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Lucky dry weather safari amidst a "wet" Botswana.


madaboutcheetah

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madaboutcheetah

Dear All,

 

Been back a couple of days now after a fabulous safari in Botswana. This trip was with a bunch of friends and cousins, a few us have grown up together making us compatible travellers. First of all, Big Thank You to my friends and guides at Kwando safaris for a phenomenal time - Spencer, Hector, Hobbs, Mr.Moe, Bowman, Bait and Mike. Their knowledge, hospitality, dedication and work ethic and committment to tracking really were all vital ingrediants to a great trip.

 

So, amidst all the conditions in wet Botswana what did a bunch of first timers think? They loved every minute of their trip - everything from skies and stars, sunsets and sunrises, fresh clean air and the wide open spaces, landscapes, sightings from dung beetles to Lions, birds, sundowners at spectacular spots, picnic lunches, hospitality and warmth of the people at the camps, tracking expeditions (really were thrilled with the whole tracking process, the art and science of tracking and how it works).

 

What did I think travelling with them? Loved every minute of it at a relaxed pace ...... It was easy for me to relax when they were into all the tracking and waiting patiently for something to happen, when there was a possibility. Our lucky Cheetah episode restored faith in them that I wasn't just keeping them out in the hot sun to get their dose of sunburn. ;) (just a day prior, we drove all over in the search of tracks - there were none)

 

True, Botswana is going through a wet cycle; but, we were very lucky with the weather during our stay. Botswana was hit hard by the rains all through January. We had a great extented dry spell during our stay. Only had one dramatic 20 minute storm while at Little Kwara with some lighting to add to the drama of the safari. Otherwise, all dry. Mosquito season in all it's might. Never ever seen it this intense - Lebala in particular was like a mosquito pit. They also attack your face! another first ........

 

Before all of this, must make a mention of the true drama that was to ensue just a couple of days prior to departure. We had heard that passengers from few countries (including India) need a transit visa for JNB when visiting neighboring countries (Botswana, Zim, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland). What this rule is and why is baffling ......... anyways, SAA Mumbai told us that it is a big risk and that they may not be able to check us in for the flight to JNB. Panic striken we had to re-route with Emirates through Dubai and within hours had to leave a day early - fly to Gaborone and overnight there. As it turns out, it's business as usual in JNB - you walk through the transit area and no immigration officer in sight and you walk upto the Air Bots counter to collect your boarding passes. No drama at all ...... We did an overnight at the Gaborone sun Hotel. A nice regular hotel not too far from the airport. Good way to rest up after a painfully long travel path.

 

Flight from Gaborone to Maun departed early at about 7AM. Thanks to Moremi Air, we were on our way to Lebala bright and early and in time for brunch and time to relax and unwind prior to our afternoon game drive.

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madaboutcheetah

Game viewing at Lebala camp

 

During the morning drive of our arrival date, they had located the Lagoon pack. So, we were off to an early start to go find them again. Would you know it - they had moved off into the thickets for shade and took us a couple of hours to track them down. We did find them ofcourse, but, the dogs were just relaxing after having eaten that morning. Pack is now 13. (7 adults and 6 puppies from last year). We did not see dogs again, as they run wild this time of the year.......... not even tracks again.

 

Other game viewing at Lebala - good general game(zebra, wildebeest, impala, lechwe, kudu, Tsessebe). Very good Elephant viewing given the time of the year(a pleasant surprise - some edgy herds, some very relaxed ones), good birding(including Martial Eagle and African Harrier Hawk).

 

A first for me at Lebala - the big herd of Eland. Had heard about it and had tried to find them unsuccessfully in the past - but, found them one day when we were on our cheetah tracking mission with Hector. Another day, we saw 3 Eland bulls. No pictures as they were skittish on the fringes of the woodland.

 

One sable in the middle of a hot afternoon.

 

Predators seen while at Lebala:

 

Big Male Leopard - one they call magician. He was lazy during the daytime. When it got cool enough he got on patrol to mark his territory.

 

Up in Lagoon - a female Leopard and cub on an impala kill. A bit skittish.

