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April 2007: Zim and Botswana


Alex The Lion

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Alex The Lion

Matt kindly requested a trip report, so thought I would start one rolling.

 

April/May 2007 – Zimbabwe and Botswana Safari 19 days

 

- My first return since her majesty decided that service was for me

- Choosing the green season was easy, mostly for photogenic reasons, also because my other experiences had been during the dry season or the start of the green season, December

- Slight photographic nut as you will soon discover

- Agent used : The Booking Company in Maun

- Airline: Used BA miles to fly Heathrow-LVI, and the Jo’burg- Heathrow (via Air Botswana

- Itinerary:

 

Makalolo Camp – 9 nights Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Kwando Lebala – 2 nights Kwando/Linyanti, Botswana

Kwando Lagoon – 2 nights Kwando/Linyanti, Botswana

Kwando Kwara – 4 nights Okavango, Botswana

 

Camera Equipment:

 

Canon 5D Bodies x2

Canon 500 F4 L IS

Canon 70-200 F2.8 IS

Canon 17-40 F4

Canon 580ex flash

Bean Bag

Manfrotto Superclamps plus tripod heads

Manfrotto Tripod

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Alex The Lion

Makalolo Concession, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

 

Day 1

 

The flights to Livingstone and the transfer to Vic Falls went without any hitches. Checking my baggage all the way through, I was pleasantly surprised that it had arrived with me. Once at Vic Falls, there was a delay in getting air bound. As it was the green season, the infrequent flying meant the plane had to be fully fueled. This took some time as we had actually picked the pilot up on the way to the airport.

 

Tall green grass had lined the route to the airport, and from the air there was a blanket of green. I was slightly anxious about the game viewing; I could see from the air that some pans were full. Some appeared to still be seasonal, with no road access. Would the elephants still be deep in the woodland areas etc. I knew that many antelope species should be on the plains, if the brochure was to be believed. Still, it had been a dry year in terms of rainfall. So I was encouraged that the game viewing would be at least a month or two ahead of schedule. It turned out to be the case.

 

After an hour, we landed a Linkwasha Airstrip. It was an amazing fly-in along Linkwasha Vlei. At Airstrip 2 pan, we had an aerial view of hundreds of elephants and a massive herd of buffalo not far from the airstrip. The highlight was seeing a rhino in the woodlands. As it was after four, the guide and I set out for a drive straight away, heading for the buffalo herd. After taking a few photos, I really wanted to head to the camp. There had been no food at Vic Falls airport, I hadn’t slept on the flight over and was looking forward to having a slow drive around then settling in. This was of course my first time back in Africa in 18 months.

 

On arriving at Camp, which is found through mixed woodland, you begin to understand how Hwange works; a number of open Vlei’s or Plains that are separated by woodlands. The camp is set on a massive Vlei with two pans. Even as I was having my induction and some tea, there was at least 5 different mammal species on the plain in full view. I enjoyed one of those amazing green season sunsets, clouds and excellent light. Then it was a shower and dinner, with the only other guests, a French family of three.

 

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Day 2

 

I was out early in the morning, heading towards Ngweshla, where the four large Ngamo Boy lions had been seen. Despite this being our objective, I was distracted along the way by a number of photo opportunities. Not far from the lodge on Samavundhla Vlei, I had an excellent viewing of a secretary bird. There was a lot of plains game, varying from zebra’s, wildebeest, waterbuck and a few dagga boys. Although at a distance, some ground hornbills were also feeding. At this point, my gripe with Makalolo was the fact you could not go off road. Of course rules are bent, though it can impact on your photography at times. On reaching Ngweshla, we found a few herds of zebra with some young and we were able to view some interaction between them. There were also some of the rarer antelope species, though we struggled to get close to what I call my “Run away” five. Today I privileged to see the running behind of an Eland and Roan herd.

 

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Brunch and tea were your normal affair, though I must comment on the game viewing from the camp during the day. At around 3pm, when I had come up for a drink, there was a large herd of sable, elephants, zebra, waterbuck and numerous Baboon troops. I tried in vain to get a good shot of the sable, though the light was still quite harsh and they were not co-operating. Heading in the general direction of the lions, Hupu spotted a rhino dung beetle pushing a dung ball. So, out I jumped and lying on my stomach, managed to snap away a few frames. Although I was still seeing the conventional animals, the green season seemed to be yielding some different sightings. It was just a shame the migrant birds had left, though in general, I perceived birding to be better than in the dry season. After a quick sundowner, we picked up the tracks of the four males. Finally, we came across them, though they moved quickly into the woodlands along a game trail.

 

 

Day 3

 

The morning drive delivered the usual plains game, though it was not the best morning photographically. It seems to go that way sometimes. In the afternoon, we decided to head to airstrip 2, via the Little Makalolo waterhole. Moving through the woodlands, we found a herd of buffalo moving towards some seasonal pans. Hupu positioned the vehicle and we waited for them to arrive.

 

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We then moved on past Little Makalolo, finding a number of elephants between Madison Pan and the airstrip. They seemed to be feeding happily on the summer grasses. After spending a short-while with them, we headed on further down the narrow Vlei. You can tell you are approaching by the dust that gets thrown up around the pan, which can be seen from a long way off. Despite the poor light, it was still an amazing spectacle to see a large herd in and around the pan. I was told that in the dry season, multiple herds move in and out throughout the day.

