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Laikipia Wilderness Camp - Wild Dog Photographic Safari with Albie Venter, March 2015


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I can’t fully recall what the events where that led up to me booking a place on this short safari but they went something like this.


Last summer I was waiting impatiently for our trip to Zimbabwe in Sept to happen. I was keen to photograph dogs again and I think Neil Aldridge may have announced a Wild Dog trip in Botswana on Facebook that coincided with another trip we were planning in 2015. So I did a quick internet search for other wild dog photographic opportunities and found this small group trip through Steppes Travel.


I showed the link to my wife, Angela, who said I should go, surprisingly, on my own. Something she would start to regret as the departure date grew closer and when I returned with stories of the trip.


This is my 1st Trip Report. As the trip was a photo safari, the pictures I have chosen to show here are not the best I took on the trip (I do have a few I am really pleased with) but I hope they help illustrate and document what I experienced.


The trip started here



on the Sunday, 8th March. With a bottle of Painted Wolf Chenin blanc and a nice chicken dinner.


Monday morning was spent packing and I left for the airport after lunch. A trouble free taxi journey from east Essex to Heathrow meant I had plenty of time to relax and wait for the evening flight to Nairobi.


I managed to get a few hours sleep during the flight. We landed ahead of schedule at around 6am local time. Visa and immigration sorted, luggage collected and airport finally exited I was met by a local representative and met some of my fellow photographers who had flown in on the same flight.


We were heading out to the camp the same morning. The transfer to Wilson was slow, but as the internal flight wasn't until 10:20 and the majority of the passengers were in our group we had plenty of time to get there. As we waited for the flight more members of our small group started to appear. There was 7 of the 8 participants on the internal flight to Nanyuki.


The flight was bumpy but I think I dozed off as it didn’t take as long as anticipated, it’s not a long flight anyway. We were met by Steve and the final guest at the airstrip. Steve took our luggage and one guest in his pickup and another local driver Anthony crammed the remaining seven of us into his vehicle. It was 1 and a half to 2 hours to the camp from here.


The drive started off fine but eventually we ran out of tarmac and it started to get a bit bumpy and very dusty. We spotted a few giraffe, impala and elephants on the way to the camp. Nothing worth stopping for. Eventually we arrived at Laikipia Wilderness Camp, met Albie and some of the staff. After some drinks and more introductions we were shown our tents and given a brief opportunity to settle in before lunch.


During lunch Albie went round the table and asked people about their photography experience and what camera gear they had. There were 7 out of the 8 in the group that were photographers. The group was split into two open side/top vehicles so that almost everyone had a row each or we could at least rotate rows and positions. Steve and Albie were going to rotate vehicles every day so that we could either benefit from Albie’s photography knowledge or Steve’s tracking and local knowledge. We were also joined on most drived by local guides/trackers Mugambo and Adam.


In between lunch and afternoon tea there was just about time to get cleaned up, unpacked and ready for the first drive of the day. Tea was at 4:30 and we left shortly after. Bolting down one of the lovely cakes that were baked on a daily basis throughout our stay.


Drive 1 - Tuesday 10th March Afternoon


As this was a Wild Dog themed safari more effort than usual was made to locate the dogs on a daily basis. There were two packs that had recently been in the area both moving in opposite directions. Our first drive Steve went after one pack and Albie went after the other. I was with Steve’s group this afternoon. Every so often we would stop and Steve would popup through his sun roof and scan the airwaves for the dogs then we would head off in the direction where any hint of a signal was coming from.


We had a good afternoon spotting a Bustard (Arabian)




A nice little herd of Plains Zebra




A few elephants and plenty of Dik dik (aka Dog Food).


The signal for the pack we were looking for was getting stronger and it was time to off road. The terrain in this part of Laikipia is rocky with thickets of bush and cacti. Ideal country for dogs to easily disappear.


We circled an area until the tell tale sign of a dog’s Mickey Mouse profile gave them away against the backdrop of a cactus. It was a joy to see the 9 or 10, 9 month old pups left with an adult to babysit. Steve positioned the vehicle as best he could, it was a tight spot and we were shooting into the sun. Not ideal but still an opportunity to get some shots and hopefully they might get up and move around. It was getting to that time of the day when they start to hunt.








