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Botswana September 2009


PeterGermany

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PeterGermany

So, here I go with my first ever trip report. The report is about our last trip to Africa. We spent 12 nights in Botswana in September 2009 while staying in the following camps:

 

* 3 nights Chobe Game Lodge

* 3 nights Savute Safari Lodge

* 3 nights Kwando Lebala Camp

* 3 nights Kwando Little Kwara Camp

 

Before coming to Botswana we have been on safaris in Africa a few times and visited different National Parks/Private Game Reserves in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.

 

Overall everything exceeded our expectations. We thought is it hard to beat the Masai Mara/Serengeti and the Sabi Sands, but Botswana did in many ways. The pristine wilderness and the intimate experience in the Kwando Concessions were absolutely outstanding. Savute is a stunning and very special place. And the Chobe River Front has proven to us being one of the best safari spots in Africa.

 

Chobe Game Lodge/Chobe River Front

 

Everybody we have talked to in the planning process advised to not going there. May be we have been extremely lucky, but it turned out to be the right decision to go to the Chobe Riverfront. A factor of advantage for us has obviously been the economical crisis. We have learned that bookings in the lodges & hotels were way below average at that time. We only saw a reasonable number other vehicles on the drives and we have never been in a traffic jam at a sighting.

 

The Chobe Game Lodge is more a hotel than a lodge, even though CGL has the very cosy and charming atmosphere of a safari lodge. It is very well maintained, the rooms are excellent, the food is very good and the staffs are friendly & caring. The lodge is the only one located within the Chobe National Park, as soon as you leave it you are in the middle of wilderness. On top it is located directly at the Chobe River with excellent views over to the Caprivi Strip of Namibia and with high likelihood to see elephants all day round while having a cool drink at the bar.

 

The guides of CGL are very good, most of them being Ladies. Our guide, Lebo, was excellent. Two drives per day (no off-road) plus a river cruise once a day is on the schedule. To that end, a river cruise is an excellent way to get to see animals like Crocodiles, Hippos, Monitor Lizards, a variety of birds and to get a completely different angle of elephant sightings. We loved it. You have to be prepared that the guides stick sharply to the scheduled timings, a very German attitude. The sundowners are always on time and you have to be back in the lodge before sunset. A few

times we needed to leave a sighting to be “on-schedule”, that is on the negative side. You can also not expect a more personal relationship with your guide and a more individual treatment. Everything is very professional and designed to deal with a higher number of guests.

 

Wildlife at the Chobe Riverfront is just outstanding, the animals are everywhere close to the river during the dry season. You can hardly drive a hundred meter and not seeing something interesting. One of the highlights was the amazing numbers of elephants, esp. breeding herds and smaller family units. Elephants were literally everywhere. On top we have seen big breeding herds of buffalos, the greater Kudu around every corner, the ever present Impala, high numbers of Warthog, huge troops of Baboons etc.. We have seen members of the resident lion pride on every drive, incl. cubs of different ages. A special sighting was one of the females ambushing a warthog, with no success in the end. Another great sighting was a Black Backed Jackal on a Guinea fowl kill, our first sightings of Sable & Puku and last but not least, our first wild dog sighting, a pack of 8 adults and 6 puppies.

 

Savute Safari Lodge/Savute

 

We went to Savute to first of all see our favourite animals, lions. Savute has become famous for the lions driven by several outstanding books and documentaries. When Ngande, our guide, picked us up at the airstrip he asked me what we would like to see first and the answer was of course lions. Five minutes later we saw 2 female and 2 male lions. I thought, this is lion country, as expected.

 

But Savute is not lion country. This 4 lions basically represented the core of what is left of a big and healthy population after the Savute Channel dried up, the legendary elephant hunting pride broke apart and some more turmoil over the last years. I believe it would have been easy to get this information prior to our trip and most likely I would have chosen to not going to Savute but to Duba Plains. I am happy to not getting to know that, we would have missed a lot. For some reason Savute has become one of my favourite places.

 

This 4 lions we saw on almost every drive over the next 3 days, incl a mating session between the more dominant of the 2 males and one of the females. One evening the 2 females joined us for dinner in the camp, drinking out of the plunge pool barely 10 meters away from us. Overall we had excellent lion sightings in Savute!

 

Savute is a harsh habitat, a semi desert during the dry season. Coming from the animal crowded Chobe River Front, Savute seemed to be an empty place. But Savute is full of live, just a bit harder to find. We saw different kinds of plain game incl Wildebeest and Zebra, good numbers of Giraffe & Kudu and groups of Buffalos only to mention a few. And we had first time sightings of Roan Antelopes and one Gemsbock. All the live during the dry season depends pretty much on a few artificial water holes as long as the Savute Channel is being dried up (what has recently changed).