 

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Day 4

 

Today was the most productive photographically so far. Lots of variation on both the morning an afternoon drives. The morning started by heading to Little Samanvuhla and then on to Broken Rifle. On the way to Broken rifle, we came across a majestic Roan antelope bull. This can be the only disadvantage of the green season, with the foliage being quite thick. It did mean that you I had to work hard for the sighting. Below I have included a photo from the sighting. It shows you the Roan in thick vegetation, including how the foliage creates a green wall down the sides on the road.

 

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Broken Rifle was not pumping, so it did not produce great viewing, plus it was later in the morning. We did stumble across a leopard on the road as we were heading back to camp. Although quite skittish to begin with, it soon relaxed. It settled under a bush making my exposures challenging, though it was an excellent sighting.

 

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On the way through Little Samanvuhla the Bull elephant below moved through the pan and the route back was completed by second Leopard. Hupu was on the radio when I saw it shoot down the tree and I lost it in the long grass. I think he was skeptical to begin with whether it was. He radioed the other vehicle to make its way over too. As we searched up and down around two parallel roads, Hupu spotted it peering over a termite mound. After a fleeting view, it quickly moved off……before the other vehicle arrived!!!!!!!!!!!

 

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The afternoon drive was my last with Hupu. He had been requested by an OAT group and I did not mind swapping. From the lodge, we saw the mixed herd of sable coming to drink. It included a number of youngsters, who are brown in colour. As there were two private vehicles, both with keen photographers, we all shot out quickly. The grass was too long to get a photo of the youngsters, with adults just being tall enough. It was real advantage having the 500mm, as it meant I did not have to get inside their flight zone. So for a distance shot, they remained quite relaxed.

 

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We then took a quick look at Little Samanvuhla, where we came across a large Bull elephant drinking. We managed to get really close as he spayed water everywhere.

 

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As I mentioned, this was a productive and varied day. We changed direction completely and headed over to Mbiza. At Little Mbiza, we came across a huge troop of Baboons, all occupying the same termite mound. The main Vlei filled with Wildebeest as we had enjoyed sundowners, accompanied by our normal chats over interesting animal behaviour and conservation ethics. On the way back to the lodge, we found a large male leopard drinking at Little Mbiza.

 

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The night was completed by elephants drinking from the pool whilst sitting at the bar.

 

Day 5

 

Another early start included kick started with Godfrey (new guide) picking up lion tracks. It led to a dead end, though plains game were abundant, including more secretary bird sightings. In the afternoon, we changed direction and went down towards Airstrip 2. By now, I had pretty much picked up all the roads by studying the map, so it was easy to choose where I was going etc, plus make decisions based on where I was. The highlight was spending time with one of the remaining White Rhinos in Hwange. They were in the process of building the Bomas to house the new rhinos which were to be re-located from Matopos National Park. I saw two of these later in the year. Anyway, the rhino was rather shy, so we kept our distance. The only problem was that any photo was going to be backlit.

 

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Day 6

 

I know that a lot of people would not consider traveling during the green season, though there are many reasons why I love it. The whole atmosphere is different, with animals looking in excellent condition. The back drop of green, with the blue and white hues of a puffy clouded sky really wins my vote. The dust is settled and light is pure when you are snapping away with your camera.

 

Unfortunately, I was no longer the only guest. The only other people in the lodge yesterday had been the manager’s family, who were visiting. They really were a wonderful bunch, despite all the problems they were facing by remaining in Zim. They made me feel part of the family, hospitality that we skip in the west. There was a real ease, lucky for them I don’t mind the joke being on me.

 

I had decided to go to a really remote area of the park, just outside of the concession. The problem with Hwange is that many of the pumps have been removed. This has had a number of detrimental effects. There is a great pull on the remaining pumps in the park, when they work, and also in concessions like Makalolo. During the dry season, this can place serious stress because of the distances traveled from their feeding grounds.

 

Mandundmella was no exception to the rule. The economic climate meant the bore hole was no longer pumped. I had hoped that with there may be some rain water left in the pan. Godfrey was not too optimistic due to the lack of rain. We set out very early, and had quite an amusing incident within the first 10 minutes of the drive. There were a number of guinea fowl on the road, which were refusing to budge. Godfrey was trying concentrating hard on not running one over. All of a sudden I called out “Stop Elephant”. It was still quite dark, so that is the excuse I am going to use. I initially thought it was the rear of a young elephant! As Godfrey and I half woke up, we both retorted at the same time, ‘rhino’. It was such a shock to see it, that our initial assumption was elephant. He slowly moved across the road and then concealed himself in the thicker vegetation.

 

The sun was just rising when we reached Linkwasha Vlei. I came across a small herd of zebra feeding on the plain, being lit with some incredibly moody lighting. I have a rule that when out, I try to be on an animal before as the sun rises; especially during the wet season when the light is not diffused by dust.