The adults showed up, it wasn't clear if they had just been behind another bush or whether they had come from somewhere else. But I think it’s safe to assume the former, it was too early for them to be returning from a hunt. With the adults back the pack was now up to roughly 19 dogs (we didn't manage a very accurate head count). There was much squealing and we got to watch some of the meet and greet antics that dogs are famous for. Bush was dense people were moving in the vehicles, getting any clear shots in good light were challenging.







The youngsters were curious and kept checking us out.




After the wake up and re-establishing their bonds the pack started to move. It looked like they were ready to hunt. We followed where we could, using roads to cut them off as they ran through the scrub. It was very interesting and exciting to watch the adults of the pack in action with the youngsters following up behind.




We followed while the light was good but as it faded we left them to it.




Hopefully we would catch up with them in the morning.


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So I love the way you started...


Everything else has been plus...dogs already!

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A great start. I love that last photo of the dogs heading down the track - which heads towards the distant horizon. I am not sure I would have thought to take that but it works really well.

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Drive 2 - Wednesday 11th March Morning


During the previous nights dinner we discovered that Albie’s search for dogs has been less fruitful as our own and his guests has spent the time photographing a few elephants enjoying a drink in good light. Never mind at least we knew one pack was close by.


We were woken up at 5:45 with a flask of hot water and tea bags left at the front of the tent. After a spot of breakfast we were out of the camp by about 6:15 and checking up on the pack we saw the previous night. We saw a few zebra and a lone giraffe but it didn't take long to pick up a signal and find the dogs. By the time we caught up with them they were almost in camp and there was plenty of hunting preparation going on.


The dogs swept towards camp complete with a lone hyena in tow.




The hyena hung on for a while until the dogs got tired of the interloper and we watched as two or three adults saw it off.


The terrain was, again, tough for photography. Too many bushes and rocks in the way to get many clear shots of the action.








It was pretty exciting to sit back and watch the dogs flushing out dik dik after dik dik. I watched a dik dik from the back of our vehicle that was hiding in some scrub make a break for it as a dog came through. The dog immediately gave chase and they disappeared into the bush. I don’t know if the dik dik got away or the dog had breakfast.


The dogs seemed to be everywhere. Darting to and fro as they got closer to camp and eventually crossed the rocks immediately in front of it.




They headed down to the river




taking the opportunity to pause for a drink




then continuing along the road. Some on the track while others were in the bush still flushing out prey. They stirred a big eland bull that was resting up behind some cacti. It slowly lumbered off into the bush obscured by foliage.


The dogs paused for a rest. Steve thought they may have found their resting place for the day and hoped that the pups might be active and curious enough to come over and check a few photographers out. Three people got out and laid in a row like snipers behind the vehicle. Then Steve pulled forward to expose them to the dogs.




The pups weren't interested and it looked like the dogs were not going to stay put and they started to get up and move on. With everyone back in the vehicle we followed as they moved further along the river.




They crossed a dried out river bed while we sat on a bridge and watched them from above.




The pack were splintered but all still in fairly close proximity. We stayed with the main pack until they settled under some bushes close to the river and then followed a breakaway group of three as the made their way down toward the water.




It was time for some coffee. So we also headed down towards the river and a nice clump of rocks from where we could see the three dogs. As we were settling down, dishing out delicious breakfast muffins and deciding on tea or coffee. One of the dogs came over the ridge to check our group out. We were told to get down, keep still and be quiet but we were too noisy and the dog didn't come any closer. A lost photo opportunity for sure.


The three dogs had their drink and started calling for the rest of the pack, who were not far away at all. We watched the reunion from the rocks before they settled into their chosen spot for what we hoped was the rest of the day.


After the morning coffee break it was time to go and look for something different. Steve wanted to check for lions and the pack that Albie had gone looking for the previous evening. He also wanted to check on a camera trap that had put out at a dam a few days previously.


We didn't bump into lions or the other pack of dogs but Steve did pick up signals from both which showed they were in the area. The dam was a very sad sight almost completely dried out with nothing more than a couple of wading birds ankle deep in water. Steve collected his camera and we headed down to another dam which was an even sadder sight than the 1st. Just a shallow stagnant pool of muddy water and catfish who were holding out for dear life or a drop of rain.




We came back along the river and watched a couple of elephants graze on the lush vegetation in the valley below.




