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A Walk on the Wild Side in Timbavati and Sabi Sands


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LarsS

Walking might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Timbavati and Sabi Sands, as it’s not known for a full and dedicated walking safari experience like Mana Pools as @BRACQUENE recently shared with us in his TR. And I must admit, walking wasn’t the main objective of our trip. Yet I named this trip report ‘A Walk on the Wild Side in Timbavati and Sabi Sands’. But I promise you, my experience will do justice to the title.


It is ofcourse tempting to use a wildlife picture as trip report thumb, but I’ve chosen this road sign: ‘Welverdiend’. South African town names can be fun for Dutch speakers. Welverdiend translates as well-deserved. After a year of working, no foreign trips and not even an entire week off, I think a 3 week holiday indeed was well-deserved (and needed). :) 
 

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Morning Gamedrive - July 29th   Our last morning, but we were determined to enjoy it to the fullest.   The previous night we and the hyena had trouble finding the leopard and

Afternoon Gamedrive - July 28th   The afternoon gamedrive started with an follow-up class of the workshop. Christian stopped at some bushes and convinced us to eat the leaves. The first one

* General notice *   Unfortunately somehow the camera settings were unintentionally adjusted. This has resulted in lots of photos being overexposed. We're still confused what happened, as it

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LarsS

Itinerary
First things first, our itinerary was the following. Pretty straight forward:
25 July - Flight Amsterdam-Johannesburg, one night at City Lodge Hotel at OR Tambo Airport
26 July - Driving to Timbavati, staying 3 nights at Bateleur Safari camp
29 July - Driving to Sabi Sands, staying 4 nights at Arathusa Safari Lodge
2 August - Driving to Johannesburg, night flight Johannesburg-Amsterdam

 

As I’ve shared on this forum before my trip, I was very eager to go on safari again, but we didn’t feel too sure about a longer holiday. The covid situation and measures weren't stable in SA. Therefore we’d chosen for this itinerary to South Africa, which should provide us with plenty of wildlife sightings and also be reachable with a direct flight from home.

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LarsS

Travelling in times of Covid-19
 

Before our trip I read about @BRACQUENE's experience of getting to Zimbabwe and contacted him (thanks again!) in case we could improve our preparation. We left home with so many documents, for our outbound flight and even already for our inbound flight. Multiple copies of our negative PCR test, proof of vaccination, passenger health declarations, quarantine declaration for getting home, and so on. We were really well prepared and there was nothing that somebody could ask us that we didn’t have with us.

 

Flying to/from Jo’burg
The flight was excellent. But that could have to do with our upgrade from Economy Comfort to Business Class. One of the few benefits of this covid crisis is that upgrading to Business Class during checkin was really affordable. On the way in we upgraded for about € 400 and on the way back for € 300. At the same time it’s a sad thing ofcourse, as there were hardly any people on board the plane. I estimate 40 passengers to Jo’burg and 55 to Amsterdam, in total, with a capacity of approx 500-600 passengers. Leaving us with about 10 other passengers in Business Class and therefore plenty of space and service and attention of the crew.


The whole flight we had to wear face masks, which didn’t bother me too much. However, I did make sure to take the time to enjoy drinks and meals, as that was the only excuse to take of your mask.

 

And by the way, I made sure to take some appropriate reading with me: a book called ‘Wie (niet) reist is gek’ which translates as ‘He who does (not) travel is crazy’. Published a few years ago, but a well fitting title for travelling in times like this.

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Note: can you see all the stuff we placed on the ottoman, underneath the tv? Well, it shows we are not that experienced business class travellers. During take-off, everything fell on the ground...

 


Despite being well prepared, on arrival there was ofcourse another document to be filled in then the SA government provided online. Apart from this, the whole process was smooth and fast, no difficult questions and without any real hold up we were allowed into South Africa. We made it!

 

Travelling in South Africa
The day after our arrival SA went back from level 4 to level 3, allowing restaurants to open, open up travel to/from Gauteng and permitting the sale of alcohol again. For the latter, people were warned on the radio to not overestimate their drinking capabilities after several dry weeks.


Overall at the airport, hotels and the rest of SA, I’ve felt as safe as always with regards to covid-19 and possible unrest due to recent riots. People were very disciplined in using hand sanitizer, provided literally everywhere, and wearing face masks. Covid wise, I probably felt more safe in SA then at home.


At Bateleur and Arathusa precautions were taken to stay healthy. Dinners were private with your own company and food came in measured quantities per company. At Bateleur face masks were required in the main areas of camp and during game drives. They also did an oxygen and temperature check every morning, for guests and staff. At Arathusa face masks were not necessary, however, I found them a good protection against the dust, so I still wore one most of the time.