 

A sleeping male Lion.

 

"Boys of Lagoon" cheetah coalition - gosh, they do give you the run around trying to find them. We went two days unsuccessfully in our mission to try to find them - and then they show up right in front of us one KM north of camp at Kubu pan. We found them at 6AM. Followed them south through White plains, where they rested on the airstrip for a bit, went on the march through their favourite marking posts and then in the middle of the afternoon at "old hippo pools" brought down a huge Lechwe Ram. The struggle for the letchwe ensued for about 20 minutes and one of the boys almost got gored by the horns. He held the Ram from between his horns to try and pin him down, while the other two were tearing him apart. We have it on video so shall post the video to Youtube when ready. Feeding was in really long grass, so left them be and returned to camp. They were so tired and exhausted from the struggle that they didn't touch the meat in the heat of the day for almost a full hour. Needless to say, we left too when we realized that the feeding was going to be in very long grass and picture opportunites few and far between .........

 

This coalition are now also heading into the Selinda thesedays. After feeding, they disappeared into the Selinda reserve for quite a few days. It appears that the other coaltion of the South (2 brother coalition) have vanished and not been seen in quite a while. Explains reasoning that this coaltion has an even bigger territory now. Phew!!!

 

The camp itself, everyone loved it! A great time ..... lots of stories and entertainment by Spencer and CO. Food at Lebala was at it's best in a long long time! Menus with more vegetables and fruits and the chefs Hoitsi and Gladys probably provide the best spread amongst the Kwando camps at the moment.

 

Selinda airstrip is flooded so they are using the Lebala one.

 

Twin Pools has so much water at the moment. All those old termite mounds the cheetahs used before have vanished for the most part. We did our one traditiional sundowner at the big fig tree when things down there was very quiet. Good for letchwe and Elephant viewing however. Even those Zebra and wildebeest herds have vacated Twin Pools. Although, they can be seen in many other parts of the concession in fair numbers, including the ever present wildebeest herd at white plains near the airstrip as always...

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madaboutcheetah

Little Kwara camp: Our group had taken up the entire camp for 5 nights. Needless to say, it is always a great place and the warmth and hospitality of the staff - Lizzie, DeeT, Chocks etc etc., ensured us a great time from bush picnics to a great farewell dinner on our final evening. That said, LK is in dire need of some maintenance touches to the camp - in particular the mesh netting in the rooms which needs urgent attention. The refrigerator was also out of order and the parts never got in from Maun during our stay. Yet, Lizzie and her staff ensured that cold drinks were available in the ice box at all times. I think the main problem with the mesh netting could be the baboons. I walked into my tent in absolute shock as a baboon was trying to rip the mesh apart. A minute later and he would have been all over the tent. Luckily, Chocks was able to temporarily glue it together. A hysterical moment we are still laughing about - when we were eating brunch, the baboon got into the shower area of tent 2 and was seen flinging a shampoo bottle in the air...... Chocks had his hands full..

 

Kwara airstip is out of order - so the drive to and from Shinde is a long one in very bad conditions with a few water crossings and very little game viewing on offer en route. Shinde itself was closed for refurbishments.

 

The road network is extremely wet - given the high water table; the saturated conditions did not handle the extended rain from january. This has necessitated a lot of water crossings and already flooding conditions. Can only imagine things when floods arrive!!! Luckily, we were able to access Tsum Tsum - but, only just .......... some tricky roads and very very soon it will be out of access completely. The Tsum Tsum boys still reign their favourite grounds there. We found two of them one day when searching high and low. They took us through some channels and calling for their brother with whom they had split up ....... I was quite nervous as to what was going on. In the process, we saw swimming cheetah (another first for me) ......... drama would ensue when they reunited with the lost brother towards the end of the evening - almost like a Bollywood scene. Two days later, they were successful in hunting down a young impala in the thickets. Feeding took only 45 minutes.

 

4 rivers area was very wet and not worth going to according to our guide Hobbs ...... so didn't venture there.

