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Safaridude

An Adventure through Botswana and Zimbabwe, September 2014 - by Safaridude and Game Warden Part 1 Botswana.

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Safaridude

For part 2 of the report, Zimbabwe, click here.

 

Misery, misery, misery, then safari. Misery, misery, misery, then safari. The story of my life. Ok, not really. My life is fine… quite good, actually. It’s just that the world is full of bad news these days, and things don’t make sense. Endure the bubbleheads on CNBC and the knuckleheads on C-SPAN? Misery, misery, misery! Not a chance! We gotta get out of this place! If it’s the last thing we ever do… To the only place where all things make sense: the wilds of Africa.

 

Southern Africa is the call this time. At Kwando, Botswana (two nights at Lagoon Camp and three nights at Lebala Camp), Cori and Nancy of The Nature Conservancy join me. Then, in Zimbabwe I am joined by none other than the pithed, bearded, spiritual leader of Safaritalk for six nights (split evenly between Camp Hwange and Little Makalolo Camp) at Hwange National Park and four nights at Mana Pools National Park (Mucheni 4 campsite, arranged by Tailormade Safaris). There would be others coming and going. The incomparable Benson Siyawareva would guide us from Little Makalolo on. At Mana, we would meet his son and budding guide, Honest. We would miss an ST member by a couple of hours at Camp Hwange, but another would be successfully sighted at Mana.

 

Above all, the trip would provide a mental respite from reality. And what a respite it is – the two countries in Africa with protected areas that are still seemingly, relatively untouched by the pressures from the outside. This, then, is a report from paradise. (Game Warden will co-report once the safari crosses into Zimbabwe.)

 

 

Kwando Concession, Botswana

 

You could blindfold me. No matter. I would correctly guess Kwando Lagoon simply from the unmistakable scent of wild sage seeping in through the just opened Cessna door at the Lagoon airstrip. This is my third time in the Kwando Concession located in this privileged northern edge of Botswana. Thabo Rankgomo, the funniest man in Bots, vertically challenged but built like a rhino, with a bit of a honey badger in him, greets me with a familiar mischievous smile. Thabo would guide us, with Ishmael (at Lagoon) and Bowman (at Lebala) as his trackers, through our entire stay of five nights at Kwando.

 

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A giraffe welcomes us to Kwando

 

Blessed is the Kwando Concession. Endowed with a variety of biomes including open plains for good visibility (not always a given in northern Botswana) and a vast riverfront, which guarantees animal concentrations during the dry season, Kwando, when “hot”, can be a sensory overload. The incessant crooning of a Cape turtle dove (“bots-WAH-na, bots-WAH-na”) offers a stark contrast to the bass grunting of hippos on the Kwando River. A stag waterbuck studies us, frozen, intent on winning a staring contest, never mind the mid-day heat. Several elephants appear to be hatching from a patch of blue bush and on their way to water. A patch of candle-pod acacia spawns a few more. Before you know it, you are surrounded by easily a hundred. Spooked red lechwes with their splayed hooves part water like a motorboat on their way into the deeper channels while impalas alarm-snort at a phantom threat. It must be a predator we cannot see. Zebras and wildebeests, quite content grazing until now, take notice of the taut impalas and edge closer. What’s this, silence? Broken shortly by the call of a fish eagle – so tuneful, so viscous. Blessed indeed is the Kwando Concession.

 

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Leadwood

 

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A fleeing zebra

 

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Safari, Kwando style

 

What do we want to accomplish on this trip, Thabo asks as soon as we settle into Lagoon. We respond with a list that has wild dog on top, along with leopard, cheetah, sable and roan. That Thabo doesn’t bat an eye is a testament not only to the wealth of wildlife at Kwando, but also to the Kwando team’s wherewithal and willingness to pursue the clients’ wishes. If it’s in the concession, we will find it, is the motto. A dedicated tracker strapped to a seat tethered to the front of the vehicle hood (years ago, I was initially skeptical of this method) and naturally sandy soil conducive to off-road driving are key for sure, but the Kwando culture – game above all else – perpetuated by the senior guides such as Thabo and Spencer Mathambo (looking svelte and presidential by the way) is the finishing ingredient. These guys loathe long afternoon teas unless the client wants them. The light is softening, and the animals are about to be active again. Thabo, having washed down a piece of cake with Rooibos, pacing restlessly now, tilts his head suggestively toward the direction of the parked vehicle with a wink.