Returning home
On arrival, we spent a night at City Lodge Hotel on OR Tambo Airport. In their lobby was an Ampath desk, where we made an appointment for an antigen test for our return flight. I don’t think an appointment was needed, as there were no other travellers when we showed up for the test. Within two hours we had the result and were good to go home.


The one thing that wasn’t clear, was the quarantine form we had to fill in when travelling home. We had to hand it in at the gate, later it was collected by staff from the airline and apparently handed over to the government. At day 2 or 3 we got a call to check if we really were in quarantine, although they didn’t ask it directly (or were not allowed to?). A bit weird to come home and don’t leave your house until day 5 to do a covid test. But the quarantine wasn’t really a nuisance for reasons I’ll explain later. The test on day 5 was negative, but also a bit random. We showed up, explained why we were there and they wanted to put us into the line of the pcr test which should have a result in 24-48 hours. We didn’t agree and said we wanted an antigen test, without questioning we were directed to the other line and half an hour later our quarantine was over. (As befits a good traveller, the next day we flew to Portimao in Portugal for a week of beach, eat, sleap, repeat)


Looking back at it
If I would have known how I would experience travelling under these conditions, I would have way less doubts then I did beforehand. Going on safari, you don’t see that many people and the flights were very empty. We estimated we’d come in contact with about 35 other people in the whole week. Therefore I’d rather go on safari than an ‘allowed’ holiday anywhere in Europe. Portugal was crowded and social distancing wasn’t feasible.


For me, all destinations are an option when planning our next trip. As long as the situation is stable / under control, I don’t see why going on safari would be disadviced. I would also encourage any of you to go and enjoy the African bush. Ofcourse, if circumstances (like quarantine) allow you to go. But don’t let fear hold you back, because based on my experience, there’s absolutely no need to.

 

Next episode: onto Timbavati!
 

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BRACQUENE

Thanks @LarsS to have been in some way helpful to your preparation ; I agree with you that going on safari in July this year was probably much safer than traveling to Southern Europeblb B but on the other side even only being in transfer for a few hours in South Africa I found the controls extremely stressful and much more demanding than in Zimbabwe itself !

Belgium had put Zimbabwe on their black list which meant quarantine on the return but this wasn’t 

 

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Toxic

I will be following this TR with great interest - I'm fairly positive that my first trip once the UK decides what it is doing with regards to quarantine hotels and such like will be back to SA, and more specifically Timbavati and/or Klaserie and then Sabi to tail the trip. Though browsing these boards my wishes change on a daily basis :lol:

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BRACQUENE

@LarsS

I am sorry but my reaction seems to have gone online too early and incomplete:(  ; what I meant to say at the end is that the sort of quarantine we had to endure wasn’t comparable with that of UK inhabitants for instance returning home ; for us it was way easier to take that risk especially as you will see at the end of my Mana report what happened on the 18 th of July arriving in Brussels 

Looking forward to this TR of course;)

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LarsS
On 8/23/2021 at 10:02 PM, BRACQUENE said:

Thanks @LarsS to have been in some way helpful to your preparation ; I agree with you that going on safari in July this year was probably much safer than traveling to Southern Europeblb B but on the other side even only being in transfer for a few hours in South Africa I found the controls extremely stressful and much more demanding than in Zimbabwe itself !

Belgium had put Zimbabwe on their black list which meant quarantine on the return but this wasn’t 

 

I think the big difference is the transfer you had. Our flight was direct flight with JNB as final destination. So they did only have to check their own rules and not also that of another country.

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LarsS
On 8/23/2021 at 10:39 PM, Toxic said:

I will be following this TR with great interest - I'm fairly positive that my first trip once the UK decides what it is doing with regards to quarantine hotels and such like will be back to SA, and more specifically Timbavati and/or Klaserie and then Sabi to tail the trip. Though browsing these boards my wishes change on a daily basis :lol:

In that case, I hope my TR will help you decide. I really loved the Bateleur camp in Timbavati, can see myself coming back there. So let's continue the tr and let me tell you our experience. If you have questions, feel free to ask. At least SA felt for me as a country really easy to travel to and within, we didn't worry about covid and things were all very well organised.

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LarsS

Getting to Bateleur Safari Camp - Timbavati

 

Monday morning we had our breakfast served in the room, for covid safety reasons room service was standard. Surprisingly quick, 20 minutes after our order it was there. We picked up our rental car and started the journey to Timbavati. We rented a Hyuandai Venue, a mini suv with plenty of space for the two of us and even both our bags fitted in the trunk. The car drove fine, but once we left the tar roads, the wheels appeared a bit small for a more comfortable ride.