We also spotted a Martial eagle and a couple of juvenile spotted owls whilst we were watching them. Then it was back to camp, checking the dogs were still where we had left them, for brunch at 11:30 which we took on the rocks above the main camp that overlook the river and the new family camp that is being built.




Drive 3 - Wednesday 11th March Afternoon


After a nap and at around 3:30pm Albie held a brief workshop on light and composition. Then it was tea and more lovely cake at 4:30 before the afternoon activities.


Choices were a walk out to the dogs or a drive that would eventually end at where the dogs were resting up. I opted for the walk with Steve.


We headed off in front of the camp and along the road by the river and then switched down to the river bank itself. We didn't see much on our way we passed where the dogs were and stopped for a while where a small pod of hippos were hiding under the surface of the water. We waited for an age for them to surface but all we got were noses and bubbles. They were so shy. I only got one out of focus shot of a pair of nostrils!


Steve had a change of plan. He knew where the dogs were heading next and thought it would be better if we headed a little further down the river to a well known point where animals prefer to cross the river. We could wait for the dogs to come down and cross. As we radioed to the vehicles what we were doing there was an almighty trumpeting sound coming from the area where the dogs were lying up.


Elephants had walked into the dogs and were expressing their displeasure! Our plans changed again as the vehicles rushed to pick us up so we could witness the interaction.

Sadly by the time we reached the dogs we had missed most of the action. The dogs were on a rocky outcrop where the elephants couldn't get to them. They weren't in any hurry and the occasional trumpet was having little effect.




We settled in front of the ridge, the light behind the dogs again. Not ideal but it did give us a bit of time to play with some photography techniques such as back lighting.




The dogs eventually moved on but not very far. They settled in the sun by the side of the road which gave us a good opportunity to photograph them in good light.










Eventually they started to stir and wake up there wasn't too much of the usual meet and greeting, just a bit of submissive behaviour.




but it did give the photographers in the other vehicle the chance to get out on the ground and photograph the dogs from ground level. The pups curious as ever did not disappoint.




The dogs decided it was time to move on and as we followed a lone elephant appeared from the bush to give them one last trumpet to send them on their way.




The dogs headed to the river crossing just as Steve had anticipated, we followed and caught them just as they were making plans to cross.




The pups found a rag from somewhere and had a little game while they waited for the adults to formulate a plan.




But eventually they crossed to the other side across the property boundary where we could not follow.








The light was almost gone by now. We drove along the river for a short distance and a lion was spotted on the opposite side of the river and then a male leopard just sitting on the hillside under a tree admiring the view.




Then it was drinks and dinner in the bush around a lovely camp fire before eventually heading back to camp and bed. We spotted a Genet and a white tailed weasel on the way.

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So, for your FIRST trip report you hand us dogs on the road, a great chase, hunt, and photographers on the ground..and then dogs again.

Great start and photos, (who doesn't love looking at dogs and their wild behavior) If this is just the beginning, I cannot wait for more!

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fabulous stuff @@IamFisheye

terrific encounters

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You are really haviung excellent luck with the dogs,Getting to spend that much time with them is special. And you topped off the day with a lion and leoipard.

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Loving this @@IamFisheye .You certainly hit the jackpot shortly after you got there - particularly with the dogs.

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~ Hello, @@IamFisheye!


What an entertaining first trip report!

You've expanded my understanding — I had no idea that it was possible safely be outdoors with wild dogs.

In my ignorance I'd believed what I was told that they were indiscriminate carnivores. I'm relieved to know otherwise, as I could never outrun a wild dog pack.

The label art on the wine bottle made me smile — touché!


That's one lovely image, @@IamFisheye.

The scene is masterfully composed, with the foreground track, vegetation and walking wild dogs in focus, their path fading into the distance.

Their dark coats with white accents contrast so well with their surroundings. The muted luminosity works so well.

Like, like, like! Thank you for this trip report.

Tom K.

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What a fantastic thread so far. I especially like the "lone hyena" attempting to blend into the dog pack in the background - at least, that's how it looks.

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Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments.


@@Tom Kellie - Wild Dogs do have a bad reputation that organisations such as the PDC http://www.painteddog.org/ are trying to change. I've read quite a lot about them over the past couple of years and they are becoming a bit of an obsession. I also ran into Greg Rassumsen, a leading wild dog researcher, several times last year while in Zimbabwe and learnt a lot ourselves.


