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Beginner's Luck? Botswana, April 2013


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I think that you deserve an award for putting up with those women!

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Me too!

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Those two women are as stupid as my two brothers. I also think you should win an award.

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I'm glad a fellow Portlander had such a great safari (vehicle mates from hell, and puking notwithstanding).

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Next up- Kwando Lagoon. Dogs! Cheetah! Dogs! Cheetah!


Just booked to return in October - so look forward to this!!!

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Ha ha ha, this is great. I wonder if the guide deliberately split mother and calf......not a very clever thing to do but desperation can make people do funny things. I tend to go along with things too as you never know what is going to happen anyway but I think visiting the spa at another camp would have been a step too far. Not asking you about it was pretty bad I think, but it's great you had a good outing in the end. Once we took our vehicle mates shopping in the Mara as we had run out of deodorant (guess who packed the old bottle instead of the new?) but we did ask them and in the end they liked it more than us.


Now you've ditched the awful women, spas and dodgy decor I think the trip is really going to take off.

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The baby banded mongoose are beautiful - please try to add some more photos of these in the "Show us your babies" section.

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The baby banded mongoose are beautiful - please try to add some more photos of these in the "Show us your babies" section.

Will do. I'm going to try and finish this report first...

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I drugged myself fully so as not to have a repeat performance on the bush flight to Lagoon. Bali picked me up at the airstrip and told me Spencer would be my guide (score!) On that afternoon’s game drive, I was pleased to discover that all passengers were completely within normal range with respect to conversation quantity, quality and decibel level. What a relief. Five minutes into the drive we came upon a leopard resting on a log. A beautiful cat!





All three vehicles that afternoon were sidetracked with this sighting for quite some time, and as a result, even though the guides knew where the dogs were sleeping that afternoon, by the time we got there they had already left on a hunt. We missed it. But the leopard was so beautiful I didn’t mind.


That night at dinner, I told Spencer that I had been reading about the Boys of Lagoon on Safaritalk and if there was any chance of seeing them, I was really, really interested. He said the brothers had gone their own separate ways for a while, then reunited recently and moved to the north. The last time they had been seen in the concession was three days prior to my arrival. It didn’t sound promising, but I was feeling lucky so I remained optimistic.


A huge bull elephant joined us for dinner, walking up to the large tree near the camp fire area. He rearranged some of the furniture, flicking a camp chair to one side with his tusk to retrieve a piece of fruit. Satisfied, he moved on and nothing was broken. It turned out to a full time job for staff to keep this elephant in line. He had pretty much taken up residence in camp and was ever present on the pathway from the common area to the rooms in the early morning, evenings and even sometimes in the middle of the day. Staff would shoo him away by following him around and clapping their hands.


The next morning, we set out to locate the wild dogs since we had missed them the previous afternoon. We found them enjoying a siesta with bellies already full. Now that their location was known, we could come back first thing during the afternoon drive and maybe watch them hunt.





We headed straight for the dogs in the afternoon. We didn’t have to wait long before the first dog woke up and decided he was hungry. The greeting ritual commenced with lots of face licking, vocalizations and scampering around. They sounded different than I thought they would. I would describe them as “squeaky”. With everyone awake and excited, they suddenly took off in the direction of a nearby waterhole. They took about 10 minutes to quench their thirst and grab an elephant dung appetizer, then they were off to look for something to kill.







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As the pack left the waterhole, they entered into a brushy area where a herd of elephants were feeding. All hell broke loose as the elephants trumpeted and ran around chasing the dogs out of the area. Spencer says nobody likes having the dogs around.


There were three vehicles and we each went a separate direction as the pack broke off into smaller scouting groups in search for prey. The alpha male is getting old and slow. He appears thin and frail and can’t keep up with the rest of the pack. His ears are tattered, he has lost his canine teeth and he can eat only internal organs. Spencer thinks this is his last year.



The group we were following are last year’s pups and they are inexperienced hunters. They try for an adult wart hog but don’t even come close. The alpha male is hanging back watching and waiting for something good to happen. After the failed wart hog attempt, the dogs take off again and we lose them for a while in the mopane. In just a few minutes we hear on the radio that the pack caught a baby warthog and it’s already gone. I later heard someone from the other vehicle describe one of the dogs as he pranced around with the warthog head in its mouth like a trophy, obviously very pleased with himself. A baby warthog didn’t sound like much of a meal for a pack of 20. Later that evening driving back to camp after dark, we find two dogs wandering around the airstrip. Spencer says they are likely roaming around out of hunger as they wouldn’t normally be active at night.