 

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The route to Mandundumella provided some excellent sightings. We came across a fair sized herd of buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, elephant and vultures feeding on a carcass. The highlight was just after Airstrip 2 Pan. Firstly, this is an area that is seldom traversed, so we were at times following a very feint, overgrown track. The birding really started to pick up, with a couple of tawny eagles and three bateleur eagles. This was probably a result of the marked change in vegetation. The acacia woodland seemed to provide an excellent environment for them.

 

We found the pan a muddy pit, with a few zebra floating around the wood line. Thinking that one piece of mud was solid, I stepped onto the pan. Much to our amusement, only my knee and above was now visible. I was lucky to get my foot out with shoe still attached. We discussed the viability of the area, with operational pumps. Wilderness was proposing to place a lodge there, though the concession was finally taken by Alan Elliott in July time. This is the former owner of Star of Africa in Zambia. I think that the development of Zimbabwe’s national parks will depend on more of these private concessions being created. There are too many problems for the park to be self funding. Not enough people are self-driving, so gate receipts for the park are low. It is also unclear whether all the money is used to maintain the pumps. The numbers which are now out of action makes this questionable. It places huge pressure on those sustained by places like Makalolo Plains and Somalisa. This places added stress on the animals and destroys the environments through high grazing densities. The nearest pan was Airstrip 2, a considerable distance, with a pulling power far beyond where we were. It was noticeable that elephants in this area were more agitated in and around the water sources. Compounded by the lack of rainfall in Southern Africa for 2007.

 

The ‘Spice Girls’ had been seen over near Mbiza in the morning. Thankfully, these were lions, not aging pop stars on a revival tour. I thought that I should also include a description difference in Mbiza’s vegetation. It is a wide open area, very similar to the Selinda in Botswana, dotted with Illala Palms. There are problems with this area of the park, it is actually outside the concession. There is a hunting conservancy just across the railway line, know as Gwaii. It is not uncommon to find vehicle tracks from this area near the pump, which happens to stop working at roughly the same time. Although there is a moratorium on lions, after gross overshooting, elephants are highly prized. The hunting ethics are highly questionable. One company was thrown out for shooting inside Hwange, throughout the year and pygmy lions. They were called this so younger males could be shot by their unknowing clients. Populations are stabilizing, though certain hunting areas have been raped by South African hunting companies at unsustainable levels.

 

 

Back to the game drive, Mbiza was a pleasant drive and we quickly picked up lion tracks. They sent us round in circles, with all three lionesses moving in different directions trying to locate each other. It was not until after dark that we found them by following their locating calls. Again I managed to get some photos of the areas infamous baboons, with one providing a real highlight. It was dusk as the one of the females approached a particular troop. They quickly scampered up various palms to seek refuge. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this shape drop with a thud. This was a concussed baboon. Still weary of the lion, it stumbled and struggled to get back to its perch, whilst Godfrey and I were in stitches.

 

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Day 7

 

The morning drive saw us heading towards Broken Rifle once more. On the rod from Little Samanvuhla I suffered the nightmare scenario for a game drive, the vehicle decided to stop moving. Godfrey was just finishing off his walking qualifications later in the year, so we settled in for a chat and some tea drinking. We radioed Lawrence who was fortunately close at hand with his guests. So, instead of waiting for the recovery vehicle, I jumped in his and headed to Ngweshla. It was a good morning after that. We found a fresh Sable carcass from a lion kill. It was probably the four males judging by the spoor. The sighting of the morning was probably the young journey of giraffes what Lawrence worked hard to position for. Having two keen photographers in the vehicle, meant everyone was on the same wave length.

 

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This was the first day without any clouds. A sure sign that winter was not too far around the corner. It also altered the behavioral pattern of the elephant herds. During the midday, the build up of morning clouds could cause some overcast conditions. It provided a degree of respite from the sun’s rays. On such days, elephants would be scarce in the late afternoon, appearing to drink after sunset. Another consideration is the distance to feeding grounds, though I think that had less effect based on the next couple of days.

 

Our drive started on Samanvuhla, where we encountered two or three different elephant herds; including one large tusked bull. Moving onto my favourite pan, Little Samanvunhla, we were engulfed by elephants. About five or six large herds moved through over a two hour period. Why would a photographer want to move? I even spent my sundowners there, which are actually more mooner uppers. I call them so because the sun will have already set before I stop for a beer.

 

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Alex The Lion

Makalolo Plains Continued:

 

Day 8

 

The morning drive was rather uneventful, seeing a mix of plains game and birdlife. There were still only three guests in camp, so the ambiance was relaxed and peaceful. The elephants had started engaging in their elephant spectacle too. This involved various herds visiting and drinking from the swimming pool. If you are already sitting on one the loungers, it is possible to remain within 2 metres of one of these drinking giants.

 

Despite all the lion tracks, we could never locate them during the day. The females appeared to be lactating, so this could be the cause of their elusiveness. We cruised over to Mbiza and as the afternoon wore on, found all three females. Moving through the long grass, they finally came into view. They did not appear agitated, though were on the move. Looking to return to their new cubs or starting to hunt. We lost them as they left the Vlei, leaving Godfrey unsure whether they had given birth. We also picked up a large buffalo herd at sunset.