 

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Thabo, with a bit of honey badger in him

 

Thabo had just come up to Lagoon after spending a couple of weeks at Lebala. The Kwando Pack of dogs (originally called the Lagoon Pack), which spent most of the winter months near Lebala, had also just moved up to the Lagoon area. He knows that the dogs will likely stay around Lagoon for the next several days, and if we are to see dogs in the Kwando Concession, the next two days at Lagoon may be our only chance. The first afternoon is spent tracking ghosts. Wild dog tracks are found, and Thabo and Ishmael, with the tenacity of bloodhounds, often get out of the vehicle to assess the tracks. The dogs are definitely around. No cigar though today.

 

The following morning, Thabo follows his intuition and leads us toward the Lagoon airstrip. Once again, Thabo and Ishmael go on foot, this time on the airstrip itself, after discovering fresh spoor of the pack. A few minutes pass, and they are both about 150 meters from the vehicle when Thabo suddenly hoots, “binoculars! Get out the binoculars!” So intently focused on the tracks, Thabo and Ishmael hadn’t bothered to look up and around much until now. Thirteen wild dog puppies had been gathering at the end of the airstrip all along. Thabo thence sprinting toward us like a charging rhino in order to quickly fetch the vehicle is an image indelible and endearing.

 

The rambunctious thirteen play fight continually, only to periodically pause and sniff the air in expectancy. Indeed, adult dogs show up, having successfully hunted, and gag up for the pups hunks of meat surprisingly large enough for a prime steakhouse to be proud of. The pack savors its prosperous morning, touching, licking, playing, play fighting, connecting. Then, Kwando does its thing: the radio crackles with leopard and lion. What the heck are we to do? We defer to democracy. The vote count in the vehicle declares leopard the winner. A handsome female in a tree is admired for awhile, and there is even enough time to address the minority vote: four lions, including “Blackie”, one of the two pride males of the Lagoon Pride, laze in the blue bush thicket. All in a morning’s work.

 

Thirteen mouths are a lot to feed. We rejoin the pack in the afternoon to see if the adults might hunt again. A wild dog hunt can take place at any given moment once the afternoon heat subsides. The adults appear listless when we find them, but then suddenly a pre-hunting ritual reminiscent of the All Blacks’ Haka breaks out. The lead dog stiffens from a nap, muzzle-nudges some of the pack members while whimpering and chirping. A couple of the dogs amp up now and muzzle-nudge a couple of others. They begin pacing about and vocalizing in excitement, and soon their arousal cascades into a state of frenzy for the entire pack. And they go – the All Black and Golds marching out for a try. Unlike other predators, wild dogs don’t necessarily have a prey target in sight when they set off on a hunt. They brazenly and randomly select one particular direction. So successful are they as hunters, they know that any prey encountered along the way will be dinner. Unfortunately for the spectators, the dogs aren’t particularly hungry this evening, and the hunt is half-hearted. They surround a warthog, peering from its burrow and bristling at the threat, but quickly dismiss it. Comically, once the dogs leave the scene, not one but six warthogs, one after another, dash out of the burrow. “Useless dogs”, quips Thabo. We opt for a sundowner instead of further following these unmotivated dogs.

 

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The pups had been gathering at the airstrip all along

 

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Waiting patiently for the adults to arrive

 

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Running toward the adults

 

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Coming with food in the stomach

 

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Feeding frenzy

 

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Regurgitating meat

 

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A beautiful female leopard

 

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Off on a half-hearted hunt

 

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Not very interested in the warthog

 

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michael-ibk

Blessed is the Kwando Concession, and blessed be your reports. ;)

 

Terrific start, you are a master of word and image. I think I can smell the wild sage now. Really happy to hear that 13 of the pups are still alive (and looking good.), since I kind of witnessed their "creation". Great pictures of the dogs. Looking forward to this very much! :)

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Safaridude

We all need more wild dog… here we go...

