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Kwando - August 2013


Big_Dog

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks Geoff. :)

 

@@madaboutcheetah - I think we were, they said they'd only got there a few weeks before we did! Is the watercut area the place with a lot of open grassland with lots of lakes. ponds and lagoons? Lovely area for game viewing. I imagine from numerous trips there you know the concessions well!

 

@@ZaminOz - Yeah, it would probably send me shooting out of bed, hah!

 

Your scene of dogs vs buffalo is watercut.

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Hey all, My first attempt at a trip report! Taken from a mix of my camera and holiday journal. Pics are here naturally, but compared to others there is also a lot writing / thoughts too and I hope thi

This isn't over just yet! Except now it is, as this is the last post. Cats and dogs seen, read on! Back out in the concession and to see the finest male lion yet. Found lying atop a termite mound ta

Thanks @@Soukous! @@madaboutcheetah - With a single old male left wandering around Lebala, could the two new youngsters there face a trial by fire? We're now at Kwara! And here is post devoted to sig

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Thanks Soukous!

And ah I see M.A.C, thanks. Next day should be up tomorrow. :)

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Yet I couldn't relax. Most predators come out and hunt at night and as everyone else on the boat sipped cocktails and marvelled at elephants I was wracked with nerves and paranoia that in our absence on land there would be a spectacular Leopard stalk or a battle royale between hyaenas and lions over a freshly killed buffalo.

 

 

i know that feeling;-)

 

great report and great sightings

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@@Big_Dog

Great writing

Wonderful encounter with the buffalo and dogs

Although the dogs are nimble and quick witted, I do admire the way the buffalo protect the calves and each other

I like the "rambo" shot to give a context - it shows the excitement when something unexpected happensl

Beautiful Red Lechwe

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Interesting trip report. Nothing like the antics of wild dogs to stir the safari juices

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Soukous

Thanks Soukous!

 

And ah I see M.A.C, thanks. Next day should be up tomorrow. :)

 

So where is it Mate??? we can only wait so long for our fix :D

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@@TonyQ - Thanks. And I agree, dogs vs. buffalo had me on the edge of my seat!

Thanks Johnkok, and @@Soukous here it is now! Sorry for the long wait I was moving back home for Christmas and my laptop is slowly dying!
I'm sure @@madaboutcheetah will enjoy this post too!

The next morning we set out searching for Leopard, but a chance radio call lead us to another spotted cat. After blasting over loose sand and ducking under bushes, we finally ground to a halt on seeing the other vehicle. A few metres ahead was the first Cheetah. They lack the eye-grabbing enormity of lions or conspicuous tree-climbing of leopards, and with a tawny albeit spotted coat they never fail to surprise me how well they can sink into the dry grassland. We edged closer as the cat slunk into the bushes and we and another car then began a game of hide and seek with a cheetah that wasn't aware it was playing.
After much raising of binoculars and weaving through trees, we finally came across them. Perhaps the least cat-y of cats physically, with long straight limbs and a deep, sight-hound chest, cheetahs do not lose their feline grace that comes naturally to their family. We followed the two brothers as they padded slowly through the scrub.
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New surroundings

Both were young. Cheetahs are not bulky animals by nature, but even these two were slim by their species' standards and weren't old enough to have fully matured and filled out yet. They seemed cautious. They seemed to know the area was up for grabs. Every bush and tree was rigorously scent-marked with both their urine several times each, as if the pair were taking every precaution to lay claim to Lebala.
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A high vantage point

Contact with Kwando after leaving confirms it seems to have worked. The brothers are still there.
We saw the climb termite mounds and scan the area hungrily, as well as spot and watch several groups of Impala. Yet the two didn't seem to want to hunt no matter how shrunken their stomachs seemed. The only animals they grabbed the interest of were a large herd of giraffe. Whilst it is not unheard of for a cheetah to kill a giraffe calf, it is certainly rare. So perhaps it spoke of the danger of life not just in bush but especially as a herbivore, that the sight of a carnivore a fraction of your weight with no danger except to the youngest in your species was enough to trigger a worried response.
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On patrol

 

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After a good morning's scent marking he brothers settled down in the shade and we left them to their midday nap.

 

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Looking regal

Heading back to camp we spotted a previously unseen herbivore, and an impressive one at that. Earlier I stressed the power of the Roan, but in the family tree the Sable antelope is the bigger brother. Unlike it's chestnut relative or females, the Sable Bull is a shiny, jet black. The hide and fur are short and smooth. The horns are huge and curve backwards over the back like ridged scimitars. The word 'antelope' conjures images of swift, gazelle like animals or Impala. They may sport an impressive, even garish set of horns but an animal ultimately built for speed less than power is what springs to mind. Sable bulls more resemble a horned shire horse or small buffalo. Black of hide, thick with muscle and large in size the bulls roam separate from the rest of the herd to defend the territory, and later that day when leaving Lebala we saw the same bull again from the plane, still out on patrol.