 

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Day 9:

 

The morning drive was pretty good, we saw a couple of giraffes, and an elephant herd came down to drink. Photographically, I did mess around lot today. Trying lots of different wide angle shots of the vehicle and such things. On the route back in we did come across a baby leopard…………………tortoise!

 

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We arrived back early from the morning drive, this was because we were going to be heading into the Linkwasha concession for the afternoon activity. This area is reserved for the OAT groups that use certain Wilderness Safari camps. They have kept the area afloat during the last few years, running 2/3 trips to the area each week. When groups are not there, it is possible to visit the area, notably Ngamo Vlei, which is a huge open area. We did not find the aptly named Ngamo Boys, though did see large wildebeest herds, which contained a single red hartebeest. The highlight was probably the lion sighting, with two females moving off to hunt. On the long drive back to camp, we came across two giant eagle owls. They were more common than I have experienced and the same applied in Botswana. This was probably because April is their breeding season.

 

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Day 10

 

 

Time to leave unfortunately! This still did not deter me from having an early start. I was due to the meet the other guests and pilots and the Airstrip for 9am. I had made sure that I had put in a request with my agent that I wanted to leave mid morning. This was to ensure that I got Lebala on time. By the time you factor in two hours worth of flying, an hours transfer and the airport waiting, I still only shortly before tea time.

 

Anyway, I had packed all my cases the night before and said my farewells. All my baggage was loaded into the vehicle for a game drive to the airstrip. What a send off I had, we were greeted on the plain in front of the camp by a buffalo herd of around 800, who were moving quite quickly. To capture the depth of the herd, I stood up and used the roll bar for the canvas cover as support. Godfrey soon found the reason for the disturbance, male lion tracks. The fresh tracks we were following soon left the road. It seemed that he knew this male well. Turning the car round we waited. Soon a male lion came walking on the road towards us. Lions are similar to all animals, they prefer to use game trails, though in the wet season, roads become even more preferable.

 

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Alex The Lion

The flight to Hwange was rather squeezed, though going over Vic Falls was impressive. Despite have a low rainfall, the catchment areas in the Northern Zambia and Angola had received heavy rainfall. Islands that I normally recognize as dry areas were flooded. The pilot told me that more animals than usual had been washed over the falls. Transferring to Kasane by minibus took about an hour, with only a few baboons along the way. I was flying with Safari Air to Lebala, sadly all the pilots I knew had left. The flight was excellent, as we hugged the Chobe River. From the air you could see the extent of the flooding, which gave me difficulty in figuring out where I was. Places like Lake Liambezi, dry for a number years, where now like a swampland. I got slightly worried when the pilot pulled out the map and looked confused. This is the only plane in the fleet without GPS, but also flown by a pilot that had never been to Lebala before. As we approached the Linyanti, knowing the area quite well, I pointed out Kings Pool so he could use it as reference. Those private plunge pools were the give away.

 

Kwando Lebala:

 

Day 1:

 

 

On landing at Kwando, I was surprised to see so many elephants around the airstrip. I realized quite how low the rainfall must have been for the season. Anyway, this was my second visit, so knew roughly what to expect. I was met at the airstrip by the guide I really didn’t want, especially as I had booked a private vehicle. It is not that I consider the person a question a poor guide. The problem I have is more a personality clash. Still, I was willing to see how things went. After all, I was only at Lebala for two nights before heading to Lagoon.

 

Lebala was pretty full, which was a contrast to coming from a camp with three people in it. As I was out and to bed early, it did not prove too much of an issue. The first afternoon we had a long drive to the Lagoon Pack. They had been located not far from half-way pan, so everybody left early to get there. Upon arrival, the Lagoon vehicles were already there. There was a group of photographers, led by a certain famous photographer. I am going to launch into a bit of rant here, because I really disagree with what many of these people do. They had taken over two vehicles and if I can remember were sitting 3 x 2 in two URIs. Yes, a photographic group of 12, where you can barely move your camera. Still, the person in question was in the front seat directing his vehicle. I did hear later on, that on one trip he made a guide stop so he could get the perfect angle on a cheetah shot in the late evening light. I should mention at this point, that those in the back were not given such an amazing view. Yet they were paying him to be in the positions he wanted to be in. Once the light had gone, he then told the guide to move the vehicle so that the others could get their photos. Another guide told me a similar story, though he told the photographer in question where to go and moved the vehicle for the benefit of the group. I hate to imagine what these poor people paid to part of this farce. I think after this experience, most people would be organizing their own trips.

 

Anyway, the light was pretty flat and the dogs did not become active until after sunset. So it was one of those days of sitting with little action. I think that some people expect amazing photographic opportunities around every corner. They do not realize the amount of waiting involved. Still, on the drive back we came across a couple of owls, apart from that it was pretty quiet. The other vehicle had called in one of the young male lions, though as he was highly mobile and our distance from the sighting, I decided to give it a miss.

 

Day 2

 

I decided to head south this morning towards the Selinda border. The morning started well. There was a small herd of Wildebeest with a number of egrets hanging around them. I was looking for a photo of some impala and some of your more common plains game. Then disaster struck, the vehicle broke down. By the time a replacement had arrived, it quite pushing 9am, by which time, most animals had moved into the mopane. I did get the opportunity to snap a couple of frames, as well as finding another leopard tortoise on the way back to the lodge.