 

Some photos along the way.

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The drive itself should have taken about 6 hours, including stops we calculated to do it in 7. However, an accident with a truck closed down a road and forced us to reverse and find an alternative route to Timbavati. The detour took us over 2 hours extra. We wondered what time the gate would close and if we would make it in time. It appeared the gate never closes for guests, although I was relieved we managed to reach camp within the last minutes of daylight. After parking the car, it was like someone pulled the switch and it was dark.

 

On the way in we spotted the first animals, only stopped for the hyena’s as daylight was running out. However, we enjoyed being greeted by elephants and giraffes just next to the road. We also came across three hyena cubs that were playing in the road. They got scared of the car and went back into the bush.

 

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Bateleur Safari Camp

The welcome at Bateleur by camp manager Sophia was warm and we were the only guests in camp. The next day an US family of three would arrive. We also met guide Christian and tracker Lucky. The vibe at camp made us feel at home straight away.

 

Also feeling at home was an African wild cat. She appears to have made camp her home, sometimes wandering off for a few days, but always returning. Apparantly the cat is fond of people, follows Sophia around camp and was also curious enough to check us out and let me pet her. Still it was clear it was no pet, very aware of her surroundings and we were told she even scares the hyena’s away when she sees them in camp.

 

No gamedrive this first night, but a relaxed evening enjoying drinks and a great meal provided by waiter Temba and chef Karmel. All meals appeared to be as good as this first one at Bateleur. Tasty and extensive meals, with lots of variation and also plenty of healthy fruit, vegetables and salads. The only complaint I could think of was that it was too much to try it all!

 

After dinner we called it a night to be fresh the next morning for our first gamedrive. The path to our room had just been walked by a hyena. Not the last time we found their tracks after dinner, I think they walked through camp every night. Don’t you just love it when wildlife roams through camp?
 

The camp
The camp is located along a river, which is dry most of the year and only flows for 3-5 days in November. The whole look and feel of the camp is lovely. It’s pretty new, as the camp is rebuilt from a private camp for the owners only into a safari camp which accommodates guests as well. They protect their wooden buildings against elephants by surrounding the camp with an elephant fence, but all other wildlife can roam through camp.

 

Like most camps there is a nice fireplace, a dining area, lounge area and pool with sunbeds. In addition to that, they also have a communal kitchen, equipped with a coffee and tea station, cookies, fruit, honesty bar, fridge and soda streamer. The kitchen was where we gathered in the morning for a cup of tea before the gamedrive and the rest of the day you could help yourself if you wanted anything. Staff was always present, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to just get something instead of always asking.
 

The main area

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At the back there's the pool with sunbeds

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In the main area we enjoyed breakfast, with fruit, yoghurt+crueslis, homemade jams, banana bread or other pastry/pancakes and then there were toast+eggs with extras to order.

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In the back is the communal kitchen, but the nyala is in the way. They visited camp quite often, most of the times browsing or relaxing next to the bathroom.

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The communal kitchen is also where we had dinner the first night. It was just the two of us and since we had a long drive and the night was chilly (and our coats were still in a vacuum bag), we opted for the warmer kitchen. Other nights we had dinner outside, blankets were provided to make sure nobody was cold (which we weren't).

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PS: The wine was very good!

 

The room
We were designated a 4 pax tent with lots of space which was nice. The bed was really comfy. You have your own deck with chairs facing the dry riverbed. We’d seen mongoose and nyala cross it a few times and a bushbuck was every day below our deck in the branches.


The bathroom had an indoor sink, bath and toilet. The shower was outside. Even though it was really cold at night, I loved the outdoor shower underneath the starry sky.
Another good feature was the audio: we heard the hyenas and lions calling every night.

 

The room is a bit hard to get on the picture, since you can't walk in front of it because it looks out over the dry river bed. This is the way to our tent, Mkhombe (Rhino).

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The deck, which is a lot more spacious than it appears on this photo.

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The main bedroom is the area where you enter your tent. Behind is was a space with a huge closet and two single beds on the side. No photo, because that area was obviously a mess after unpacking. :) 

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All the way at the back was the bathroom. Indoor toilet, sink and bath.

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And the lovely outdoor shower.

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It was really easy to feel at home in camp and in the tent.