 

The stars of Kwara at the moment is a pride of 10 Lions. 3 female, 2 big males (part of the magnificent 7) and 5 cubs. A couple of good sightings of them.

 

3 other males on Patrol in the morning (induvidually). One morning we left the one male lion to the Kwara vehicles and went to find the cheetah. Apparently, they followed the Lion through LK on Patrol.

 

On our first night at LK, we heard Leopard calling all night long in camp. Needless to say, Hobbs and Spencer started the day tracking this big male right from camp and found him two hours later. We followed him for a bit, until he chose to go into the thickets and we left him alone.

 

Good general game, but, nothing spectacular. IMHO, not quite upto the full Kwara potential. All in all, a fabulous trip and once again we enjoyed every minute of it!!!

 

The group had a very enjoyable boat trip, which I didn't participate in. They had a great time with Hobbs and Bait on the boat trip that morning. Apparently lots of birding, although the rockery wasn't active at the moment.

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madaboutcheetah

I went on a mobile safari with Alwyn Myburgh for 3 nights to explore the Savute marsh. I had heard all the legendary tales of this area and seen all the documentaries and read all the current coverage on the topic. I have known Alwyn since his days as camp manager at Lebala. It was nice to catch up for sure! His camp is a basic standard mobile safari - long drop toilet, bucket shower etc etc., but, the food is good and you get some very good personal guiding.

 

Although, we had dry weather - the marsh is really pushing out making some of the road network difficult to drive on. Had some very good viewing of bull Elephants through the course of the 3 days. I really was impressed with how docile they can be and how close they come to the vehicle parked around a pan. General game very average. Zebra herds not really around and just small pockets of wildebeest and impala. One roan in the middle of a hot afternoon, was a good find.

 

However, we were rewarded by a coalition of 5 male Lions. Both Alwyn and I suspect that 3 of the males are from Kwando. Those of you who remember the youngish 4 male Lions from 2006/2007 - I haven't compared the pictures but it looks like the 3 might have been part of that coalition. They appear to have teamed up with 2 big male lions. Amidst the sighting, one of the Orient Express vehicles just waltzed into the sighting and positioned himself according his will and wish. They woke up in the afternoon and appeared interested in some young Elephants before they wandered off into the night. We looked next morning, but, unsuccessfull.

 

Saw my first Kilipsringer pair. Certainly the landscape has it's own appeal here - all those hills are really stunning!

 

It appears like no cars around one day to Orient Express all over the place when you find something. Will be very difficult place to handle in the peak season - imagine, self drives, and all the lodges trying to go over a small road network?

 

All in all .......... great trip. Pictures and videos later when ready. No promises as to date of pictures - have to catch up with work. Videos shall keep you posted when my friends have them ready.

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Safaridude

Hari,

 

Sounds like a great trip, though a wet one. Will be in Savuti in a month... hopefully it dries out a bit. What a fascinating transition northern Botswana is going through...

 

Can't wait for some pics...

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Hari, welcome back! As always, a good time to be had in Botswana. It sounds like your gang enjoyed it and were really up

 

for it. I shall be interested to see your photos, especially the ones of Savuti, I have had many great times at Savuti in the

 

years when the channel was dry. I shall try to see if I can recognise the area!

 

 

 

Jan

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks Jan. Yes, they really had a fabulous time. Shall definitely work on photos when time permits.

 

Safaridude, I'm sure you'll have a great time.

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twaffle

Sounds like a fun time, glad all the newbies enjoyed themselves. Look forward to seeing photos of the swimming cheetah. ;)

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Hi Hari,

 

Good to hear that you and your friends had a great trip, once again. Lovely that the Tsum tsum boys are doing ok and even learned to swim.

 

Any news on refurbishment of Lagoon?

 

cheers,

Tom

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Hi Hari,

 

Thanks for the update. It seems you were indeed very lucky with the weather.

 

Which part of the Tsum Tsum plains were you able to access? Any news of the Splash boys and the cheetahs (6) we saw last year?

