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Botswana Dec 2011- Duma Tau, Tubu Tree & Kwara


stokeygirl
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I was at Tubu Tree for 3 nights. This camp, and all the others on the Jao Concession (Jao, Kwetsani and Jacana) are owned by Ngamiland Adventures but marketed by Wilderness Safaris. It was much smaller than Duma Tau, only 5 or 6 rooms (10 or 11 at Duma Tau).

 

The first night there was only me and 3 ladies travelling together in camp. I was scheduled to join them with their guide, Johnny, but they were doing a mokoro the first afternoon which I didn’t want to do, so instead they gave me a different guide to myself for the afternoon activity and the next morning. The 3 ladies were leaving the next day and 8 guests were arriving to be split between the 2 guides, 4 with me and 4 in the other vehicle. I was pleased to hear that amongst the 4 due to join me were two Swiss ladies who I had met at Duma Tau and we had got on well.

 

There is not much to be said about the first day’s game viewing. There was more general game around than at Duma Tau, and more variety. We saw zebras and wildebeest, giraffe, lots of kudu including some impressive males. Some steenbok, elephants, baboons and warthog. However, despite much searching there were no leopard to be found.

 

My guide was fairly uncommunicative, so much of the drive was quiet. To be fair, I wasn’t too chatty myself as I was feeling a bit tired from all the fast paced bumpy off road driving at Duma Tau, and it was nice to have a break and a slightly more sedate pace. However, I found his guiding style to be of the patronising school teacher variety, and even though he know I had spent a lot of time in Africa including several months working in camps in Botswana, it was still no more than “ahh, lilac breasted roller” and “look, giraffe”. At sundowners I found out he was in his last few weeks and would be leaving the company just before Christmas.

 

On our morning drive there was an incident which left me a little shaken, when I saw a leopard tortoise in our tracks. As we didn’t seem to be slowing, I called out “mind the tortoise!” but I don’t think he heard me and as the tortoise disappeared under the vehicle I was shouting “stop, stop”. At this point he slammed on the brakes so hard I was thrown forward and cracked my shin painfully on the bodywork of the vehicle. We reversed up and couldn’t see the tortoise. He said he hadn’t seen a tortoise and didn’t think there was one, but started scraping in the sand with the stick. Just as I thought perhaps I was going mad and hallucinating tortoises, I pointed to where I thought it might be and sure enough the tortoise was unearthed. Thankfully, he had just been embedded into the soft sand, and after a few minutes, came out of his shell and crawled off. However, my shin was painfully bruised.

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At siesta time, one of the managers came to my room about 12:30 and said that the guides doing pickups from the airstrip had found a leopard and would I like to come and see. Of course, I scrambled to get my stuff together and ran for the vehicle. The other couple due to join my vehicle (also from Switzerland) had already arrived at brunch time so the 3 of us set off for the airstrip. Johnny was there with the 3 departing guests and I finally saw my first leopard of the trip. It was a very pretty young female only about 2 years old, who was still with her mother. The guides had also seen the mother around earlier that morning when picking up the Swiss couple but we didn’t see her this time. The daughter was sat under a bush with low hanging leaves and sticks which slightly obscured the view, but she gave us a couple of nice yawns.

 

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Johnny left with the departing ladies, the plane landed and he picked up the two Swiss ladies from Duma Tau and we drove over so they could switch to our vehicle, then we went back so they could have a look. The leopard eventually got up and moved to another thicker bush, and we left her.

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So for the afternoon we had a full compliment of 5 in the vehicle. As a low angle would have been helpful to see the first leopard under the overhanging branches, I opted to take the front seat next to the guide. Not long after leaving camp, Johnny radioed to say he had found another Nkwe. This time it was the mother of the young lady we had seen earlier. She was in some dense palm thicket where we had difficulty getting a good position with a clear line of sight. However, she did get up, do some nice yoga (the “downward facing leopard”) and head off. The dense foliage made it difficult to follow and we lost her quickly.

 

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We then went for a drive, and Johnny radioed to say he’d found some hyenas which were sleeping under a bush.

 

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We then went back to the airstrip to check if perhaps the young leopard was still around. No luck, but the large herd of impalas on the airstrip seemed very alert, staring into the bush. Then a few started barking and a leopard’s head appeared from behind some palms.

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Not the young female this time, but a male. He walked out, down the road, then headed into some open grassland.

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We were able to follow and get in front a couple of times but the long grass and fading light made the shots not quite as great as they could have been. However, there were a few nice ones.

 

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So, after 2 drives of fruitless searching I had now seen 3 different leopards. Must be the luck of the Swiss.

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The next morning we flushed a wild cat out of the grass while looking for a leopard. Not amazing photos but the best I’ve ever managed of this shy animal.

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We then heard from Johnny that he’d found a leopard- the young female again. She was on the move and we followed. It was overcast and starting to spit with rain but I got some nice photos when she walked past a small waterhole and was reflected in the water.

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I think she was trying to drink and a couple of times looked like she was about to, but I think the two vehicles were disturbing her. We saw her again close to water but by then it was raining hard enough that my camera was under cover of my rain poncho. It was raining very hard by this point and I was pretty drenched in the front seat, so we went back to camp early, about 7:30am.