 

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ld1

@@Safaridude Oh crikey, Kwando, wild sage, dogs, leopards...how could you! Its sunday night and all I have to look forward to is a 9am meeting. I adored Lebala and LK they are where I learnt what a proper safari should be. Those Kwando guides they never give up.

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Big_Dog

Maybe you should contact Kwando with those last few images and ask of the camps need any more artwork!
Love to see where this is going.

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Africalover

Awsome tripreport and photos. Wonderful reading.

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Game Warden

And you were still enthusiastic about the sighting of 7 dogs at Camp Hwange? Great start. No mention of Mankinis yet...

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AKR1

The Dude is back!!!

 

Wonderful start, great pictures and your usual brilliant narration.

 

thanks

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SafariChick

oh goodie, a lovely gift for my Sunday afternoon - your trip report! What a wonderful first full day you seem to have been having! The pups are cute as can be, never can have too much of wild dogs for me! Fabulous photos and I feel I'm right there with you.

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Kitsafari

Finally the dude begins. And its dogs dogs beautful dogs.

I've been waiting a long time for this and I'm now reading it at 3.35am at the vet clinic n your report takes away for a brief while the worries of watching my sick dog undergoing blood transfusion. May the strong blood that course through the wild dogs be given to my domesticated dog.

 

Will kwando provide a safe bet for wild dogs for another couple more years?

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Safaridude

Thanks everyone for your kind comments.

 

@@Kitsafari

 

Oh no! Sending good vibes to you and your dog.

 

Kwando will definitely be a safe bet for wild dogs for years to come.

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marg

@@Safaridude what a nice surprise to return to the computer and find your trip report with the beautiful dog photos!

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Geoff

Fantasitc @@Safaridude. The image of the adult returning with a tummy load of food for the pups made me smile.

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twaffle

I swear your photos have ramped up a notch Safaridude, for sure the Gods smiled on you with these sightings. Gorgeous lighting, clear views, action … just stunning. I'm spell bound.

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graceland

I can only add more - its" awesomeness "- to come back to ST after a few days away, and see a 'Dude TR and amazing dog pics.

 

Panting for more :D

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Seniortraveller

Reading this wonderful report and seeing such beautiful photos, has raised my pre trip excitement to new levels. I will be there in seven weeks, and now REALLY can't wait. More please!

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Zim Girl

@@Safaridude

 

Fabulous dog pictures. I like the first one, with the one dog sitting and looking in the opposite direction.

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Soukous

An enthralling read @@Safaridude and the photos are terrific. The dogs are amazing and you snuck in a few leopard photos too. Fantastic. Was the leopard watching the dogs along with you?

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FlyTraveler

A am speechless @@Safaridude! What a beginning of a report, what a writing style, such fabulous sightings and photos and what a trip! I should brake my camera and lenses and never take a photo on safari again :D

 

Looking forward for the rest of the TR...

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Safaridude

Thanks All. @@Soukous The leopard sighting was separate from the wild dog sighting.

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Wild Dogger

Wow, those pictures are just great. Great start of yoiir report. Look forward to hear more.
I think, I know this leopard. We saw her 2 years ago, I recognize the black marking on her right eye. Very relaxed female.

Hopefully the dogs will still be around in a month´s time, when we are at Lagoon.

Edited by Wild Dogger

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Peter Connan

I hould not be saying thi out loud, but while each TR on ST is always worth a read, there are three people who's TR's I cannot miss, and read word for word.

 

A joint TR between the Dude and the Warden of the Pith is right at the top of that list!

 

The first paragraph had ne hooked, my feelings exactly but verbalised much better than I ever could!