 

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Over brunch I got chatting to Alweyn, camp manager, about the conditions in the concession. I had found viewing pretty slow and he said it had been tough going. The pride that frequents the Selinda/Lebala had not been seen for a couple of months. Having followed a large buffalo herd south, they had yet to return. In the past few weeks, their other predators had become more elusive. I could understand how. The grass was pretty high at the time, with the high water levels creating a number of islands.

 

In the afternoon I was determined to locate some elephants or the buffalo herd that had been seen moving out of the mopane. We located a couple of dagga boys and in the distance could see a large moving into the marshes. There were too many deep channels to reach them safely. In our search for the buffalo, we came across a number of elephant in a clearing. They were hanging round a dry seasonal pan which they were using to dust themselves.

 

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Kwando Lagoon

 

Day 3

 

This morning’s game drive was also a transfer. At half-way pan I was met by Rex and LT, who would also guide me later in the year. I had included Lagoon because of the reputation it has developed with the dogs. The doggy blinkers set in place and the hunt was on. It was my first visit to lagoon and I found it very different to Lebala. The grasses were higher and the bush slightly thicker. Photographically, it is a lot more challenging than the open areas around Lebala. I also don’t think that the general game in the area is as good. Lagoon has undergone a number of changes in terms of dynamics. They have lost their resident pride, believed to have split and moved to Namibia. This was following the arrival of a number of males. Talking with the guides, the number of fires in the area has fallen in the last few years. This has increased the density of scrubby non-grazing grasses, thus had an effect on game viewing. The thing that interests me the most is the development on the Northern Kwando past Lagoon camp. There is at least another 30km until the Namibian border, which would easily provide an additional lodge area and possibly more dogs. One thing to note as well, after speaking with the management, I learnt of what excellent viewing Kwara was having. I requested to drop my return to Lebala (for the rest of the stay) and also one night at Lagoon. It would then give me four nights at Kwara. Below is a Bateleur on the transfer to Lagoon.

 

The afternoon was our first dog hunt. They had been seen on the morning drive in the vicinity of the airstrip. They happened to be at the location of where they eventually denned. The island that they had chosen was on the edges of the Kwando river and they happily slept for a good hour. After going through a number of greeting ceremonies they finally became mobile. Moving through the long grass, it became difficult to photograph them. The one shot I did get was of them moving down the road. The hunt begun, in the fading light we struggled to keep with them. Keeping an eye on their general direction, we stopped for a quick beer and a snack.

 

 

 

Day 4:

 

We set out early and headed north, finding a number of dog tracks. There were six dogs in the pack, though it was clear we were not following the entire pack. We did stumble across a male leopard, though he quickly moved in the long grass. Despite L.T’s best efforts, it seemed that they had moved into the mopane, having checked another old den site. The alpha female was clearly heavily pregnant, so it was likely they were excavating and inspecting potential den locations. The Lagoon team has a very good understanding of the dogs and their behaviour. They also understand the basic movement of this pack; something that I should have commented about on another forum where a guide was criticized. They move in a large circle, normally moving into the mopane north of Lagoon. It is then common for them to re-appear to the south closer to half-way pan. Tracking through the mopane is tough and near impossible. So you may end driving in the opposite direction or the guide telling you that tracking is impossible. I now that a lot guests get frustrated at this point, though I have driven in and around a lot of mopane. It is not something I would even contemplate doing for your average guest. We also picked up fresh lion tracks, though they disappeared into the mopane. The afternoon drive saw us driving in round in circles. Lots of dogs tracks, yet unfortunately, no Painted Dogs.

 

Kwara/Lagoon:

 

Day 1:

 

Again I was out early, though we ended up going in the wrong direction. We followed a single dog track, which led us round in circles. It suggested that the dogs had moved into the mopane. Unfortunately we had missed fresher tracks heading south by around 300 metres. The dogs were located by the other vehicle, so Rex got to them ASAP. When we caught up with the pack, it was getting towards mid-morning. As they were all sleeping under small mopane thickets, I did not spend too long with them. This was also because I wanted brunch before my midday flight.

 

The flight to Kwara was quite interesting. In comparison to the flood waters from the Zambezi and Kwando, the low local rainfall was evident. There was minimal water in the back country, which was the reason behind the irregular high elephant concentration along the Kwando in April. From the air, you could see the vehicle track across the Kwara floodplains. It would only be a couple of months before many of these areas should be flooded, which was already happening in the western delta. As I would find out on my return in October, the floods in the eastern delta were at a low-normal level. All the water filled down the western side, filling Lake Ngami and seeing the Boteti river flow. It is more than likely a change in the Gumare fault line.