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Suprisingly elusive for such a big bull.

Edited by Big_Dog
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madaboutcheetah

Indeed - the Boys of Lagoon are no longer venturing this far south ....... It appears that they have found their retirement home up way north in Muvumbi well north of Lagoon camp and hunt in the woodland there most of the time. This leaves the prime Lebala territory free for any takers and looks like these guys may well be the next big ticket..... In October, we went around looking for tracks of these guys and ultimately drove to the boundary and were told by a Selinda guide that they went off towards Duma Tau when last seen. I haven't seen these guys yet ...... Don't forget - there is another single male that wanders between Lebala and Selinda.......... (that's the one remaining guy from the coalition that ultimately finished off the old Blood brothers...) .......

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Soukous

Lovelu cheetah action @@Big_Dog

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Thanks @@Soukous!
@@madaboutcheetah - With a single old male left wandering around Lebala, could the two new youngsters there face a trial by fire?

We're now at Kwara! And here is post devoted to sighting of the smaller predators of Africa. :)

Kwara, the last and longest of the Kwando camps, was in the only one actually in the Okavango Delta itself. Lebala and Lagoon had been on firm dry land albeit near the Kwando river, Kwara was prone to flooding in the wet season and former roads became rivers with rain. The change in environment brought a change in herbivores. Kudu were still present but less common, seemingly being replaced with ubiquitous Waterbuck. Impala were lesser in number, Red Lechwe and Tsessbe greater and nocturnal Reedbuck came out of nowhere in the thick grasses and reeds.
The carnivore guild remained the same, but at nights we discovered the smaller residents of the meat eaters.

The burned grasses here leave cooked seeds, unearthed roots and tubers and fresh young shoots that every rodent in Botswana loved to eat. And every carnivore under 30 lbs loved to eat rodent. The first sighting was on the first night of Kwara.
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Patient Zero of the Domestic Tabby

 

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Worried by owl.

 

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An owl that had rat and not cat for dinner.

 

Driving through one of the burned fields, we spotted eye-shine of something small and set off in pursuit. Keeping the spotlight on the crouched creature an Owl suddenly dropped into the beam and dive-bombed the animal. It revealed itself from the tuft of grass as an African Wildcat. What a wolf is to a dog, a wildcat is to a domestic tabby. The Eagle Owl wheeled overhead and may another flying pass, the feline dropping t it's belly to dodge the talons. Losing interest the giant bird flew elsewhere for easier prey. Now we got a good look at the cat. In appearance it does indeed resemble a normal cat, to an extent. It is leaner and wilder. There is no needless fluff or excess fat. It is a trimmed, wild predator. It's head and paws were bigger and housed sharper claws and longer canines. It's coat was camouflaged for nocturnal hunts and it was rangier than a housecat. But like it's ancestors it hadn't dropped the trait of being used to people, and whilst it didn't seem to enjoy being spotlighted it had no problem with the vehicle getting close.
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A Serval...believe it or not.

The other small felid was saw was the Serval. Like a miniature Cheetah but with bat ears, it is also one of the few cats that likes water, being fond of fish and frogs. The one we saw was stalking along a reed bed. It's ears could swivel to detect a rustling mouse, as it carefully placed one paw after another. Unlike the wildcat it seemed less happy with a vehicle. On being seen it stopped the hunt, sat up and began to groom itself before leaving into the deeper reeds. Servals have been reported to hunt along roads waiting for cars to illuminate or dazzle rodents in the roads of verges alongside, perhaps this one recognised the smell of car but was disappointed with our lack of cooperation.

On the way back to camp one night we also caught a glimpse of African Civet. The largest in it's family and perhaps Africa's ecological answer to a raccoon. The word 'civet' may bring forth imaginations of small fluffy creatures darting through the undergrowth and for the most part you'd be right. Almost all civets are like a marten in size, but the African is the size of good size lurcher or retriever dog. It didn't stay long enough in the torchlight for a photo, before if bustled and snuffled off into the bushes like a very elegant pig in a dazzling fur coat.
Genets were frequent on night drives, and we also saw one searching for leftovers in the Lebala lounge. Beautifully spotted with a banded tail we often saw them in the bushes or trees around the mousing fields like a tiny leopard.

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Sleuthing in the dark.

