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Botswana: Kwando Concessions Jan. 2012


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To tell you the truth, I was kind of hesitant to actually write a tripresort - first of all, my sightings were not as brilliant as those of otherswho've recently returned from the green season in Botswana and secondly I amunable to provide a lot of photos - while on safari, I concentrate on filming,rather than photography...on the other hand, over at tripadvisor, I've been encouraged tonevertheless give it a try, especially since I seem to have rather updated infoabout the predator situation in the Lagoon / Lebala area...so here we go (this is more or less the report as posted at tripadvisor, minus my impressions of camps and staff)

 

When I started planning this trip back in May last year I was willing tospend my entire ten nights in the a.m. Lagoon / Lebala area: the sole purposefor this (for my standards) rather costly trip was to see wild dogs and from whatI'd gathered by comments of fellow travelers this concession in theory offersgreat chances to do so. I was later persuaded to spend at least a few days atKwara, too - of course no regular sightings of wild dogs there but presumablygood chances to see the other predators. In a way I now stand to regret thisswitch but more about that later.

 

Anyway, my trip was organized by Dumela Botswana, a Maun based operatorwho not only quoted the best price but was also willing to put in the littleextras others were unwilling to offer (like free transportation between theairport and my Maun lodge). The international flights (to Jo'burg and fromthere to Maun) I had to book separately, the former was a mileage flight. OnJan 2nd I took off in Frankfurt in an A380, my first flight in this plane and arather impressive one. I landed on time in Jo'burg at 10:15 am the followingmorning - in theory I now had 1:45 h to clear customs and immigration, pick upmy luggage and check in again at Air Botswana, to then go through immigrationand security a second time. The first part (customs and immigration) went assmoothly as possible but then they needed exactly 60 minutes to drop my luggageon the belt. Needless to say, I sprinted through the entire airport, arrivingat the Air Botswana desk at 11:25, only to be told that the flight was alreadyclosed, which would have meant that I would not make it to Maun on that day.However, the guy behind the counter was kind enough to make a few calls andthen advised me to keep my entire luggage (all 25 kg of it), take it with methrough immigration and security and then report at the gate. In the end I didmake it although I still wonder why they never noticed all my "fluids"(shampoo, conditioner, etc) in the big bag.

 

After a brief stopover in Gaborone I arrived in Maun at 4 pm to be met byJodie of Dumela Botswana. Jodie had made a reservation for me at Island SafariLodge, a place which has an on site restaurant so I did not have to get a taxifor dinner. For the final time I enjoyed the advantages of an AC system andthen made an early bed.

 

The following day Jodie picked me up at the Lodge and then brought me tothe Air Moremi "Office". I got my "tickets" and then finally boarded the bushplane to Kwara, my first stop. At their (fully functional) airstrip I was metby my guide and tracker, Bate and Justice, respectively. I was told that I'dhad the vehicle for myself until the following afternoon. After a brief stop atcamp and the compulsory introduction to the "rules and regulations" we left forour first game drive. Earlier on Thomas, another Kwara guide, had located a maleleopard as well as a male lion and we wanted to find them again. It took ushalf an hour to reach the area, although we rather used our sniffing sensesthan the tracking abilities of Bate and Justice to first locate the smellyrests of a Tsessebe carcass and then the lion feeding on it. I was told that hewas one of the coalition of seven who rule this part of the concession.

 

 

you can easily notice a wound on his left hind leg - apparently he received that in a fight with one of his brothers / cousins over a female

 

We stayed with him for a little while but then it was time to try andre-locate the male leopard. At this point we were joined by a second Kwaravehicle, manned by said Thomas and his tracker. Sure enough we found freshspoors and then some serious tracking began. It didn't take us long to indeedfind the animal; however, it was not the big male Thomas had spotted on hismorning drive but rather a lactating mother. We followed her through thicketsand high grass, one car driving behind her as far as possible, the other onespeeding ahead to the position she would most likely reappear again. Of coursewe were hoping to find her offspring but that was where our luck ended. Half anhour later she must have had enough of us, she decided to find some sleep in atree. Poor her - the red billed francolins and vervet monkey which were alreadyoccupying her choice of tree wouldn't let her, instead their combined alarmcalls filled the air. We spent another half hour right under the leopard untilit was time to return to camp - "Not a bad start of my trip", I thought.

 

Edited by Game Warden
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Atravelynn

Thank you for sharing your recent trip with us, ice. It appears Dumela Botswana was a good choice to do your bookings. How did you come up with them? I agree you are off to a great start with a lion and leopard. I got a kick out of the booed upon part.

 

Great footage of the lion, leopard, boo-ers, and what's left of the Tsessebe.

 

 

Looking forward to the rest of your trip, whatever it holds.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Thank you for sharing your recent trip with us, ice. It appears Dumela Botswana was a good choice to do your bookings. How did you come up with them?

 

I had asked for a few adresses of reliable botswana operators both here and over at tripadvisor; one of the companies mentioned were McKenzie 4x4 and these guys recommended Dumela and Jodie

 

 

 

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"Not a bad start of my trip", I thought.

 

Agreed. More! :lol:

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Sangeeta

Yup, keep it coming! Day 1 was a pretty good start by all accounts.