I wake up at 1:30 am. My tent/room is surrounded by very noisy grazing hippos. It sounds like they are ripping the grass up by the roots. They grunt and occasionally bump into the support posts of my tent. I need to pee. If I turn on the light, what, if anything, will the hippos do? As it turns out, they just keep eating.


Next morning, we find a momma hyena with a tiny cub in front of the den.




And some roan antelope.





A pretty slow morning, but I’m still feeling lucky. Not pangolin lucky, but fingers are crossed for cheetah even though the odds are stacked against me.


In the afternoon, Spencer finds leopard tracks - a large male, a “very nice specimen”. The leopard tracks lead to a waterhole where there are many hyena tracks and evidence of dragging buffalo hooves. Spencer is convinced that hyenas have raided a leopard kill at this location. We search around for quite a while, but all the players have left the scene. We find a lazy male lion. Not much to see here.




The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet. After sundowners, we are driving back to camp. The sun has set, but there is still a little light left. Spencer abruptly stops the vehicle and points. “Cheetah ears” he says. “He is watching us”. There are two black spots barely visible above the tall grass. I had seen it, but thought it was a piece of wood. Spencer slowly turns the vehicle into the grass and drives towards it. The cat runs. Not so much runs, but bounces, through the tall grass. We keep following very slowly and then suddenly two other cheetah jump up from their hiding places and now there are THREE spotted cats bounding through the grass right in front of the vehicle. Now we’re talking! Spencer stops the vehicle and turns of the headlights. We sit very quietly and listen. We can see one of the cats lying in the grass about 50 feet from the vehicle. There is still enough light that I can see it clearly with binocs through the grass. The other two cats are hunkered down a little further away. We sit until it is completely dark, waiting and listening. We can hear the other two cats moving through the dry grass, making their way closer to the cat nearest to us. Spencer is wondering if it is possible these could be the Boys of Lagoon? Why are they so skittish? He says he has never known the brothers to be shy around vehicles. Maybe because they have been out of the area for so long? He is not convinced. It’s a mystery to be left for another day. Everyone at dinner is envious. No one else has seen cheetah. Yes, I am definitely lucky.

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Carina, l feel like I'm in the vehicle with you and Spencer. Your narration is exactly stuff he would say and do......

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Next morning, there was no wake-up call. I was already up so I figured they saw the lights on and didn’t bother. Walking to breakfast I noted that there were no other lights on in the other tents. Seems there was a “miscommunication” amongst the staff about who was supposed to do the wake-up call and so, in the end, no one did. A French lady comes bustling in to breakfast very agitated because she is travelling with children and it takes kids forever to get ready and it’s their last day on safari and now everything is ruined. The staff looks sheepish. I’m antsy to leave on the game drive but now we have to wait for everyone to trickle in for breakfast and eat their oatmeal. Spencer was taking two of the guests on a nature walk, but I wanted a game drive, so had to go with a different guide. We leave a half hour late. The cheetah have a head start.


The drive started with frequent stops to discuss strangler figs, turpentine grass and other botanical bits and pieces. Now, I don’t have anything against strangler figs or any other vegetation – it’s all fascinating -but we’re burning daylight and THERE ARE CHEETAH OUT THERE. We soon pick up the cheetah tracks and spend a good portion of the morning pinpointing where the cats are hiding. We are so close. Then the vehicle gets stuck in deep sand. Everyone gets out and the guide and tracker take turns with the shovel.


Once back in the vehicle, a call comes over the radio that a skittish leopard on the move has been located. The guide tells us we can go see it, but it is VERY far and he will have to drive VERY fast to get there in time. Alternatively, we can stay and continue looking for the cheetah. Well, you know what my vote was. We were pretty much on top of the cheetah. But, everyone else in the vehicle was tired of searching for cheetah and wanted the leopard. I was seated in the back row by myself and as a result, was airborne for much of the trip. I was almost thrown from the vehicle several times when the guide took a turn way too fast. This was some reckless driving. The guide seemed to be overly anxious to deliver a sighting for his guests, even if he killed one or two of us in the process. I recall another trip report from someone at a Kwando camp that had a similar experience, maybe at Little Kwara?