The most frequent of the light weights we saw, both at night and in the day were the Jackals. And it was finally in Botswana I could finally say I'd seen all 3 species, for in both Lagoon and Kwara good sightings were had of the Side-Striped variety. Black Backs are the most common in Africa and also the type to keep people at night with their yowling calls. The scrappiest and most aggressive jackal too: whilst not the largest in the family they take and go for the largest prey being capable of killing adult Impala single-handedly. They also chase smaller predators and worry larger ones, sometimes even killing the cub of a big cat. This boisterous reputation understandably and often puts them on the menu of larger predators, especially leopard.
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Nap time.

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Looking coy.

 

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Wolf of the mice herds.

The side-striped is the quieter and calmer of Botswana's jackals. They look it too. They don't have pointed wolfish ears or long, toothy snouts. Their features are soft and their faces round, often bearing a shy expression. When being watched by them one can't help but feel as if they'd just intrusively interrupted them.
Both were seen at night for the great rodent feasts and always in pairs. The two would trot through the fields, stopping every few seconds for a lunge, a snap, a catch, a toss and finally a gulp. The smaller predators, less aggressive and comparatively less powerful too, were nowhere near as exclusive to one another as the larger ones. In the nightly feasts we on several occasions saw a single field with a pair of jackals, a stalking wildcat, several varying species of owl and a genet patrolling the tree line, all drawn by the miniature herds of miniature prey.

 

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Not happy over disturbed nap time.

 

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wilddog

I really like that Middle shot of the Black Backed Jackal. :)

 

Thoroughly enjoying your report. You had some fantastic sightings

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I made a promise to myself that on all subsequent safaris, I will write up a full trip report accompanied. I don't take photos but I'll begin using something simple, there is always someone available to help you take photos on safari.

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Kitsafari

@@optig the dogs were having fun! i really hope to see them in March, and hope i get the same luck as you watching their antics.

 

may i ask if the side-striped jackal is bigger in size than the black backed jackal? we saw a lot of the latter in the serengeti, but not the side-striped one, which looks more wolfish in the shape of its body.

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Thanks @@wilddog!
And @@TonyQ yeah, the untrained eye may even accuse it of being a mere feral!

@@Kitsafari - I'm unsure who's bigger in the Serengeti. Though East / Equatorial African BB Jackals are larger than their southern cousins, so I'd suggest it goes Golden - Black Back - Side Stripe in terms of size. But in Southern Africa I'd imagine the Side Stripe is larger and the Golden does not range further south than Tanzania. Interestingly though, the scrappy Black Back is the dominant jackal in interactions despite being smallest! (Loveridge and MacDonald 2002, Kingdon 1977)

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Kitsafari

@@Big_Dog thanks for the info. Now I'll have to google the golden jackal! Haven't seen that yet too.... Ohh I got lots to catch up..

 

And I'm so embarrassed - I mixed you up with optiq! Sorry.. *blush*

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Another report I missed the beginning of. You're having a wonderful variety of sightings in a relatively short space of time. What great luck - something a bit rare and special nearly every day and great dog action too. Fine advertisement for the Kwando concession here - fantastic.

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Atravelynn

Excellent luck with the "lightweights" as you call them. I'll have to remember that one.

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@@Kitsafari - Goldens can be found in East Africa, I saw mine in the Ngorongoro Crater. They're the biggest and plainest jackal and look a bit more wolf than fox unlike their cousins. :)

@@pault - Thanks! :) I was indeed hugely lucky, but reading the monthly sightings reports of Kwando it seems they've never had a dull day. The concessions seems to be the place to go for predators and action!

@@Atravelynn - Thanks, and have I just coined a new safaritalk term? :D

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Atravelynn

Lightweights (the term has entered the lexicon) are some of my favorite sightings and ones I feel lucky to see. Lions laying around are everywhere. A serval is a rarity. You saw lots of lightweights, heavyweights, and featherweights (literally) on your Kwando safari.

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Yeah, I agree totally. I really like the smaller carnivores too and think a lot of people foolishly overlook them. The Serval in particular was awesome and I was thrilled to have completed the Jackal trio.
Direly want to see a Caracal, Bat-Eared Fox and Aardwolf at some point too. Friends saw an Aardwolf when we split up into two groups in Pilanesberg once, very jealous of them!

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This isn't over just yet! Except now it is, as this is the last post. Cats and dogs seen, read on! :)

Back out in the concession and to see the finest male lion yet. Found lying atop a termite mound tall enough to look us in the eye, he was far larger and better maned than the two still impressive Lagoon boys. A layer of deep, sandy yellow before it turned into a darker brown like caramel on chocolate.