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Glad you had good leopard luck at Tubu. It was on my original itinerary, but when I changed dates to accommodate a late change to Grant's schedule, it was not available.

 

Hunda Island has some special memories for me.

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So many great dog shots, even the thumbnails. Baby bat eared foxes are a lucky sighting too!

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks for the report, Stokeygirl!!! Great to see pics of those Lion cubs growing up ........ they were much smaller when I saw them in August!

 

Dogs, Leopards all over the place for you! Will wait to see the cheetah from Kwara!!! A great trip for you and I'm sure you'll have a great time in April too - Botswana always has something or the other to offer!

 

Luck with you and the private game drives too!!!

 

PS: How did you find the terrain around Duma Tau? Lots of mopane?

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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Yes, there was a lot of mopane round DT- not the most scenic of terrain. It will be interesting to compare against Selinda.

 

I also thought I was "lucky" at both camps, but I asked Ron and he said the dogs had been fairly consistently around DT since August, so the level of sightings we had was fairly normal. Likewise, at Tubu Tree, I think one or 2 leopards per drive is pretty normal. I was unlucky on my first two drives.

 

I think it was at Kwara that I really started to get properly lucky, except with the weather!

 

Overall though, I am sold on green season visits. The high season prices in Botswana are so outrageous now- I wouldn't even think about it, especially as a single traveller. In high season I'd just go elsewhere- Zambia, Zim or Southern Tanzania. However, this trip cost me probably a third of the same trip in high season, taking into account single supplements. Even without SSs, less than half.

 

Or, as I like to think of it, two trips for the price of one.

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madaboutcheetah

Awesome .... Thanks!!!

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Thanks for the detailed report, especially your thoughts on when to visit.

 

I just naturally assumed Botswana was way out of my budget but will now sharpen my pencil and give it another look see.

 

Looking forward to more.

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Thanks for your report and great pictures. Looking forward to Kwara camp where we will be in 6 weeks.

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Thanks so much for this report.

 

Great wild dog action and your leopard reflection photos are wonderful.

 

Regards,

 

 

Pol

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Kath- the Botswana part of this trip (exc international flights) worked out less than $500 per night. The rates for the lodges was $350, the rest was the inter camp transfers. No SS on the accommodation, although they do charge a 50% supplement on the flights, so less camps with more time at each is the way forward (and the way I like it anyway!). Also, this wasn't the cheapest combination of camps either.

 

I am going to Duba Plains, Selinda and Tau Pan in April, and this works out at only $440 per night- obviously no single flying supplements this time.

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The leopard is looking very tropical.

 

Your April costs/nt are great. With the change in flood levels, April might not be a bad time for Duba.

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Fantastic TR, Stokeygirl. Your camps really delivered! The April set of camps sounds equally promising. It will be really nice to have an early and late green season perspective on sightings and water levels. I did not realize that you could combine the various specials into one package. Do they have a minimum number of nights you must do with each? In other words, did you have to do a certain number of nights with both Wilderness and Kwando in this case?

 

Loved the dog pictures. Honestly, if a random person were to read all the latest TRs from Zim and Bots, they could be fooled into believing that wild dogs are simply everywhere! I do hope that all these sightings indicate a long- term upward trend in dog numbers in southern Africa.

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I am getting the impression that dogs are doing well in a lot of places too.

 

Certainly the Linyanti pack has done well- with 9 puppies this year they have doubled the size of the pack, and apparently only a couple of years ago the pack was 4 dogs- now 18!

 

The rules on the 2 deals are-

5 rivers- minimum 3 nights in one camp or 4 nights in 2 camps

6 countries- minimum 6 nights total, with 3 nights each camp

 

So as long as your trip meets both criteria, you can use both deals. Obviously the Wilderness deal is a bit more restrictive, but it worked out well to do a 3 camp trip, with two Wilderness and one Kwando.

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Well, I'd better get on with this if I'm going to finish before my next safari. And before we're inundated with Botswana trip reports!

 

Hope you're not bored of leopards yet...........

 

Whilst sitting around drinking tea and waiting to see if the rain would stop so we could go out again, one of the Swiss ladies from Duma Tau told me that she wasn’t happy with our guide and was going to say something to the management. She had been on a few safaris, but it was her friend’s first. They both had some fairly expensive camera kit but she was particularly keen and she wasn’t happy with our guide being uncommunicative but also with his positioning of the vehicle at sightings. Whilst I am a fairly keen photographer myself, there is a line to be drawn between getting a good position and harassing the animal by getting too close or in its way when it is trying to walk or hunt. Whilst our guide’s positioning wasn’t as aggressive as the other guides, I think he was perhaps just a little more sensitive about crowding the leopards. However, I did agree that he didn’t seem generally on the ball, as the tortoise incident had demonstrated the day before and, knowing he was leaving his job in a few weeks, I did suspect that to some extent his heart wasn’t quite in it any more.