 

Arriving at Kwara, I had forgotten what difference the Delta is to the Linyanti. It was not only cooler it is also not as harsh an environment. Issy and Justice got me the camp pretty quickly, where I was met by Bleu. I think that this is the most picturesque location of all the Kwando Camps. Like many areas of the delta, Kwara does not deliver on huge elephant herds. In fact, the herds do not frequent this particular area; it is more common just to find bulls. It is though an excellent area for predators. Wild Dog does move through, though it does have good lion and Cheetah populations. The first afternoon drive, we located a pride of 7 lions, which contained 3 sub-adult males. They had seen in the morning, so knew their rough location. Justice jumped off and started tracking on foot. Issy was driving looking in between the small bushes and thickets; he had his guide eyes on. Rather than concentrate on what was two metres in front of him, he was scanning 20-30 metres ahead. As we moved through the longish grass, I saw a head pop up less than 2 metres from the front of the vehicle, though we were driving very slowly. I instinctively said ‘Lion’. Issy’s reaction, ‘where, where?’ It was not too difficult to point them out to him. Before joking about it all, Justice was still a good 40 metres from the vehicle. After a few swift words in Setswana about the Tau, Justice was climbing up the back of the vehicle.

 

Day 2:

 

In the morning we headed out towards Tsum Tsum, an area that has an excellent reputation for cheetah. As it was my first visit to Kwara, I was skeptical about our ease in finding the coalition of three brothers. I would learn from later experiences, it is one of the prime locations in Botswana to regularly find them. The only negative of the area is the proximity of a hunting camp. The animals are slightly more skittish, though this could also be down to the distance from Kwara. It is not an area they visit regularly due to its distance from camp.

 

On the way to Tsum Tsum, I came across a lot of mixed game. The plains around Tsum Tsum were teeming with zebra and giraffe. As it had been such a long drive, I decided to concentrate on photographing them. No great shots, it was one of those situations where the look was just not there. After spending a good 30 minutes with sparring and feeding giraffe, we quickly moved on. We agreed it would be likely that the cheetahs’ would be resting up as the temperatures were rising fast. In locating them we could easily find them in afternoon. About 20 minutes into the search, Issy saw shapes against a termite mound. Sure enough, there were the three boys taking shelter from the mid-morning sun. After taking a couple of shots, we headed on back to camp. The light was harsh and their insistence on laying in the shade made compensating for exposures a nightmare. Still, we knew where they were for the afternoon.

 

Camp was relatively quiet, so Bleu and the guides suggested that tea be bought forward an hour. Everyone was in agreement; it would then be a rapid drive over to find these three young brothers. Being me, I left five minutes after tea was served. On the way to Tsum Tsum, we came across three lions; a large male and two females. This is where the decision had to be made, locate the cheetah or stay here. Well, when we realized that this pair was rather amorous, I was staying routed to the spot. I must add, that the other vehicle got to see both, with the cheetahs in perfect light. As a keen photographer, it is one of those difficult situations, though I feel I made the correct choice.

 

Day 3:

 

This day was not great photographically and was reasonable quiet. We spent the morning tracking the nine month old cub. I was a little disappointed with the behaviour of one of the guides at this point. The two Kwara vehicles had been giving the young leopard plenty of space and the opportunity to move through the long grass until it became visible. Then to my disappointment, the guide from Little Kwara came zooming in, spooked it, and it began to move off. He was circling the island on which it was located. As the leopard moved off, I directed Issy to the side and gave it quite a bit of distance. You could see the general direction it was heading in, and from this side, it would be possible to get a reasonable shot through the grass. After quickly stopping, I had a clear shot as it paused in an area where the grass was low. I set myself, went to push the shutter and to my astonishment, the Little Kwara vehicle pulled right up next to the leopard and blocked my view. The leopard then got spooked and scurried into one of the islands. It shows how opportunistic they are. Despite being harassed, after noticing a mouse, it was quick to start stalking it. After this failed hunt, my man from Little Kwara was still chasing this leopard through thick bush. I disagreed with what was happening, though from the sound of the guests, it appeared they were placing a lot of pressure on the guide. On returning to camp, I complained about the incident, which was supposedly out of character of the guide. Having met the guide on a subsequent visit, I think that pressure from the guests was a major factor………yes they were American! Lazy Boat trip in the afternoon.

 

Day 4:

 

We headed out early to look for the female leopard with the young cub. They had been hanging round on the islands less than 10 minutes from camp. The morning was freezing though, following quite a few humid days, winter was certainly on its way. It did not help that we set out 20 minutes before sunrise.

 

Justice decided it was to be another lion drive. Not far out from camp, he spotted the Shinde Pride. A different pride to yesterday, though the same as the first day. It contained four females and three young males. It was the perfect situation; the sun was just rising as the pride started to become active. After around forty minutes, the other vehicles were close to joining us, just as the pride was moving towards the concession boundary. Rather than chase the moving lions and compete with other vehicles, I was satisfied with my morning. It was around 07.50 when I suggested to Issy we should stop for tea. I had such an enjoyable morning and was slightly fatigued. So rather than search on for another 2 hours, I decided to head back to camp. I feel that sometimes, when you have an amazing sighting, it is best to have it, head back and really savour the moment.

 

 

In the afternoon we headed out towards the Tsum Tsum plains. On our way, we came across lion tracks. Another vehicle soon located them; it was the mating pair that we had come across a couple of days before. I was able to a couple of good images in the later afternoon light.