I wouldn't want to get on the ground with them without an experienced guide around. This was my 2nd Safari where I'd been on foot with Dogs, last year's in Mana Pools we were literally running after them with a vehicle in tow.


Steve at Laikipia wilderness has been following the packs in this area for years and knows when the best times of year and day to get people on the ground. The adults are reasonably relaxed with vehicles and people around (if you are low to the ground). It's the youngsters curiosity that brings them so close to the photographers. I will post some more detail on getting out of the vehicle and shooting from the ground in my next instalment(s).


The artwork on the wine is by Lin Barrie who is involved with the Save Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe https://wildlifeandwilddogs.wordpress.com/

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Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments.


@@Tom Kellie - Wild Dogs do have a bad reputation that organisations such as the PDC http://www.painteddog.org/ are trying to change. I've read quite a lot about them over the past couple of years and they are becoming a bit of an obsession. I also ran into Greg Rassumsen, a leading wild dog researcher, several times last year while in Zimbabwe and learnt a lot ourselves.


I wouldn't want to get on the ground with them without an experienced guide around. This was my 2nd Safari where I'd been on foot with Dogs, last year's in Mana Pools we were literally running after them with a vehicle in tow.


Steve at Laikipia wilderness has been following the packs in this area for years and knows when the best times of year and day to get people on the ground. The adults are reasonably relaxed with vehicles and people around (if you are low to the ground). It's the youngsters curiosity that brings them so close to the photographers. I will post some more detail on getting out of the vehicle and shooting from the ground in my next instalment(s).


The artwork on the wine is by Lin Barrie who is involved with the Save Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe https://wildlifeandwilddogs.wordpress.com/


~ @IamFisheye:


Thank you for taking time to explain this to me in such detail.

As I've written so many times on Safaritalk, this is all entirely new to me, who scarcely knew anything about Wild Dogs until this year.

Being on the ground with them was contrary to the hearsay told to me.

Lin Barrie's wine label artwork is superb. Here in Beijing numerous “foreign” Web sites are permanently unavailable, including Wordpress.

Your thoughtful explanation increases my interest in Wild Dogs. Thanks!

Tom K.

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It is special experience when the puppies come close out of curiosity. At least someone had a camera to hand to take pictures of you/your travelling companions lying there. Great Stuff :)


Like you @@IamFisheye I was inducted some years ago, in Mana Pools and Hwange, to being outside the vehicle with Wilddogs.


Steve is of course originally from Zimbabwe and has probably brought this approach to Laikipia Wilderness Camp. I have no doubt that these dogs to some degree are still getting habituated to people outside of the vehicle, hence remaining horizontal rather than sitting.


I have wondered though, whether if you got up and started running away from them it might trigger a different response, dogs running away as well or stimulating a prey chase ................ and no, I have no plans to test this theory ;)

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Drive 4 - Thursday 12th March Morning


My nights sleep was interrupted by lion and hyena calls in the early hours of the morning. At around 04:00 - 04:30 there was a blood curdling cry near by which almost definatly meant that someone’s hunt had been successful.


We were woken by the usual 05:45 human alarm clock and tea delivery to the tent. At breakfast there was a lot of speculation as to what the noise could have been and by the time we reached the vehicles for the mornings game drive Steve was already busy scanning the airwaves for the known lions of the area. Albie was driving us this morning.


It didn’t take long to find where the noise was coming from. Just outside camp there were 2 lionesses with a young male in tow. They had killed a Grevy foal and were in the process of beating a retreat from the gathering hyena hordes that had been attracted, like us, to the noise.


We held back in order to let the drama unravel. The local lions are somewhat shy when humans are around and it would be unfair to to scare them off their kill. Most of the activity was obscured by bushes and I didn’t manage to get anything worthwhile captured on the camera.


Except a lone hyena




and a retreating lioness




Unfortunately most of the kill was taken by the hyenas, not that there was too much to go around in the first place. The lions disappeared into the bush. The two females in one direction and the young male in another. We hung around for a while and moved in the same direction as the females. We got a few glimpses of them but they didn’t want to be seen. We could hear them calling to the male who was responding.