 

During the dry season Savute is Elephant country, esp. of bull elephants. I have never seen such a high density of big bull elephants. What you can expect is seeing this big and gentle animals moving to or moving from the artificial water holes. That was a very special experience, 24 hours elephant interaction in a way only elephants can perform. One of the artificial water holes is right in front of the Savute Safari Lodge, awesome. During and after dinner we just settled around the fire and kept watching up to 60 elephant bulls interacting, literally us sitting in the dry river bed. Every evening a clan of hyenas came along for a drink, chased around by the elephants. Spectacular was watching a group of Dagga Boys (Buffalos) one evening standing their ground against the elephants at the waterhole successfully.

 

The probably best sightings of the entire trip were following a female leopard. We found her one morning close to the marsh and found her again in the afternoon. We witnessed her hunting down a fully grown impala ram. It took her quite some time to wrestle it down and to suffocate it. As always, it is hard to observe the killing of an animal. The next morning we found this female with her 3-4 month old cub on the kill.

 

To a large degree our guide Ngande contributed to the specialness of our stay in Savute. He is a real character, a great guide, has a lovely personality and after only one day we felt like knowing him many years already. He was able to create this authentic atmosphere of an African safari.

 

Savute Safari Lodge has 12 elevated bungalows nestled along the Savute Channel, very spacious and luxurious, with each having a private deck with view on the water holes. During our stay there were only 8 other guests. The lodge is managed and maintained in a perfect way. The food was the best of our entire trip.

 

Lebala Camp/Kwando Concession

 

It was somehow a difficult decision to choose Wilderness Safaris or Kwando Safaris for our visit to the Caprivi and the Okavango Deltas. Finally the reference of focussing more on game viewing than on luxury made the difference for us. We have been told, that the Kwando guides and camp managers are fully dedicated to the wildlife experience, compromising on sundowners and drive time schedules if need to be.

 

And this is perfectly true. The best guide and tracker we ever had so far were found at Lebala, O.C. and P.D.. They are very passionate about what they are doing, tracking down and finding animals. The Kwando Concession is a 2,300 km² large area with only 2 camps operating in it. With only 6 guests in our camp and 4 guests in the sister camp (Lagoon), there were only 3 vehicles in this concession to track and find the animals. At times Charles, the camp manager, went out with his own vehicle to support the tracking efforts, stunning. So we spent long hours tracking down Wild Dogs (found 2 different packs) and Pangolins (found none), mostly off-road. Once we found the animals we stayed with them. While following a pack of Wild Dogs on a hunt off-road, we had to fasten the seatbelts to not getting bumped out of the vehicle. In Lebala we made it to one sun downer, hence it was 2 hours after sunset and completely dark. We returned to camp only if there was nothing more interesting expected to be seen. Our stay was an intense and intimate safari experience. Just great!

 

The Kwando Concession covers different kinds of habitat. The Linyanti wetlands bordering the west, here the camp is located. While Mopane woodlands are covering the majority of the traversing area, there are open grasslands between those two. We spent some great time with breeding herds of Elephants, Buffalos, troops of Baboons, Red Lechwes and Carmine Bee Eater colonies. We saw some smaller herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Impala as well as Giraffe occasionally. Overall we have expected a higher density of game here during the dry season. On one afternoon drive we made a high speed trip towards Lagoon Camp in the north (almost 2 hours with fasten seatbelts) to respond to a sighting of the 3 Cheetah brothers. The only Cheetah sighting we had for the entire trip. At a water hole in the woodlands we got charged by an out casted old and grumpy Hippo bull. He got real close to our vehicle but O.C. kept cool while having everything under control. Every night we had Elephants and Hippos in the camp. One night I woke up by the noisy munching and crunching of an Elephant right beside our tent

 

The highlights were definitely the sightings of 2 different Wild Dog packs and a male Leopard. We spent one afternoon entirely with this Leopard and followed him on his territory patrol after sunset, of course off-road. I will never get tired of following these elusive cats. O.C. tracked down a pack of 6 Wild Dogs one morning. Charles went out during the day to make sure we would find them again in the afternoon. He called us in just as the pack started off for hunting. As mentioned already, we followed them, lost them, found them again etc.. Finally we found them close to the airstrip at a water hole. Surprisingly a clan of Hyena was there already fighting over buffalo calf carcass. Now we were fortunate to witness some fierce interaction between the Dogs and Hyenas, the dogs trying to chase the clan off the carcass, with no success. But it was amazing to see the lightweights pitching the heavyweights time and again. On our last drive we finally found, after some intense tracking, the Lagoon Pack of Wild Dogs, the 11 adults with their 8 puppies. What a great sighting! The only downside regarding wildlife in the Kwando Concession is that they have no resident lion pride at present. Meaning you have to be lucky to catch up with traversing lions, which we hadn’t.

 

Accommodation at Lebala is very luxurious, the so called tents (8 in total with a max of 16 guests) are huge and just beautiful. We shared all meals with the guides and camp managers, which was fun. Charles has always a story to tell, as well as Spencer. Expect to meet great people at Lebala. We loved the spirit and the rhythm of this camp.