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BRACQUENE

@LarsS

Well , lucky you : a wild cat and a  Nyala on the first day already ; we only had a glimpse of the latter one driving in Mana Pools but even that was completely "onverwacht":lol:

A private start as well to your safari and the camp looks lovely !

 

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LarsS

Morning Gamedrive - July 27th

 

We started this safari with a private gamedrive, under the inspiring guidance of guide Christian and tracker Lucky. They were great company to explore the bush with, eye for big and small things in the bush.

 

Mornings in the bush started cold, very cold, with just 5C. Never went in wintertime to SA, but we packed the right clothes, so at least we weren't cold. Most mornings started without sun for the first half hour or so, after that the sun made it at least feel warmer pretty quickly.

 

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As on most drives, birds are the first animals you see. We started of with this Long-tailed shrike / Magpie shrike.

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Followed by these birds, unfortunately I forget the names of both. Immediately failing as a beginner birder, but in my defense, it was just after 6am and I had still to get adjusted to those early mornings.

 

I guess the first ones are a couple of francolin/spurfowl, but can't find out which subspecies have the yellow around the eye and the black/white striped head of the male.

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And this fellow was around as well.

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Now the sun was out, clear blue skies and the cold start was already something of the past.

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It was a quiet morning, but at we did have two Mkhombe sightings, both times a mother with her calf. They were a bit far from the road, so we tried to get closer. Getting closer is a bit different then I expected. We didn't go offroad with the car for them, like they do in Sabi Sands for example, but we parked the car and jumped out. Tracker Lucky always went ahead and Christian and we followed just behind. Unfortunately, the first Mkhombe took off as soon as Lucky found a good path to walk. Still, we did manage to see them for a short while through the binos. We let them be and continued.

 

A little later again a mother and a calf. This time they were even more skittish. We couldn't even found a good place to park the car to start tracking them. The distance was fairly big, but they were nervous already. We road bended so we tried one time from the other side, but they walked off again. So we let them be as well. At least we did get them on photo once this time. Things were improving.

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We drove off to find a good spot to have our morning stop. Not to far from this Ostrich.

 

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Only then it was time for a break. I've had hot chocolate on safari before, but never enjoyed it as much as with these low temperatures.

 

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No, ofcourse that's not a bottle of Amarula so early in the morning... 😇

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After the break we had one noteable sighting, this woodland kingfisher

 

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Time to get back to camp and enjoy a wealthy breakfast!

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LarsS
16 minutes ago, BRACQUENE said:

@LarsS

Well , lucky you : a wild cat and a  Nyala on the first day already ; we only had a glimpse of the latter one driving in Mana Pools but even that was completely "onverwacht":lol:

A private start as well to your safari and the camp looks lovely !

 

We've been lucky with good Nyala sightings this whole trip, but more around the camps then in the bush.

 

I forgot to mention about the camp: it was fairly new in it's current state. It used to be someone's private property only, not open for guests. I believe about a year and a half ago they opened for guests for the first time after a makeover of the camp.

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ForWildlife

Een welverdiende vakantie! Finally!

With those first two birds, check in the sandgrouse section of your bird book for the first one, and the korhaan/bustard section for the second :)

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LarsS
2 hours ago, ForWildlife said:

Een welverdiende vakantie! Finally!

With those first two birds, check in the sandgrouse section of your bird book for the first one, and the korhaan/bustard section for the second :)

My book called 'The Internet' tells me the couple of birds are double-banded sandgrouses.

 

The one in in the other might be a red crested bustard?

 

Am I right?

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africapurohit

They are double-banded sandgrouse. The other bird looks like a female Northern Black Korhaan but I could be mistaken?

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ForWildlife

Yes, double-banded sandgrouse. For the Korhaan, I think female red-crested, due to the lack of red in the bill, but not 100%. I think a female northern black korhaan would have some red in the bill, but I'm not sure of the bill colour of a juvenile.

The internet offers too much choice, it's handy in such situations to have a book or app ready to narrow down the list and quickly find the group of similar looking birds.

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Atdahl

@LarsSExcellent report so far with great details and pictures.  SA is on my "someday" list so I am looking forward to your report.

 

Alan

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LarsS
18 hours ago, ForWildlife said:

Yes, double-banded sandgrouse. For the Korhaan, I think female red-crested, due to the lack of red in the bill, but not 100%. I think a female northern black korhaan would have some red in the bill, but I'm not sure of the bill colour of a juvenile.

The internet offers too much choice, it's handy in such situations to have a book or app ready to narrow down the list and quickly find the group of similar looking birds.

The Northern Black Korhaan doesn't ring any bell, bustard does, so I do think that's what the guide said as well.