 

I will be very interesting to see if the lions you saw at the Marsh are the same ones we saw in 2006/2007.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, Twaffle and Tom. The refurbishment of Lagoon - all I know is that they are due to re-open early March. I went up north several times tracking and on a mission to find the cheetah or wild dogs so didn't go take a look. All I could see was the supply trucks busy driving up the cut line with building material(and Gosh, they drove over all the tracks on the road ;) ). It appears like they have a thatched roof (think Lebala lounge roof). I saw this from a distance, although didn't go have a look as we were busy with the tracking. Beyond this, I have no real idea - but, I guess we'll all see the pictures on their website when they make it available. I do believe that it is a complete makeover, a brand new camp altogether.

 

Hi Johan,

 

How are you? Good to hear from you. Yeah, very lucky with the weather. I'm not going to forget the CKGR storm and never wish for that again. I was nervous at Kwara in the middle of the storm, but, it was okay.

 

We did manage to get to the last mabala. It was very difficult however, with lots of deep crossing points. We also had to return early in the afternoon as we couldn't risk getting stuck. Parts of the last mabala are under water and looks like some permanent flooding for some time to come. We didn't find the cheetah one day, as they were either hunting in the thickets or they were in parts not accessible. If they weren't seperated it might have been difficult finding them as they were in one of their very central areas.

 

It appears that the Magnificent 7 are really on high patrol and alert given the fact that they have to help the females with the 5 cubs. The pride has been around that Bat Eared fox den road a lot. Hobbs says he sees the Splash boys only from time to time. Also, from Hobbs - the cheetah mother and the adult cubs split off sometime end of the year. My Moremi air flight to Maun on the way back home stopped at Shinde to fetch other guests from LK, so managed to get a quick update from Hobbs, who told me that he saw one of the daughters after I had left LK. Apparently well relaxed. Sad news - the old Kwara Leopardess had died sometime last year.

 

Shall post pictures of those marsh lions when ready and you can give me your thoughts as well. You would not have been happy with Orient Express and their guiding at the sighting. The 3 males have teamed up with 2 really huge males - quite magnificent they were.

 

On another note, I bumped into Motsamai from Selinda at the airstrip and he says there is a single male cheetah around the spillway and well relaxed.

 

Regards

Hari

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Thanks, Hari.

 

I am doing quite well.

 

It's never fun to be caught in a big thunderstorm. So I would be nervous too.

 

I remember that reaching last mabala was already difficult last year in February ... so I can only imagine now. I guess having a camp at the TT plains is out of the question right now. I always laugh when people say cheetahs like to hunt in the open as in Kwara they prefer(red) hunting in the woodlands.

 

How was Shinde's airstrip looking?

 

Moremi and Savuti are fine if you don't come across predators on the main roads. Given the limited number of roads in Savuti and its popularity in wintertime, I can see where it's heading too. Looking forward to see the pictures of these males.

 

Given the time of year, you had some great sightings. I never witnessed cheetahs killing a lechwe, reminds me about the steroid boys on Chief's island.

 

Cheers,

 

Johan

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Sangeeta

Welcome back, Hari. Sounds like you made many converts to the cause ;) I guess your family/friends now understand why you're always in Botswana!

 

After reading your reports and Jan's reports, I always feel that there is something so heartwarming about going going to the same places year after year - like visiting old friends and catching up with all that happened to them since the last time you were together :D

 

Thanks for the update on the conditions on the ground - very useful for those of us with trips in the planning phases. Looking forward to the photos soon.

 

Sangeeta

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madaboutcheetah

Shinde airstrip looked fine, johan. It's located in a good dry area. Not sure about when the floods arrive soon. Main problem is the roads heading up there and it's going to be tough.

 

It appeared like these cheetah didn't have the lechwe hunting experience too much. Took them a very long time to finish the task. Probably they are learning to adapt to the wet conditions nowadays?

 

Thanks sangeeta.

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Welcome back Hari. look forward to the photos.

 

How are you going to get any work done over the next few weeks with the cricket?

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, Dik Dik. Good point! Thankfully, everyone around me are glued to the cricket too.... Photo editing will have to take a back seat :D

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Hi Hari,

 

Don't know if Shinde's airstrip was relocated. It was about to get flooded last year (March).