 

Little Kwara Camp/Kwara Concession

 

With 1,700 km² the Kwara concession is a huge wildlife arena, covering all kinds of different habitat. Deep water channels and lagoons, floodplains and islands, open grasslands and vast mopane woodlands. This concession is surely on the high end of safari spots in Africa, a piece of paradise. Only 2 camps are operating in this private game reserve. The Little Kwara Camp is made up of only 5 luxury tents, elevated in trees with good views on the close by lagoon. The most charming camp of the 4 we visited, but after only a few years at least our tent appeared a bit worn already (e.g. a huge hole in the roof of the tent). Overall it seems, that Kwando Safaris sometimes lacks the view for the detail regarding accommodation. As this for us is not the most important piece of a safari I don’t want to complain about that seriously. On the list of activities are game drives, mokoro trips and boat cruises. We did everything a loved this diversity very much.

 

We were only 6 guests in the camp and we were very lucky to have a wonderful couple from Las Vegas as comrades in our vehicle, safaritalker Mr. Aviator and his wife. Our guide was Theko and the tracker was Bait. Bait is a lovely personality and an excellent tracker. Theko needed some push back on a few occasions when he from my point of view overacted at sightings. Definitely in the spirit to provide a special experience to the guests, but we should keep our role as followers and observers rather than becoming actors in the wild. Hence Theko has a wealth of knowledge and is a real character. The vehicles at Kwara are not the best ones for this area. The Uri’s tend to go on strike after deeper water crossings, two times we needed to walk “the last meters” back to camp.

 

Overall we have expected a higher density of game at that time of the year, but finally the only things were not able to see were breeding herds of Elephants & Buffalos and unfortunately the Cheetahs. We spent quality time with lions, a group of four females, a female (kinky tail) and her sub adult son and four of the male lion coalition in the dark, performing some fearsome roaring. On the same night drive we witnessed a commotion between a couple of Black Backed Jackals and some Hyenas. First time experiences were a wonderful mokoro trip, where we came very close to some very relaxed Elephant bulls and an exciting boat cruise to the Godikwe Lagoon, where we got to see the famous Herony colonies and many other beautiful birds. Here we enjoyed our best ever sun downer.

 

Here are the highlights of our stay at Kwara. On an afternoon drive a very nervous Tsessebe caught our attention. The culprit was a young female leopard, may be a year old, checking out her impact on other animals. We stayed with her for quite some time and after she accepted our presence it was awesome to see this beautiful cat full of beans jumping around on brunches and posing like a diva. On a morning drive we were lucky to come across a pack of Wild Dogs, 5 adults and 1 puppy (the alpha female collared). Again, it was amazing to witness the social interaction between these animals. During our boat cruise in the deep channels of the Okavango Delta we saw different Elephant crossings. Finally we followed a big bull swimming, diving and snorkelling through the Godikwe lagoon. What a sighting!

 

That was it! We will definitely come back to Botswana. The wilderness, the wildlife and the people in Botswana are magnificent.

 

I hope this report is not too long or too boring for the veterans of the forum. Attached is a link to some pictures we made during the trip.

 

http://picasaweb.google.de/peterrettig1/Bo...feat=directlink

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, Peter. Lovely report.

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Game Warden

Thanks Peter for writing your first trip report. From the photos you had a good and varied wildlife viewing experience.

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Safaridude

Great report. Yeah, PD at Lebala is an amazing tracker. I will be going to Savute next year during the rainly season, so it will be very different I am sure. I am surprised you saw gemsbok there. It must have been very dry.

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Atravelynn

First report and first wild dog sightings. I'll toast to that! With the flooding of the channel, it will be interesting to see what happens with the lion population. Thanks for the update as of September.

 

Nice itinerary and I'm looking forward to the photos. Your report was not long at all and very informative.

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Thanks, Peter. Enjoyed the report & the photos. Having recently been to Lebala & Little Kwara, I can echo your comments about those camps & the concession. What was that giant eagle owl doing on the ground?

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twaffle

Thanks for the excellent report Peter, sounds like a great trip. Will look at the photos later this weekend.

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Alex The Lion

Great report and images....

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PeterGermany

Thank you everybody for the feedback!

 

Sniktawk, I fully understand your passion for Wild Dogs. It was one of the reasons for us visiting Botswana to see these amazing animals. We have been very lucky to see 4 different packs.

 

Safaridude, our guide told us this has been only the second time in this year that he saw a Gemsbok in this area. It was definitely a rare sighting.

 

Rickmck, the Giant Eagle Owl looked like being O.K. but we were concerned about a potential injury or disease. It is quite strange for this bird sitting on the ground and allowing us to coming very close. We checked for the Owl later again and it was gone, hopefully in good health.

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Atravelynn

Glad the Giant Eagle Owl flew away (hopefully that's why it was gone.) That has to be one of the more unusual otos I've seen. The warthog in its den is great. You have some nice lion perspectives, including the view from behind the one drinking. Nice tortoise, always a treat to see. Great collection and variety.

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twaffle

Nice selection of photos. Some did appear a little too contrasty on my monitor but I really enjoyed them. The elephant on the cliff was a wonderful capture. Thanks for sharing them with us.

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whorty1970

I agree with others - great report and photos. Love the warthog shot.

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