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A tribute to Steve Kgwatalala or how a good guide can make a difference


mvecht

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mvecht

I have been a member of ST since 2008 but since all my 7 trips to Southern Africa have been prior to 2008 I have not done any trip reports on ST apart from a brief trip report from Ranthambore.

I am eagerly awaiting my first trip to East Africa in December and that has brought back a lot of positive memories from the past. @@Bush dog is doing an excellent report on his past trips to Kwando so I thought I would use a different angle.

A guide can make or break a trip. I have had some excellent guides Graham Cooke, Bruce Lawson, Sunday Nilenge and at Kwando Mothusi, Doctor and Spencer. I have also had other guides that I will not name as they did not provide an experience to remember. However of all the guides I have had Steve Kgwatalala (Big Steve) at Kwando stood out for his combination of personality, skills, intuition and tenacity.

Steve guided for me at Kwando Lagoon/Lebala in August 2004, September/October 2005 at Kwara, Lagoon and Lebala and in July 2006 at Lebala.

In 2007 Steve started working in the Selinda concession and unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to meet him there. Steve died in September 2011 and he is greatly missed.

Steve was the head guide at Kwando for many years and was also at one point in time responsible for the guide training.

During a visit to Stanley`s Camp in 2002 I was made aware of the Kwando concession and the possibilities of seeing Wild Dogs and Cheetah and was also told about the Steve`s abilities as a guide so for 2004 I chose to stay 4 nights at Lagoon followed by 2 nights at Lebala and subsequently 3 nights at Kwara with a different guide.

Actually my trip started at Susuwe Island Lodge which is just North of Lagoon on the Namibian side of the border.

First picture from Susuwe brings back memories of Steve as the first thing he said when he saw it was he wanted an enlarged version for his bathroom!

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From Susuwe you can transfer by land/boat via Lianshulu lodge and a boat trip down the Kwando river doing immigration at the military post next to Lagoon Lodge.

Steve picked me up and we immediately got along as my two target species were Wild Dogs and Cheetah. Steves preference in order were Dogs, Dogs, Dogs, Cheetah and all the rest.

If he was still alive and a member of ST his screen name would be madaboutdogs.

I quickly learned that the dogs had denned successfully and had 8 puppies but that they had moved their den site and the new one had not been located yet so we would try lo locate it as quickly as possible.

During the first game drive we did not succeed in finding the Dogs but did find a nice Lion Pride resting at Halfway Lagoon. The adults were just lazing in the sun but the youngsters were playing King of the Hill which was quite amusing to watch.

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At dusk we spotted a very shy male Cheetah as well as a more relaxed female that we would see again during the following days.

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twaffle

What a lovely tribute. I'm really enjoying these retrospective looks back at safaris past.

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michael-ibk

What Twaffle said. :)

 

Very much looking forward to more of this!

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graceland

As well, I am enjoying the pics and tributes to your most special guide.

Thanks for sharing....

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mvecht

The following day we went searching for the dogs but instead found the female Cheetah we had seen the night before.

She posed for a little while an then started stalking an Impala. She started a chase but was too far away from the beginning.

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In the afternoon we decided to see what the Lion pride from the previous night was doing.

We found them asleep in almost the same spot as the night before. About a kilometer away a herd of app 1000 Buffalo were grazing so we decided to do a sundowner and wait for the action.

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Big Steve

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After the sundowner we hooked up with the Lion pride again. It was now almost completely dark. 2 other vehicles joined in and the vehicles would alternate to switch on the spotlights for a few seconds every 30 seconds in order to make sure we knew where the Lions were but at the same time trying not to interfere with the hunt.

During one of the "dark" periods Steve heard some sounds and we quickly located the male Lion killing a very old Hyena.

It was clear that the Lion would not tolerate any competition and in the end the Lion crushed every bone in the body of the Hyena. Also eventhough the females and cubs were quite interested he would not let them near.

The sighting was not for the faint hearted and at the end the smell was not very nice either!

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After this the Lions started chasing the Buffalo. One Lioness stayed in the background with the cubs.

