enjoying it, they were awfully good actors! Good to hear your insights on that, StokeyGirl and Graceland.

 

Sure, I can provide some pictures of camp, though I don't think I captured how pretty it is there.

 

View from the loo in my room/tent:

 

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P1100458

 

View from the sink area in my room/tent:

 

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The showers in my room/tent:

 

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Deck outside my room/tent with daybed looking out at aquatic grasses:

 

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P1100459

 

Deck in common area overlooking aquatic grasses - we saw a group of elephants tromp from one side to the other through the water here one night at the end of dinner:

 

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Baboon mama and baby on the walkway in camp:

 

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P1020295

 

Most of those were taken with my iPhone, by the way

 

Working on next installment ....

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SafariChick

We reluctantly left the hyenas and continued on, as there was more to be seen. Our morning drive continued with seeing warthogs with babies about six months old, and another that seemed younger, baboons including small babies, and banded mongoose at a termite mound.

 

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We passed by some Tssessebes and a big kudu bull

 

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and then stopped for our coffee and tea break.

After coffee, we found the lone dog at same place as she'd been the day before, lying in the shade at about 9 am. It was hot already by that time, but in the shade it wasn't bad. This time, unlike the day before, there was a jackal not too far away but it was not interacting with the dog, and it was skittish, running away when we approached. We examined the dog's belly and decided it didn't look like she'd eaten since the night before. She was not thin though, we still agreed she looked healthy. We sat with her for a while, to see if anything would happen between the jackal and her, but they never seemed to actually communicate. I don't seem to have taken any pictures of the jackal on this day, but I did when I saw them the following day so I'll post those when I get to that point. Here are a couple of the dog:

 

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P1100446

 

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Again, it appeared nothing was going to happen so after spending some time with the dog and jackal, we continued on. There were lots of butterflies all over, and flowers. I took this picture of a flower called a Flame Lily.

 

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P1100456

 

There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies all over too, which added to thel atmosphere.

That's all I wrote down for that morning's drive, so I think other than that we probably just saw general game, birds, etc. and headed back to camp for brunch, but it had been a good morning.

 

 

 

 

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twaffle

Enjoying going on this safari with you. Flame Lillies are wonderful flowers.

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