 

 

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Day 5:

 

We headed out early on my final morning. For those of you have not been to Kwara, in front of the camp, there is a large lagoon. There is always wildlife surrounding it, and the birding is very good. So, I spent a couple of hours doing some twitching not far from camp. As I was leaving that day, I chose to come back early and get everything packed for the trip home. I really dislike being rushed from game drive, brunch, charter flight and so on. After spending the last 18 days chasing animals, it was at a slow pace that allowed me to soak up the Delta, a place I had not planned on returning to for a while at this point.

 

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The flight to Maun was a real surprise. On boarding the plane, I was amazed to find an old work colleague sitting up front. Coming from Savute, Limbo was his on his was for some time off. We then made a stop at Camp Okavango, a camp that I had previously worked at. At the airstrip, waiting to pick up guests, we are couple of old friends. I was not sure who was more surprised. One guide, John Kata is a living legend. Born on an island not far from camp, it is an area that at times contains three lion prides. He has the most amazing stories of visiting cousins and getting lost on Chiefs Island, spending two weeks on a Mokoro to Maun to trade meat for grain. The amazing aspect of any walk that he leads is that he will point out his old home and areas he played as boy. His family were one of the many moved after the Botswana people moved them from game areas. Before moving, he managed to get a job constructing the camp that became Camp O. Since getting this job in the late 1970’s, he has remained at the camp. It was great to see him.

 

The flight over the delta took us over the flooded western plains as we dropped some more guests off at Eagle Island Camp. On arrival in Maun, I checked in for the Jo’burg flight then headed to Bon Arrive, meeting some old friends. I groan about air Botswana once again. They were delayed and this caused some people to miss their connections. That is their fault for not building in a time gap. The delay was due to the aircrafts having to be swapped. Instead of the normal size jet, we flew in a twin prop. Far smaller, this meant that some people could not have their tickets honoured and required to stay in Maun. I was asked I if I could change my ticket, but as I was flying out of Jo’burg that evening, not a chance. I must add a rather sour note with some hunters at the airport. A group of Americans in army gear rudely bundled their way through all queues through to departures. I think the operator wanted to get the out of the way before all the photographic guests boarded Air Bots. Then I had a couple in the departure lounge start bragging to me about the elephant they shot. I know there are a lot of generalizations about Americans, though these two personified them. I won’t comment any more, else someone may get upset and don’t want to get into a debate with any Americans on this forum. I do prefer camps that are not dominated by them, unless you are from safari talk of course. Anyway, that is the trip report, baring a few knick-knacks in Jo’burg airport, I landed in London hassle free.

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Alex The Lion

J'ai fini parce que je suis tres fatigue........................

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I know that I have entered these blank posts, though I will edit them as I go along so the whole trip report flows as one, and all questions etc are set out underneath

Excellent idea!

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Game Warden

Russell, your images are yet more examples of the wonderful and rich lighting and colours of Africa.

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Russell, your images are yet more examples of the wonderful and rich lighting and colours of Africa.

 

I 2nd that.

 

Russell, your images ROCK!

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Alex The Lion

Jochen and Matt,

 

Thanks for the comments on the photos. If only you knew how many didn't make the grade, err 99%. Will hopefully finish this trip report today/tomorrow then can write up the long trip.

 

Hope that you are enjoying

 

Russell

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Atravelynn

I am impressed with your ability to pole a mekoro and with your marvelous photos. Interesting comment about OAT keeping the Linkwasha area going with their scheduled trips.

 

Sable AND Roan with photos of each! So many great photos. The playful zebra foal was a nice action shot.

 

Glad your nonmoving vehicle did not stop you for long.

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Game Warden

To recap a previous comment about your images, I am constantly astounded by the quality of the member's photography on Safaritalk: I'm glad that here are we able to share with each other such fantastic shots. I think that judging for the Photography Competition will prove to be very difficult.

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Alex The Lion
I am impressed with your ability to pole a mekoro and with your marvelous photos. Interesting comment about OAT keeping the Linkwasha area going with their scheduled trips.

 

Sable AND Roan with photos of each! So many great photos. The playful zebra foal was a nice action shot.

 

Glad your nonmoving vehicle did not stop you for long.

 

Lynn,

 

The sable are surprisingly common at Makalolo, the Roan less so. Poling a mokoro really is not that difficult, it just takes a few weeks of practice. When you have all you camera gear in with you, being poor is not an option.....thank you for the comments on the photos.

 

As for the OAT trips, from what I understand they are pretty full most of the time. Linkwasha is now OAT exclusive and they have built a second camp, Davisons to also cope with the demand. As for the future, there are rumours that Makalolo will go OAT and Linkwasha will go six paw. Though that will all depend on what happens in Zim

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Alex The Lion
To recap a previous comment about your images, I am constantly astounded by the quality of the member's photography on Safaritalk: I'm glad that here are we able to share with each other such fantastic shots. I think that judging for the Photography Competition will prove to be very difficult.

 

It is great that there are so many good photographers on here. I think a lot of that derives from everybody's passion for Africa. Safaritalk is more likely to have the type of person willing to sit and watch the same lions or hours. As or the competition, good luck judging.