This was a classic fight between the two species with attacks and counter attacks. As it took place in total darkness we would listen to the sounds and then occassionally the spotlights would come on. This continued for app two hours without any succes for the Lions. I could not take any pictures as we were sitting in a cloud of dust. I dont think I have ever been more dirty in my life. When the Lions gave up it was time to head back to camp but shortly after leaving the scene we had a flat tyre. Our tracker LT scanned the area with his spotlight and found the Lionesses and cubs about 40m away on the left side of the vehicle. In the mean time I had taken out my small flash light and saw to shiny spots under a tree log some 20m away on the right side of the car. The male Lion!

Steve decided to change the tyre on the right side of the vehicle anyhow so LT kep the spotlight on the male as I was watching the pride on the other side. I dont think I have ever seen Steve change a tyre so quickly.

After that it was straight back to camp and a very late dinner at 11.30 PM.

 

 

 

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penolva

Amazing lion/hyena interaction, remarkable and very interesting to see.

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mvecht

The next morning we set out searching for the dogs but ended up with a more unusual sighting.

Two Civets in daylight. The first one disappeared quickly but the other one was stuck in a tree so we had plenty of time to watch it.

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After this we continued the search for the dogs. On the prior drives I had asked Steve to stop the vehicle a few times as I thought I had seen something, but it just turned out to be rocks or tree stumbs. Suddenly Steve shouted "Buffalo" as he could see a huge amount of dust ahead. As we came round the corner it turned out to be spring cleaning at the military camp so we had a good laugh.

LT was the one responsible for the next sighting. He had seen a drop of blood and a small dragmark in the sand even though we were doing a pretty good speed. The female Cheetah had made a kill and dragged it behind a bush to get it into the shade and in cover from other predators. She had eaten a little but was now resting. When we returned in the afternoon she was eating much more actively and already had a very full stomach.

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We resumed the search for the dogs. In areas of interest Steve and LT would leave the vehicle and I would take over the wheel and follow right behind them as none of them were carrying arms.

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Finally they picked up some tracks just before dark and we found the dogs with puppies. My first wild dogs!

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michael-ibk

Wow, you really had outstanding sightings. That lion - hyena encounter is incredibly intense, and I can't remember any Civet daytine sightings reported here on ST. Super pictures. and it says a lot that the Dog puppies are only the third thing I mention.

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mvecht

The next morning started with a nice Sable sighting but the lighting did not allow for a decent photo and then an aggressive Hippo trying to chase us away.

 

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He seems to say " I won"

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We then went searching for the Lions

"the Philosopher"

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"the hungry one"

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"The sleepy one"

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We went searching for the dogs again as they had not yet settled for a new den. LT and Steve quickly found some tracks and it was not long before we rejoined with the dogs.

Unfortunately one pup was dead. Presumably by a snake bite.

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Quite an exciting morning and then it was time to head back to camp for breakfast.

 

 

 

 

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I think that this must be the same Steve, along with Moses. He was our guide at Zarafa September 2010. For four nights we flew, hanging on for dear life following the dogs hunting. When we returned in 2013, we heard that he had died.

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mvecht

@@marg

This is the same Steve.

He started working at Selinda/Zarafa in 2007.

If nothing else I would recognize him from your description about following the dogs but more about that later ;)

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Bush dog

The hyena/lion interaction is very spectacular, as well as the pictures of it.

 

The civets' pictures are excellent. Not use to see these in broad daylight.

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madaboutcheetah

So glad you are doing this report, Michael .... Wow!!! On the road now - shall catch up from home!

Cheers

Hari

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mvecht

Next morning we went looking for the dogs again.

When we were 15 minutes out of camp we were radioed that the dogs were drinking just in front of my tent!

We found the dogs not too far from the military camp and realised that either they can not read or they dont obey human laws <_<

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We spent several hours with the dogs that started out at a leisurely pace but then they started to be more serious. However the most interesting game that crossed thier path was baboons that just took cover in the trees. In the end the dogs had to go hungry which is quite unusual.

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Next stop Lebala camp which was also the normal base for Steve.

Normally we would be the first out and the last back to camp but this time Steve was trying to delay the drive. I was a little surprised but did not argue. The other two vehicles had started going north and when they were 5 minutes away Steve was finally ready. He turned south and leaving camp he told me that he had already spotted the 3 "Blood Brothers" on a mound 100m from camp and wanted me to have some prime time with them before he radioed the other guys. Nice opportunity but the light was a little harsh.