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Safaridude

The drive from Lagoon to Lebala passes through several leadwood forests, some living and some dead, so characteristic of the Kwando Concession. Pallid, gnarled, bare branches of dead leadwood give off a medieval air. Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart anyone? Speaking of the latter, the swift transit to Lebala is slowed by the roar of several lions. Blackie and Blondie of the Lagoon Pride have encountered two unknown male intruders, and the four lions engage in a shouting match. Interestingly, Blondie becomes very protective of the one female he is with, shielding her from the direction of the intruders, while Blackie rampages through the bush to foil the rivals. It’s two versus one then, but the intruders, young and yet unsure of themselves, retreat from Blackie. Fury replaces lethargy, Blackie’s normal, preferred state. Fifteen minutes of resolute pursuit ensues (that’s a lot of calories for a male lion to burn), resulting in Blackie’s successfully defending his and Blondies’ territory. Blackie settles back into shade, panting heavily, with drying spittle, his battle memento, dangling from his mane.

 

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Blondie

 

 

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Blackie getting angry at the intruders

 

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Blackie roaring and chasing

 

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This elephant cow and calf charged Blackie while Blackie was in hot pursuit of the intruders

 

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Our hot streak with predators continues at Lebala. Two cheetah brothers (different from the infamous three cheetah brothers, who by the way, have not been seen at Kwando for some time now… where are you, Madaboutcheetah?) are draped over a termite mound in the shrub mopane. A pride of lions has stolen an impala kill from a female leopard and treed her. Bitter and hungry, the poor thing is forced to take up refuge in the tree canopy until if and when the lions move off. They eventually do, and she is relegated to gnawing at some sinews of an impala leg the lions didn’t bother to finish. A different group of lions is seen on an early evening hunt on the floodplains. The adult females surround a small herd of wildebeests completely unawares, but the older cubs in the pride botch it by making themselves conspicuous. Impalas detect them first and snort in alarm. The wildebeests catch on, and the cacophony of ungulate alarm calls takes over. The lions, appearing tormented, move away as if to evacuate a loud concert.

 

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Cheetah brothers sequence

 

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A treed leopard looks for an opportune time to climb down

 

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Not much left

 

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On an evening hunt

 

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Sneaking up on wildebeests

 

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Disappointed… the hunt botched by the cubs

 

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The pride settles for a drink

 

Predators aren’t all. Did I mention that Kwando is blessed? Roan antelopes are sighted three times, and a shy herd of eland (rare in northern Botswana) once. Carmine bee-eaters flitter about, flashing their improbable colors. They are just showing off. A saddle-billed stork pounces on a fish, only to be robbed of the kill by a marauding fish eagle. A porcupine is minding his own business when the spotlight reveals him. The quills suddenly shift from relaxed to raised like an orchestra conductor readying for the opening movement. He is showing off to shoo us off. The most dazzling show-off of all, however, is the mating ritual of the red-crested korhaan. It all starts with the male korhaan’s high-pitched call. As the call intensifies, the male shoots up to the sky like a rocket blast, but nearing the peak of its flight crawls its ascent like a rollercoaster approaching its apex, suddenly goes limp and motionless as if shot in mid-air, plunges toward the ground, only to brace the fall at the last moment as if it engaged an emergency parachute. All this just to impress the females. It’s much like Kwando itself. Five o’clock wake-up calls, all-day excursions at the ready, part-man-part-bloodhound guides and trackers impartial to tea breaks or sundowners – all this in an attempt to please the guests. What a show-off, Kwando.

 

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A young roan bull

 

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Carmine bee-eater

 

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About to pounce on a fish

 

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A successful kill

 

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A fish eagle flies over to steal the fish

 

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Thievery!

 

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So mad, I could spit!

 

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Porcupine

 

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Kwando, a blessed place

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michael-ibk

Oh my, how the cubs have grown. Cool to see Blondie and Blackie in action! Wonderful pics, especially like the Roan and the Porcupine.

 

About the dogs, was the very golden male with the pack?

 

(See here: http://safaritalk.net/topic/12546-kwandos-green-season/page-9#entry128194

The one mating)

Edited by michael-ibk

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Safaridude

@@michael-ibk

 

There was one male who was golden brown. See the photos below. I believe he is the same individual seen regurgitating meat in my 1st post of this TR. In your photos, the male in question appears a lot lighter. However, the patterns are similar, if not dead on. If you have a side view of him, you might be able to correctly ID him.

 

Maybe golden wild dogs age to deep brown/gold… like a fine Sauternes!

 

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