 

Anyway, the managers told her there were only 2 guides in camp, but a short time later came to tell us that we would be getting a new guide MT for the afternoon’s activity, who was coming from Kwetsani. I was quite impressed that they had been so responsive to the complaint.

 

So, in the afternoon the Swiss couple wanted to do a mokoro so they went with our original guide, and the three of us went out with MT. Straight away, he was much more chatty, telling us information about various animals and stopping for birds as well. Then we heard on the radio that Johnny had spotted an Nkwe at the airstrip. These leopards sure liked the airstrip! It turned out to be a new leopard, a young male about 6-8 months old. He was moving about in the fairly dense foliage and it was hard to keep up with him and we lost him after not too long. We went off to look at some elephants at the other end of the airstrip. The other 2 ladies were enjoying photographing the elephants when I heard the call on the radio that the leopard was back at the airstrip. The few Setswana animal names I had picked up were handy for deciphering these radio exchanges. MT obviously decided to stay with the elephants which we did for a while before he told us the leopard was back and we went back, by which time the young male had crossed the airstrip and was on the other side stalking the herd of impala which was on the airstrip.

 

We caught an occasional glimpse through the palms. He was too young to take down anything but a baby, and making the elementary schoolboy error of approaching from upwind, so it didn’t take long for the impala to suss him out and start alarming. We tried driving around but couldn’t see him. Either he was optimistically still in hiding, or he’d given up and slunk off. Then, at the other end of the airstrip some zebras and giraffes ran onto the airstrip, looking startled, so we went to investigate and saw a female leopard, the mother of the young boy, cross. By this stage heavy cloud was gathering and light was poor, but we took a few nice photos of the herd of giraffe and zebras under the storm clouds. By this stage it was quite chilly and there was quite a strong wind so we opted to skip sundowners and go straight back to camp.

 

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In the morning, we hadn’t been out for long and were watching a couple of Dickenson’s kestrels being mobbed by a lilac breasted roller, when the herd of impala behind us started alarming. We went to investigate in the direction they were staring, and quickly found the young male leopard again, looking hopefully at the impalas.

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We also found some drag marks in the sand, and MT speculated that the mother had made a kill and dragged it away. For the moment we followed the young male, who, giving up on the impala, posed nicely on a termite mound, did some yoga for us, defecated on the side of the road and climbed a tree. What entertainment!

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He didn’t stay up the tree for long but jumped down and headed off into the dense sickleberry thicket.

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The other vehicles gave up but MT persevered, speculating that this was where the mother had hidden the kill, so he jostled the vehicle into the bush. Sure enough we found them both settled under there. We couldn’t get a good view of the mother but parked with a nice view of the youngster.

 

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The kill was off to the other side of us, and after a while we could glimpse a hyena at the kill. MT thought perhaps hyenas had chased both leopards off their kill.

 

Eventually we backed out to let a vehicle from Kwetsani which had just arrived have a look, and we continued our drive.

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It wasn’t long before we heard of another leopard sighting (from Johnny again), of a female up a tree, so we raced over to take a look. She’d obviously been up there a while, but about 5 minutes after we arrived she jumped down and didn’t look like she was going to emerge from the bushes below so the other vehicle departed.

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We took a drive around the thicket at the base of the tree, when I spotted her rear end retreating about 20 metres away. We followed and she parked up under a bush for a while.

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We made ourselves some tea, until she started yawning, a tell tale sign that she was ready to move again. Sure enough, shortly afterwards she emerged and went walkabout again.

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We followed, and she scampered up a fallen tree. Amazingly, she dragged out the remains of a baby warthog and started munching on it, perched on the tree. When she’d finished she jumped down and again found a bush with plenty of low hanging branches and leaves to sit under.

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MT then said that around the corner was a zebra giving birth. Having seen three different leopards that morning, it was time for something different. It wasn’t far, but already the baby was on its feet. We had seen a heavily pregnant zebra the day before and I half jokingly said perhaps it was the same one. MT said that yes, he thought it was. The one the day before had been in a group of three, one of which had quite narrowly spaced stripes (we were discussing stripe patterns and zebra identification), and this matched the group we were looking at now.

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We had to leave the zebras to rush to the airstrip so I could catch my flight to Kwara.

 

Overall impression of Tubu Tree was a well managed, very nice small camp. The rooms were a bit smarter and newer than Duma Tau, although Duma Tau is being rebuilt and the new camp will be opened in March. The food at Tubu Tree was very good and I left with a couple of recipes that the manager had kindly typed out for me. Despite a shaky start, in the end the leopard sightings had been exceptional. After the first two game drives, we had averaged two sightings per drive for the last two days, and some of them had been really great with the leopards active and moving around rather than just lazing about in trees as is often the case. I think we’d seen 5 different leopards in total- I think the last female was the mother of the first young female we’d seen on the first day, which we had seen on an earlier drive.

 

So far, my itinerary had worked out just the way I’d hoped. I now had 5 nights at Kwara where I was hoping to see some nice lions and cheetah.

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I have to say, your "downward facing leopards" and other yogic sightings have been the real stars of this TR so far :)

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Just caught up with your report, so enjoyable to read... thank you so much for sharing!

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