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This drive turned out to be one of the highlights as we saw 5 different species of cats (Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Serval and Wild Cat). The Wild cat sighting was very nice as it was an adult with two tiny kittens. However they were very shy so I did not get any pictures. The Leopard on the other hand was quite obliging. PS it did not kill the Buffalo ;)

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mvecht

Returning to camp we had some sad news. The Lagoon vehicles had been follwing the dogs hunting at the airstrip and the alpha female had been killed by a Lion.

Over the next couple of weeks the 3 remaining dogs tried to raise the puppies but without luck.

The next morning Steve found the 3 brothers at a pan and we could see some Zebra and Wildebeest moving towards the pan as well. We moved into shade at the other side of the pan in order not to interfere with the potential hunt.

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Another vehicle from Lebala moved in but unfortunately they decided to stay right next to the Cheetahs and everytime one of the Cheetahs would move they would start the engine and follow creating some attention from the Zebra and Wildebeest.

In the end the Cheetah attempted a hunt before they were close enough so no kill.

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In the evening we rejoined with the female Leopard. She had taken refuge in a tree as a Hyena was lurking around the Buffalo carcass.

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The last morning we found the Cheetah again. However they were just resting and not in the mood for a hunt.

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The last sighting at Lebala was a Dickinsons Kestrel.

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mvecht

In September/October I went back to Kwara/Lagoon/Lebala for 10 days and this time I opted to have Steve as my private guide for the entire trip.

Prior to the trip I made a rookie mistake. I had just upgraded from the Canon EOS 10D to the 20D but I had not tested the new camera.

Returning from the trip I realised that the camera did not have perfect focus so I ended up with a lot of bad or soft shots.

I started the trip at Kwara and on the first drive we were lucky to see a Cheetah with 3 small cubs. As the cubs were quite small we kept a healthy distance so it was not easy to get good shots.

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At Kwara we had many good sightings

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Bateared Fox

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We did see several skinny males. This was before the coalition of 7 took over the area.

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A trip to the rookery gave some nice bird sightings.

Blackshouldered Kite

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Final sighting of the day was a small pack of 3 dogs.

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madaboutcheetah

I have a hunch - that dark dog in the pic is the legendary, "Go Black" ..... who ended up on his own for quite a few years. I have not ever seen him - but, have heard legendary stories of him.

 

Michael, if the last series of pics at Kwara is from 2005? I think there were 3 big male Lions at that time from memory?

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mvecht

@@madaboutcheetah

Hi Hari. Indeed there was a coalition of 3 males. More about that in the next installment but we also saw at least two different skinny males that had probably lost out to the new boys. Quite a lot had happened since 2004 where we saw two males in their prime ousting two other very healthy looking males.

And yes, the dog is "Go Black"

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mvecht

The next morning we did not have a specific plan.

We started out with a Sidestriped Jackal.

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Shortly after we found two of the three dominant male Lions.

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The were following a decent herd of Buffalo but did not make any attempts for a kill.

Steve asked camp to send out a guy to sit with the Lions so that they would be easy to find in the afternoon.

Around 1 PM we had a call that they had decided to make a kill in the midday heat!

This would happen twice more on this trip that the Lions would kill around noon.

After the Lions we had a strange sighting of a Sable Bull. There was something that was not quite right with this guy as he actually charged our vehicle a couple of times.

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In the afternoon we headed out to see what the Lions were doing.

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The females were not invited for the feast.

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In the evening we had some nice sightings of Serval and Wild Cat.

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The last morning at Kwara we went back to the Lion kill.

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New male approaching. Friend or foe?

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Friend! @@madaboutcheetah trio complete.

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mvecht

Next stop Lebala

Beautiful Male Lechwe just outside the tent.

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The main target at Lebala was dogs. The dogs had denned in Selinda but they should be mobile by now.

During the first drive we did not see anything exceptional except for this fairly relaxed female Caracal.

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The night in camp was quite interesting. At dinner I met a young black civil servant from Gaborone. It was his first night ever in the bush. During the night I had Wild Cats mating (I guess), an Elephant feeding and breaking of branches at a tree just next to my tent, A small herd of Buffalo coming by and to finish it off a Hippo feeding just outside the tent. At morning coffee I asked the young guy if he had had any sleep and he looked at me and said "noooh, what were all those noises"

The next morning we had a good sighting of a Hippo out of water.