Steve was clearly upset by what the lions had chosen to kill. He had more or less seen the young zebra born and watched it grow over it’s very short life. Why couldn’t it have been a common old plains zebra? Unfortunately lions have no understanding of what’s species survival are under threat when it comes to mealtimes!


We went off to look for dogs. Steve in one direction and us in the other. It was clear that the pack that we followed to the river had not come back. But it was hoped that the pack that Albie went looking for on our 1st afternoon would return.


As we drove back onto the main road we stopped to take a few pictures of the camp




It was a fairly uneventful morning. But we did run into a pair of reticulated giraffe that were grazing on the side of the road, this one was particularly dark




Further on there was a small flock of vulturine guinea fowl running in and out of the road. Albie thought that it might be a snake that was upsetting them but we couldn’t see anything.




Either that or the the pair of Goshawks on the opposite side of the road were causing the unrest. The male was eating something small and brown




while his mate looked on




I also recall coming across an enormous fresh ball of elephant dung that I wish I had taken a picture of. We spent a few moments speculating on who the owner was and whether they were still in the vicinity.


We reached a kopje, Baboon Rock, which was an ideal place to climb and scan for the dogs and also to take our morning coffee.




View from the top




I don’t think we saw anything for the rest of the hot and dusty morning. Maybe a few elephants partially obscured by bushes. We met the other vehicle at the dried out dam with the mud pool of catfish for a spot of brunch before heading back to camp for a siesta.

Drive 5 - Thursday 12th March Afternoon


We heard news that the other dog pack was back in the area when we were enjoying our pre drive tea and cake. We were out in vehicles by 16:45, Steve was driving us again.


After a few stops to scan for a signal we found the dogs resting up in the shade of a few trees




but they looked restless. Some of the pack had moved off but were starting to return as we arrived and it looked like some reunion greeting rituals were going to get underway. But it was low key and didn’t last long.










The pack started to move off and we followed. It was still too early in the day for a hunt and they still looked stuffed from whatever they had caught earlier in the day. The dogs didn’t move far, maybe 400-500 yards max. Just really to find themselves another place to rest up. We sat and watched for a while. The pups slowly formed a huddle, joining one at a time.










Towards the back of the group the Alpha Pair were getting amorous or to be more precise the male was trying it on. Apparently they had been mating on and off for the past week or so, the female was obviously growing tired as the pictures show.






The rest of the pack remained huddled up in their little groups. Steve thought it wouldn’t be long before the pups would be up and running around so it would be a good time to get out and down on the ground. The theory being that the inquisitive youngsters would come over and investigate the strange things lying on the ground.


He moved the vehicle into a good position and four of us got out on the far side so that the dogs could not see us. We laid on the ground and Steve moved the vehicle away.




The dogs did nothing but laze around and moved slowly from one huddle to another




We lay on the ground for about 30 minutes. It was amazing how much heat was radiating through the dirt, it was incredibly warm. The dogs eventually ended up under one bush in one large bundle of legs, tails and ears.




They weren’t going to be moving for sometime yet and the light had all but faded. We headed back to camp for dinner. Spotting plains zebra, giraffe and a white tailed mongoose on the way. We also saw what I thought at 1st glance was a donkey, the light was so poor that the fine stripes on the side of the grevy’s zebra had blended into a shade of grey. It was my 1st, live, grevy spot of the trip and I managed one very blurred picture.

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Beautiful landscapes and dogs. I also like the vulturine guinea fowl, what an unusual bird.

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  • 2 weeks later...


It looks like you had a really great trip with lots of good quality sightings of the dogs. I really like your photos - beautiful. Your report is really enjoyable!

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Thanks @@TonyQ, @@Marks. There's plenty more to come I had hoped to add another section over the weekend but ran out of time. It should be here soon.

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Drive 6 - Friday 13th March Morning


Another wonderful day in Laikipia. We were up at the routine 5:45 and out of camp, post breakfast, at around 6:15. The signal from the pack we had seen the previous evening was good but it took us until 7:00 to find them. The were in a valley between the ridge we had just come from and the one we were now on.


Despite the signal breaking up but we found them in the end. Not far off the road as we drove down a slope, through the shrub we could see the dogs running through the bushes and trees on the other side. At first it looked like they were in pursuit of something but it just turned out they were regrouping for a bit of post hunt R&R. The adults looked stuffed and already settling down for the day.