In the end, we saw the leopard, but this was the only time during my trip that I felt we were too close or perhaps affecting the animal’s behavior. The cat seemed to make several attempts to avoid the three vehicles that were approaching it from different directions. The cat always had a clear path for escape, it’s not like any of the vehicles were blocking it, but it just didn’t feel quite right. Luckily, our visit was short, so hopefully we didn’t disturb her too much. She was clearly on a mission of some sort.



On the afternoon drive, I was back with Spencer and had the vehicle to myself. Now we could get serious about cheetah. Spencer and Elmo knocked themselves out tracking those sneaky cats.



The sun was starting to go down and we had come up empty handed. We decided to declare the cats the winners of this round and stopped for sundowners at a lagoon filled with hippos. It was funny how all those pairs of hippo eyes drifted closer and closer to shore for a better look. Then some of them started yawning to show off their big teeth. Very curious animals.


We left the lagoon and started driving back to camp. It’s dusk, barely any light. Literally, not two minutes after leaving the lagoon, BOOM! On the left - three cheetah sitting on a termite mound. What the hell?! Where have these guys been all day? And why do they only show themselves at dusk? The cats see us and run away. Spencer is sure now these are not the Boys of Lagoon. They are an adult female with two sub adults, a male and female. We are resolved to find these guys in daylight the next day. Again at dinner, everyone is envious as I am the only one who saw cheetah. The camp manager says I am a “very lucky guest” and I agree.

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Really enjoying the story and I love the photo of the dogs drinking at the waterhole.

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It’s my last drive at Lagoon. Seeing these cheetah in the daylight has become my first safari’s holy grail. Spencer comes to get me for breakfast and mentions the leopard tracks up to the front steps of my tent. The leopard had checked up on me during the night. That’s pretty cool. I eat a muffin and Spencer is ready to go at 6:15 am. “Anything that looks like cheetah, follow it” he says to Elmo. We are getting bogged down in deep sand, but Spencer has somehow set the choke on the vehicle so that he can stand on the running boards and let the vehicle drive itself.


We work our way back to the location where we saw the cats the previous evening. After just one hour we’ve finally found them. They are still very skittish and run from the vehicle. Spencer follows very slowly, giving them a wide comfort zone. The adult female is more relaxed than her offspring, and she climbs up on a termite mound and we stop and wait.



She calls to her mostly grown cubs and invites them to join her.


And after a minute, the male does just that. The other female is still hiding in the grass. Just a few more minutes and we’re sure all three will be sitting pretty in plain sight…



Naturally, Spencer had informed the other vehicles that we had located the cheetah. I guess that’s the protocol. I just wish we had a few extra minutes to ourselves to allow the other female to come out of hiding, because just then a second vehicle comes rushing in, head on towards the cats. Even though the vehicle stopped a respectable distance away, it was enough to send the cats high-tailing it into the bush. I couldn’t understand what Spencer was saying to Elmo, but I could tell he was pissed. The other vehicle could have approached with a lot more caution and perhaps from the side, rather than head on, and maybe not have scared them away. We tried to follow the cats for a short distance into the bush, but by this time there were three vehicles on the scene and Spencer said we should pull out because we were only pushing them deeper into the mopane. Well, I guess two out of three ain’t bad.

During the remainder of the morning, we found more roan antelope, waterbuck and the dogs, well fed, sleeping in the shade. Before leaving for the airstrip to go to Vumbura Plains, the camp manager elevated my status to “the most lucky guest”.


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Loved every minute of your report, Carina. FYI - apparently, those cheetahs are already well relaxed around vehicles. Had a brief facebook chat with Spencer the other day. I'm glad you got to see them. I hope they stick around - I'm guessing the sub-adults are off-spring of the "Boys of Lagoon".


I would have continued to track for the cheetah too like you wanted to - instead of rushing off far and away to get to a Leopard (and skittish too not used to vehicles) .......... but, i guess your vehicle mates gave up on the tracking that day.


Who was the camp manager when you were at Lagoon? Thuso and OB?

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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@@madaboutcheetah Wow, it didn't take long for them to become accepting of vehicles! OB was one of the managers. I think the other one was named Carlos, but i could be mistaken. He was an old friend of Spencer's-they had gone to school together. Yes, I'm glad I got to see them, too. It was hard to see much because the grass was so high. And had I been with any other guide, I doubt I would have seen them at all-the other guests barely got a glimpse of them, if at all.