 

Yes, the internet is huge and it's easy to misidentify a bird. My list of very rare dutch birds would be something to be proud of if I would only go for some google results. So for the Netherlands I do have a birding book and think it's very handy, but not for (South) Africa. May be one day when I get more serious about it on holiday as well.

 

16 hours ago, Atdahl said:

@LarsSExcellent report so far with great details and pictures.  SA is on my "someday" list so I am looking forward to your report.

 

Alan

Thanks for reading along @Atdahl! Hope I can make your someday a soon day.

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Kalaharikind

The roadside fruitstalls and the Brownhooded KF has made me homesick for that part of the country. Enjoying tour TR - thanks!

 

 

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LarsS
Posted (edited)

Afternoon Gamedrive - July 27th

 

The breakfast and lunch proved to be quite a challenge. The food was plentiful, but also delicious. Knowing they would throw away what we didn't eat due to covid safety measures, we did our best not to leave too much. Honestly, the food was amazing, so we didn't need an excuse to try everything. :) This afternoon the American family of three arrived. Despite being it their first safari, they preferred the back seat everytime we went out. We offered them front row, but didn't complain either.

 

In the afternoon we drove along a dry riverbed to look for wildlife. First ones were a few kudus. Most shy and hiding in the bush, but this young male with hitchhikers wasn't bothered by us.

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Next up were elephants. Overall, we did see them every day, but always in small numbers. I wonder if larger herds are also in Timbavati, or may be they split up in smaller groups because of the drought?

 

Always a pleasure to see these grey giants.

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My designated favourite bird was ofcourse also present. It's a very recognisable bird, but still I had trouble identifying it at times. Usually you know it's a lilac breasted roller within the blink of an eye. But in winter time some of them looked really puffy. This lilac breasted roller wasn't the puffiest of all, but posed nicely on a branch in the sunlight.

 

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Time to offroad: Christian and Lucky knew a spot where a lion pride had been resting during the day, so we went in to find them. We found them just when they started to get mobile. Not only adult lions, but also cubs were present. Much to our joy ofcourse.

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Lion dad had a hard time with the young cubs, they continuously harrassed him.

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Apparantly three is too much for a lion dad to handle. As soon as a third cub wanted to join in, the male got up and he decided to join the females. No more babysitting. The male walked just next to our car and stared at us for a bit. A breath stopping moment, not only for the first timers in the back. Not that I felt unsafe or anything, but when the king of the savannah stares at you, you feel humble.

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The kids stayed behind, a bit confused seeing the adults leave without them.

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But within a few minutes they comforted each other and the playing started again.

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We could spend more time with them, but decided to follow the lionesses and male. The weather had cooled down, so we hoped they went out to hunt. The cubs watched us go and kept an eye out on their surroundings.

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The adults were in the advantage on the rough terrain. They moved steadily forward in a straight line, but we had to twist and turn in all directions to find a suitable track. We did caught up with the lions, but only for a while. The bush got thicker so we went back to the road and hoped for them to come out at one point. Unfortunately that didn't happen.

 

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Time to enjoy a beautiful sunset and, not unimportant, sundowners. After the drinks, we headed back to the camp through the dark and quiet night.

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Edited by LarsS
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Toxic

Beautiful shots of the cubs! :wub:

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LarsS

Video: Lion pride with cubs

 

Previous safaris I've made several vlog-style videos. This time I tried to as well, but I must admit, I needed my holiday a bit more. Not sure if I am disapointing people now, probably next time again. I did film however, so will just add a few clips here and there. Hope you'll enjoy these. Starting with the lion sighting on this afternoon drive. It contains all elements as described above. What I didn't mentioned yet, is that the male lion was injured. You can see in the clip he's limping because of an injury in his right hind leg. It wasn't thought to be a serious injury, so hopefully he will recover well.

 

 

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LarsS
4 minutes ago, Toxic said:

Beautiful shots of the cubs! :wub:

And now you've got video footage as well! :) 

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offshorebirder

Very nice video @LarsS thanks for sharing!

 

Your safari looks like you had a lot of fun.   Wasn't it great therapy getting on safari again?

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LarsS
6 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Very nice video @LarsS thanks for sharing!

 

Your safari looks like you had a lot of fun.   Wasn't it great therapy getting on safari again?

It was so great to be out in the bush. Even though covid was never completely out of your mind because precautions and talks with staff and guests, it didn't matter as we were able to be where we like to be the most: exploring the African bush. And there's always something new to see, experience and learn. I can stll feel it in my bones, but more on that in the next updates.

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