 

I am quite curious how the flooding will affect the gameviewing in November/early December at Kwara.

 

 

During mid-winter, some people can be in for a real surprise at most camps in the delta. Think f.e. about Mapula/Vumbura and Duba plains.

 

Ciao,

 

Johan

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madaboutcheetah

Hi Johan,

 

No idea about the Shinde airstrip - but, visually they had no sand banks and the like as in places where they expect an impact. So, you might well be right about possibly a relocated airstrip?

 

IMHO, the water table and saturated soil conditions have been further hit hard by the pounding rains. Just about anything seems to stick around due to the saturated conditions. Apparently, they have had heavy rains in the Highlands and that is yet to make it's way into the delta.

 

Bear in mind part of the TT has flowing water already..... for example, the flood plains leading to the mopane road (north/south road) that is used, where eventually you turn to go to Splash Hippo pools. It's tough to access from that side due to the flowing water there.

 

I bet all the trucks in these really wet conditions take a battering too ..... trying to cross all the water crossings. I may have seen somewhere that at Duba Plains they are using new type of vehicles with a high clearence? can't remember where i saw that .......

 

 

 

Cheers

Hari

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madaboutcheetah

Forgot to mention Air Botswana(since so much is written nowadays). On my way out, they used a bigger plane. They actually took off from Maun 15 minutes ahead of schedule as everyone had checked in already. Got to JNB in 1 hr 15 minutes. I think they are trying hard!!!

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Hi Hari,

 

Nothing is the same anymore at Duba Plains. For example nowadays the Tsaro pride isn't preying exclusively on buffalos anymore.

They mentioned new vehicles on the WS website but in high season it won't really help given the depth of the crossings.

Remember that Paradise island couldn't be reached anymore before the big floods ...

 

It's a bit like Mombo, a great and well-deserved reputation in the past ... but nowadays consider yourself extremely lucky to witness a buffalo kill.

 

It's a continuous cycle ... but to be honest the gameviewing isn't what it used to be. :D

 

I think that they moved the airstrip at Shinde.

 

It looks like at the moment, Lagoon has the biggest potential for Kwando (especially when the dogs are denning) so if I were them, I would make sure they got some of their best guides/trackers/managers there.

 

To conclude I haven't heard anything anymore about the famous female cheetah at Kwando.

 

Greetz,

 

Johan

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Safaridude

Seems Hari brought with him dry weather in Bots. According to www.fews.net , during the period Jan 21 - Feb 19, the eastern half of Bots recorded about a 100mm rainfall deficit. Apparently, the dryness to continue for awhile more.

 

Times are changing for sure. So dynamic. So interesting.

 

Thanks for the report, Hari.

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madaboutcheetah

Unfortunately no news on the female cheetah, Johan. No one has seen her in a very long time ..... I've asked everyone this question of her whereabouts a million times!!! all i get is ..... "hope she is okay". Even no news from the Selinda.

 

Thanks, Safaridude.

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Hi Hari,

 

I haven't read anything about her on the Selinda website either ...

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....

 

As you mentioned, predator viewing isn't what is used to be due to the high population of lions. Some of the prides are quite big and if they kill at night, you'll find them often sleeping in the morning. If I want to see predators in action, there are better places in Botswana. :D

 

Also a lot of productive areas (f.e. Boro West) can't be reached anymore due to the floods.

 

Combine this with a ridiculous high price they are charging nowadays and you see why I call it overrated. Bear in mind, that in theory off-roading is not allowed although it's not mentioned on their website.

 

Don't know if it makes sense to pay a high premium to see just good general game which can be seen elsewhere at a fraction of the price Chief's camp and Mombo are charging.

 

I get annoyed when they still market it as the predator capital of Africa as it isn't anymore.

 

Hari, sorry to go a bit off topic.

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madaboutcheetah

 Johan,

 

There's always that single dog they keep talking about, who is friends with jackals and Hyeana ;) (my attempt at humour) ;););)

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