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An interesting read Carina. TFS. As for the photos - phew! I especially like the ones of the dogs drinking

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Sounds like you had a fantastic time at Lagoon.


I also describe wild dogs as “squeaky”.


I think sometimes the guides don't realise how much more bumpy it is in the back of the vehicle- especially in the very back row. I remember talking to a guide once (I forget where) who was saying that when he was being trained his trainer made him sit in the back to see what it was like and he was surprised.

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@madaboutcheeteah, just remembered the manager's name at Lagoon was Oscar, not Carlos.

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@madaboutcheeteah, just remembered the manager's name at Lagoon was Oscar, not Carlos.


Thanks - Don't think I've met him yet.

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@@johnkok, thank you for the compliment, but my photos can't hold a candle to the other stuff posted on this site. There is some fantastic photography on here!

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Oscar was the (relief) manager I had at Little Kwara. He goes through the cycle of Kwando camps as the managers go on leave. When Carlos came back to LK, Oscar headed to another camp.

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When I arrived at the Vumbura Plains airstrip, the guide asked me what I had seen at the other camps. I excitedly told him about the multiple leopards, lions, hyena with cub, wild dogs and CHEETAH. He acted duly impressed and commented on my good luck. He tried to lower my expectations of what I would see at VP. No, there were no cheetah. The wild dogs had not been seen recently. The lion pride with cubs had been chased off by a grouchy male and were now on an island that was inaccessible to the vehicles. VP had been a second choice camp when Chitabe filled up for the final dates I had selected for safari. Now I was starting to regret my decision to change the dates. But, I remained optimistic and assured him that my luck was transferrable.

On the first drive, we encountered the grouchy male responsible for chasing away the pride with cubs. He was walking around and roaring. The guide said he was either a) still mad at the younger male he had fought with the previous day, or 2) calling for his brother. I don’t know how you tell the difference. He had some fresh cuts and scrapes on his face and shoulder.




Early the next morning, we found a group of hyena that had just killed a baby giraffe. The mother giraffe was still standing nearby.




That morning, we also saw wattled cranes, tsessebe, black backed jackals and a small herd of sable antelope.






There was a young elephant that had just emerged from the water holding a big wad of aquatic vegetation with his trunk. He was repeatedly slapping himself on the head and shoulders with it. He looked like he was having a good time.



By the afternoon, the hyenas had made quick work of the giraffe. All the meat was gone and they had stashed the pelvis under a bush and taken a leg back to a nearby den where there were cubs of various ages.





The vultures had started to gather near the carcass.


And the lion brothers had reunited.



The following morning, we discovered a 2 year old female leopard that had stashed an impala carcass in a tree. She was skittish and ran away through the high grass. The guide said her brother had been killed by baboons last year. Later, in a different location, we found a second leopard in a tree.



Later that morning, we came across three young lions, about 3 years old- two females and one male. They were part of the pride of 7 that had previously been chased away by the grouchy older male.


In the afternoon, we found the same lions getting up from their nap and starting to take an interest in a sable that was walking nearby. A hyena came out of nowhere, but when he saw the lions he turned and ran away.





After sunset, we went back to where the first leopard had stashed the impala. The leopard was en route back to her kill and there was a hyena waiting underneath the tree for any scraps that might fall his way.

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The last morning was pretty slow. We saw some reedbuck, waterbuck, kudu and a lot of buffalo.





The guide drove to a waterhole where a herd of buffalo were drinking on the opposite side. He got out of the vehicle with his camera and walked up to the edge of the waterhole, scaring off the herd- all except one huge bull that stood his ground. The guide returned to the vehicle and announced “That’s how wild animals react to humans on foot. If the water had not been there, that bull would have killed me”. I’d like to think that visitors want to have the minimum amount of impact possible on the wildlife and that guides want to foster that attitude. Intentionally scaring a herd away from a waterhole seemed unnecessary to me. A minor incident, but probably not the best way to make a point.

So, was I lucky? I think so. I met people who had been on several safaris and were desperate to see wild dogs and had not seen them yet. Maybe a poor choice of camps, I don’t know. I could have easily missed the cheetah at Lagoon were it not for the luck of getting a stellar guide and the vehicle to myself on several drives. And multiple leopard sightings at each camp is surely a notch above average, right? For a 10 night safari, I saw a lot of wonderful things. The trip exceeded all my expectations and I’m ready for more!

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