The pups were just getting up for a bit of mischief.


We were with Steve this morning, Albie’s car had gone in another direction to find the dogs and he was now on route to join us. But before he arrived four of us got out of the vehicle, lay on the ground behind it before Steve drove forward to reveal us to the dogs and the pups to us. No sooner than we were on the ground the curious pups started to get closer.


They were getting really close. I was glad I had opted for a medium range zoom and I hoped even more that I was going to get some decent shots (new camera, new lens and so much to learn in such a short period of time). They took their turn in coming closer to check us out.












One looped around behind us and we heard calls from the vehicle to look behind us. I didn't look but one of the pups was almost close enough to sniff our feet. One pup to our right decided to clean his teeth on a poison apple bush. I managed to get a nice sequence of shots of his sparkling white, ultra sharp teeth as he chewed.




It’s really interesting to see how dark these dogs are compared to their cousins in the south of the continent. This pup was one of the darkest. The whole area has a reputation for melanistic leopards and Steve has seen weasels too.








Their curiosity satisfied, the dogs started to burn off their breakfast. Having a good old run around and play with each other. Some played close to us






While some of the others decided to be closer to the adults






Albie’s group showed up just as the pups were starting to wind down.




He drove in front of us in order to get his group on the ground




But the pups were already settling down for some rest. I got back in our vehicle around 7:40, we had been on the ground for about 35+ minutes but it seemed much longer.


Albie (on the left) with some of his guests. There were a couple of other photographers on the ground in front of the vehicle and the resting dogs in the background.




We hung around until 8:15, the dogs weren't going to do anything else this morning. Before our stop for coffee we took the opportunity to check on the lions. They were still around we could just about make out their shapes in the bush. We didn't stay long as we didn't want to disturb them too much so there wasn't much of a chance to get a picture. We did get the chance to have another go at photographing a few more guinea fowl though.




We had tea/coffee and muffins at another dam. This one was completely dried out. Albi had been keen to do a night sky photography session since our dinner in the bush on Wednesday night and spent some time scoping out the area for good subject matter and canvassing for interested photographers.


After refreshments we drove back past camp. Steve’s three dogs Boris, Buster and Trigger were waiting up at the car port.




Steve called them and all three of them came running down the dusty trek to join us for the rest of the morning’s drive. We stopped for a few pictures of the obliging Hyrax sat on top of a rock.




We were back on our way when we encountered a nice herd of elephants heading down to the river. We waited for them to emerge from the bush and cross the road.




Then drove down to the river bank where Steve told us to get out quietly and crawl to the river bank and lay on our bellies. We watched the family enjoy their drink for at least 30 minutes.














and then head off




up the opposite bank and off in a cloud of dust




A few minutes further along the river we encountered a 2nd herd on the other bank.






We didn't spend much time with them as they were also heading up the bank and we were late for Brunch.


Brunch was at a beautiful spot on the river by the waterfall. I took a post brunch snap of the area but I think you have seen better shots of this area in other peoples recent trip reports.




After brunch, heading back to camp we encountered another herd of elephants on the road heading towards the river.






They were accompanied by a sizeable bull, we speculated that he could possibly have been the owner of the huge ball of dung we had found the previous day. A real gentle fellow, he kept his eye on us for a while while the herd passed.




Then slowly drifted on after them, rubbing his sides on a tree as he went on his way.




The rest of the drive back to camp was uneventful. I tried to get an arty shot of Boris who was hanging out of the passenger side window in front of me but we were bumping up and down too much! This is my best attempt.




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Wow, you really had a fantastic trip, what a great report! Love the low angle dog pics.

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KaingU Lodge

Wow, you really had a fantastic trip, what a great report! Love the low angle dog pics.


Me too! Great stuff.

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Game Warden

Great report and dog photos :)

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Lovely shots of the dogs and everything else. The last morning looks like such a good one.

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You had a great trip!.A really interesting report with excellent photos. We are interested to go to LWC so have loved reading about it - thank you.

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@@IamFisheye - lovely report and images to go with it!!! Thanks for posting ....... I have fond memories of LWC and your report allows me to recapture the spirit of LWC.

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loved the ground level view. At times it looks like you could have done with a shorter length lens.

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