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Steve then decided to check out the neighbouring concession without permission. No dogs but we did see this unfortunate little Elephant and his aggressive aunt who gave us a good chase.

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In the afternoon we went looking for Rosythroated Longclaw but also had some nice Buffalo, Serval and Civet.

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mvecht

Dogs, dogs and dogs.

The previous one of the other guides had seen tracks indicating that the dogs were now in the concession.

At first light 3 vehicles headed south. After about an hour of searching we had an excited Spencer on the radio telling that he had found the dogs and that they were hunting. Seconds later we had 2 Impala`s followed by dogs and Spencer racing past us.

Here is where Steve`s superior experience with the dogs kicked in. He said that the dogs were taking a route that would be hard to follow but that he had a hunch where the hunt would end. We drove down to a pan and seconds later 3 dogs arrived and killed the exhausted Impala just 10m from the vehicle.

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After having a good eat the 3 dogs left in search of the rest of the dogs and a few minutes later most of the adults came to the kill.

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And then one Hyena arrived and we had an amazing interaction between dogs and Hyena.

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The Whole time the other Impala, a pregnant female, had been in the water chosing between been taken by the dogs/Hyenas or potentially been taken by a Crocodile. She lucked out and got away in the end.

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All in all an amazing morning drive.

 

 

 

 

 

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mvecht

More dogs

In the afternoon all vehicles went to see what the dogs were doing but first we came across a fairly relaxed Roan.

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Then we found a few of the dogs drinking at the same pan we had seen them at in the morning.

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Slowly the pack started to get active. They checked some Zebras to see how fit they were.

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The puppies arrived. Some of them were having fun with a Tsetse trap.

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Our tracker was very new at Kwando. His previous job was at Kings Pool so he was not familiar with the Kwando style of hunting with the dogs. He was in for a surprise over the next couple of days.

The dogs started hunting in usual style by running at a leisurely pace and different dogs going in different directions. All 3 vehicles followed behind the dogs.

Steve again showed his superior knowledge about dog behaviour. At one point several of the dogs started chasing a Kudu and the two other vehicles sped ahead in pursuit. Steve calmly told me that as the "hunting dog" was not part of the chase the dogs would soon give up. Instead he followed the "hunting dog" and seconds later this dog initiated a chase of an Impala. We were right behind at high speed but the Impala was a little to quick so the take down took place just inside a thicket rather than out in the open. We had to circumvent the thicket to get to the kill and there were no photo opportunities. A few of the dogs got some nice chunks of meat but then the Hyenas took over and the dogs left without a fight.

Later we saw and heard the puppies begging for food and the adults regurgitating.

 

During the night drive we saw a shy male Caracal and two Zorilla`s

 

The next morning we transferred to Lagoon Camp.

We had a small kill but due to the focusing issues mentioned at the beginning of the report the pictures are not that great.

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We drove to a Carmine Bee eater colony were a Wahlbergs Eagle killed a Bee eater just as we arrived.

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michael-ibk

This report reads like "Kwando´s Greatest Hits" - simply awesome!

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mvecht

Michael, thank you for the kind words. Kwando is a special place!

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mvecht

The afternoon drive gave a lot of Zebra sightings.

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Later we found a lone male Hippo in a small pool.

He did a similar roll as we just seen with excellent pictures in a different post on ST.

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The next morning we left camp without a specific plan.

Very close to camp we picked up Lion tracks and decided to follow them.

First a couple of kilometers on the main road after which we came across some nice LBR`s.

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Shortly after we left the road and Steve and the tracker (I believe it was the brother of Doctor) went on foot and I drove closely behind them. This went on for several kilometers through very difficult terrain. I have no idea how they were able to follow the tracks. However the Lions kept ahead of us. Steve and the tracker got back in the vehicle and shortly after we caught up with the pride. They were quite skittish and one of them was collared so I did not take any photos. We radioed another vehicle and as soon as they arrived we left. The people in the other vehicle, which by the way had a different colour than ours, told us that as soon as we left the Lions started relaxing. I am guessing that they associated our vehicle with people on foot and were able to distinguish between the two vehicles, maybe because of colour.

Even though we did not see much this morning it was still a great drive for me. The tracking really lets you appreciate the skill of the guide and tracker.

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