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Atravelynn

Glad to know the sable are still plentiful in Hwange. Interesting developments there. I never like to hear 6-Paw. I stayed at Nemba, now Linkwasha.

 

Far short of poling the thing, I was pleased I never fell out of the mekoro as the passenger.

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Alex The Lion

Lynn,

 

As Nyama mentioned on another thread, it is important to maximize revenues from wildlife areas. If this means introducing six paw lodges over mass tourism, then luxury is the way to move, unless you want to have a lot more people in concession areas.

 

Ultimately, I think there needs to be a balance between mass tourism areas and private areas. I feel that places like Chobe may have gone too far. There needs to be a balance between larger lodges, camping and private areas. It means that a safari area generates revenue for a variety of consumers. I think most importantly safari areas are accessible to all, whilst being sustainable. If that unfortunately means that people will not be able to return their favourite lodges, well, thats the way the cookie crumbles. It just may mean having to return to countries and look at alternatives. It is the way most destinations appear to work. Once the tourism gems are discovered, then supply and demand takes hold. The more money these ares can raise through six paw etc, the longer wildlife is likely to survive. As people begin to derive more direct and indirect benefits and those flood plains are no longer viewed as excellent or cattle ranching.

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As for the future, there are rumours that Makalolo will go OAT and Linkwasha will go six paw. Though that will all depend on what happens in Zim

Currently WS are completely rebuilding Little Makalolo. I doubt that they would do this for OAT.

 

WS are also trying to get an additional concession in Hwange - not successfully so far, according to my information.

 

Some new concession leases were up for tender, so we certainly will see some new players inside Hwange National Park in the not so far future.

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I feel that places like Chobe may have gone too far.

Reminds me on what an operator wrote me a few weeks ago: "We have moved our Chobe mobiles to operate in our private concession because we got tired of the traffic at Chobe river front - too many operators, day trippers, self drives etc."

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Alex The Lion
As for the future, there are rumours that Makalolo will go OAT and Linkwasha will go six paw. Though that will all depend on what happens in Zim

Currently WS are completely rebuilding Little Makalolo. I doubt that they would do this for OAT.

 

WS are also trying to get an additional concession in Hwange - not successfully so far, according to my information.

 

Some new concession leases were up for tender, so we certainly will see some new players inside Hwange National Park in the not so far future.

 

 

The concession that they were chasing, and part of which I visited, was tended for. It was won by Alan Elliot, formerly of Star of Africa. There are rumours he wants to swap it for Makalolo, which he owned under touch the wild. Though wilderness are offering giraffe springs for his new area.

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Alex The Lion
Josivanini?

 

I am not sure of the name of concession involved. It is to the South of makalolo. If you have a map, from the end of linkwasha vlei where airstrip 2 pan is. The concession has madundmella pan there. Though not 100% on that spelling.

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I am not sure of the name of concession involved. It is to the South of makalolo. If you have a map, from the end of linkwasha vlei where airstrip 2 pan is. The concession has madundmella pan there. Though not 100% on that spelling.

Must be Amandundumela concession. Josivanini is more than 50 kms southwest of Linkwasha and also has new owners.

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... Though wilderness are offering giraffe springs for his new area.

Makes totally sense to me. The new concession borders Linkwasha/Makalolo while Giraffe Springs is far away behind Somalisa.

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madaboutcheetah

Hi Russell,

 

Just stumbled upon this trip report!!! Excellent report and brilliant pictures!!! Hwange sounds very intriguing with plenty of good and diverse gameviewing. Would be curious to visit both Makalolo and Somalisa.

 

Funny - i heard the same story about the professional photographer and his groups!

 

 

I've heard that the Lagoon pride of lions have been away in Namibia since 2006 ever since those 4 male lions moved into the area ......

 

Your mention of Northern Kwando - 30KM north of Lagoon camp sounds like a huge area, where one can go to. Can it be accessed? - One of the guides mentioned once, that there is a very large pack of painted dog up there ....... who knows

 

 

Cheers

Hari

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madaboutcheetah

Russell,

 

Quick question - if you were to return to Hwange, would you consider Makalolo or would you rather go somewhere else like say, Somalisa or the Hide?

 

Which of these would the best game area and photo ops?

 

Thanks

Hari

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Alex The Lion
Russell,

 

Quick question - if you were to return to Hwange, would you consider Makalolo or would you rather go somewhere else like say, Somalisa or the Hide?

 

Which of these would the best game area and photo ops?

 

Thanks

Hari

 

 

As I am sure you appreciate, I have an attachment to Makalolo. So despite its short comings, I do enjoy being there. The big attraction is also the number of rhinos that they released in the area during June/July. I have only seen somalisa from the air and their vehicle at Ngweshla a couple of times. Makalolo does have some excellent pans and I am led to believe probably some the best game viewing in Hwange. That said, I do not believe that it is worth the costs in respect to the hide and Somalisa. Which all told, would probably deliver a similar level of game viewing. Hwange is rather artificial with all its pump pans. Becasue of the number of pumps out of action, those left will deliver very high densities. Just be prepared to hear a pump whizzing away as you sleep and Makalolo and at any waterhole. Not quite the wilderness experience of the delta, but good game viewing and photo opportunites never the less

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