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Looking regal.

After permitting a few photos he raised himself and wondered into the woodland, perhaps to show off his huge size. It wasn't long before he slumped down again in the shade and other vehicles began to show up. Yet he often turned to sniff the wind as if anxious and expectant.

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Taking it all in.

Our guide told us he was part of a coalition that had wandered apart upon coming to Kwara and was more nervous on his own. And that is how harsh even the lush, verdant parts of the wild can be. This prime male may be a king, but any king can be assassinated. Another male lion or coalition could be his end. A particularly belligerent buffalo bull's hooked horns. A single chink in his armour and the hyaenas would lose their fear of the maned ones and may tear him apart. No matter how large and powerful you get it seems you can never drop vigilance.

 

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A side view.

 

And an animal that had vigilance in spades was the Cheetah brothers of Kwara. Older, bigger and more experienced than Lagoon's duo this pair were full adults and resident. But all was not well. The duo used to be a trio, before one had got a wounded leg and disappeared overnight. But other than a split lip the pair seemed to be doing well and were feasting on a Kudu calf.
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Tucking in.
Kudu seemed to have had it bad in August. The lions we found were eating a Kudu, friends told us they saw a group of 4 Hyaenas kill a Kudu bull at Selinda and we saw several calves hung in trees by leopards.

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Suprising camoflage.

 

Interesting cheetahs moved the stomach away, unlike lions they didn't seem to enjoy the taste of half-eaten vegetation. As they ate the pair gradually dragged the carcass further into the scrub at intervals in feeding. With their stuffed, basket-ball sized stomachs assuring they'd got their fill. No spotted thieves came marauding that night, and a pleasant sunset was spent with the feasting brothers.

 

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Moving the meal.

Sighting reports tell me the split lip healed and the blood brothers are doing well.

 

Moving on we saw a rambling honey badger crossing the road. Easing closer to the fierce tempered mustelid it crawled under a bush and turned to glare out at us, smugly denying any photos.
Fortunatley this wasn't an issue, as later after sunset and the cheetahs we came across a pair. These two seemed much more familiar with vehicles as they foraged calmy in the shrubs, before moving on out of sight after allowing a few quick photos.

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Honey badgers and my camera don't seem to get on.


gallery_47388_944_4548722.jpgRt

Ratels to spare!

 

On the final day, having heard they had pups, I opted to see the wild dogs again.

Not only for the pups, but the lead female of the pack. One of biggest dogs we'd seen on the trip and so pale she was almost albino. Watching her rest in a patch of sun I wondered what the white dog must be like to see hunting, or confronting another pack.
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And the of course there were the pups. A few months old and at the transition point between a fat little stomach on legs with floppy ears and tiny tails and being slightly out-of-proportion miniatures of their parents, they rested in an enormous puddle of puppies. One got up and stretched on unsteady, sleepy feet. A brother got up, stumbled and fell onto him. They both decided it wasn't worth getting up again and resumed sleep. Another got up and seized a twig, looking around hopefully for a playmate. Several pups raised their heads in interest, but exchanged glances that said unless someone else went with them they weren't getting up. An adult walked over and the pup thrust the twig into it's chest. The adult feigned interest, confiscated the twig and resumed sleep, undoubtedly knowing how loud a brood could be and not wanted it's sleep disturbed. Yet another pup got up, stretched and then vomited into the leaf litter. At once several litter mates sprang up and dived into it, tails wagging as they rolled in it and licked the face of the pup that yarked up. That really got them going.


A call came in that some lions had been seen so we left the dogs as the sick-matted pups nestled back down for sleep.
And so it was without leopard, but with lion we finished our final game drive. A small group of lioness, mothers and daughters patrolling through the grass. Almost all tourists in Africa come to the continent to see lions. But Craig Packer said on average tourists spend only 10 minutes watching them, after a multi-hour flight and thousands of dollars or pounds spent.
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Once they've filled their cameras with sleeping lions they swiftly move off. So I consider myself lucky. Across numerous trips I'd watched them try (albeit unsuccessful every time) to hunt, confront other predators and mate. For such animals I could have endless patience. I may like their chief competitors the hyaenas more, but that certainly doesn't mean I couldn't watch lions all day.

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~ Fin ~

And so ends my trip to Botswana. Hope you enjoyed it all! :)

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twaffle

What an amazingly rewarding trip you had. Loved the descriptive writing, which really made the viewing come to life. Good supporting photos as well. Thanks for posting.

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Thanks guys! Glad you all enjoyed it! More will be coming in the not too distant future, of different places.

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