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The following day we left camp at 5:20 am - I was still alone in the car and neither need a lot of time to get ready nor to put some food and fluids into my body. Bate and Justice had decided to drive west. On our way we came across lots of general game, a lone hyena, some hippos heading back to safe waters and a breeding herd of elephants. At appr. 7 am we finally spotted another tsessebe skull next to fresh lion tracks which we followed until we found the animals: four more male lions, one of them the guy from yesterday (easily recognizable by the wound on his hind leg). More fresh tracks led us to the Four Rivers Area, the western boundary of the concession, there we saw eight more lions: two big males, three females and three sub adults - Bate called them "Solo Pride". By this time I had also filmed five males of the "Coalition of Seven". We stayed with them for an hour and a half until they (unfortunately half-heartedly und therefore unsuccessfully) chased a baby wildebeest and then disappeared in the thickets.

 

Back in camp I met the guys I was supposed to share the vehicle from now on with: an (extremely typical) Californian couple on their honeymoon. First thing they told me was that they had seen the dogs at Lagoon only a few days ago, on two different drives taking down sub adult ostriches. Needless to say this information raised my spirits (and expectations).

 

Since the Americans had not come across any lions at Lagoon we decided for our afternoon drive to head back to Four Rivers and sure enough both the group of males (at least three of them) and the entire pride were still pretty much there where we'd left them six hours earlier. We were hoping to catch the pride hunting so we had our sundowner close to them, near that big border lagoon. After sunset the lions rewarded our patience but once again their attempts at catching wildebeest and impalas failed. It was then a long drive back to camp, we didn't get there until 10 pm. While sitting on one of the back seats a tiny insect found its way into my inner (!) ear. I could not only hear it but also feel its wings flapping - one of the grossest experiences I ever had. I tried everything to kill it and / or get it out but it took three hours until it died. Two weeks later, back home, I had an ENT physician pull the remains out - yuk.

January 6th saw us leaving camp at 6 am, greeted by an elephant who took a liking of the trees next to tent number 3. We drove east, trying to find cheetah, together with only one other car. "Notable" sightings were side striped jackals, a juvenile Wahlberg's eagle and a reedbuck. At the edge of a small pond we came across a still intact carcass of a sub adult hippo - Bate and Justice assumed it had been killed by another hippo. There was a lone hyena nearby but apparently it was fearing the presence of crocs (although we didn't see any). It was then that Kimba, the Californian woman, in her college teacher English made the biggest fuss about the right spot for a bush toilet stop - poor Bate, I'm sure he only understood half of what she was bitching about.

 

 

My personal highlight of this drive was a sable bull (with only one sable, though) - that was only the third time I've seen this animal. On our way back we came across the wounded male lion and a female (from another pride), rather close to camp. Later, while I was asleep in my tent, the male lion chased the female right through camp - apparently she had tried to sneak away from him, an attempt he seemed to dislike.

 

A quite morning drive was followed by a quite afternoon drive. Our group was joined by Paul, one of the Moremi Air pilots who'd fly the Americans back to Maun the following morning. To tell you the truth, at this point I was happy they were leaving; on my game drives I like it quite and calm while they were constantly chatting about this and that. Apart from the male lion (minus the female who seemed to have finally been able to get away from him), the sable bull and the hippo carcass we only spotted general game. At one point Bate and Justice let a single elephant come extremely close to our car - the animal only retreated after the engine was switched on again.

 

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Game Warden

No need to wrap the Youtube links in media tags... Matt

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No need to wrap the Youtube links in media tags... Matt

 

instead I do what?

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Did you move on from the elephant because Mrs California asked to or because the guide decided to? Just curious.

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madaboutcheetah

Such a calm bull elephant .... Reminds me of the ones in chobe that come right unto your car and are such gentle giants ...... Sounds a great time with Bait, who had a great work ethic even when he was a tracker, glad he has moved towards guiding ..... It sounds like a great trip with all the stuff vie read so far!

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Did you move on from the elephant because Mrs California asked to or because the guide decided to? Just curious.

the former (unfortunately)

 

 

 

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While sitting on one of the back seats a tiny insect found its way into my inner (!) ear. I could not only hear it but also feel its wings flapping - one of the grossest experiences I ever had. I tried everything to kill it and / or get it out but it took three hours until it died.

 

Tip for anyone reading this;

- lay your head down

- poor water in ear

- done

 

 

;)

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Did you move on from the elephant because Mrs California asked to or because the guide decided to? Just curious.

the former (unfortunately)

Yeah, I thought so, just caught her voice towards the end there, a shame, because WOW that elephant looked totally relaxed and what an amazing sighting.

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While sitting on one of the back seats a tiny insect found its way into my inner (!) ear. I could not only hear it but also feel its wings flapping - one of the grossest experiences I ever had. I tried everything to kill it and / or get it out but it took three hours until it died.

 

Tip for anyone reading this;

- lay your head down

- poor water in ear

- done

 

 

;)

 

 

 

 

trust me: I've tried this and it didn't work

 

 

 

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Jan 07: The Americans had to leave Kwara quite early and thereforedecided to skip morning activities. I jumped at the opportunity and told Batethat I wanted to get a wake up call (not that I needed it) at 4:00 am, so thatwe could leave camp at 4:30 am. Our idea was to drive all the way to what Ibelieve is called the Splash Area, still hoping to find the three cheetahbrothers. Thomas, the only other guide out, would later join us. Once again theearly bird caught a worm - in our case the big leopard we had already tried tofind three days ago. With only one vehicle it was difficult to keep up withhim, since he was going in and out of bushes and thickets, all the whilemarking his territory and shouting out on search of a female in oestrous. Stillwe managed to stay with him for half an hour. Only minutes the second highlightof the day: a civet in full sprint.

 

Unfortunately that was it for the morning. We made it all the way to theeastern boundary of the concession, a rather tiring drive because we had tocross lots of flooded areas. Together with Thomas we searched all the usualresting places and marking spots but all we could find of the cheetahs weretracks from the day before.

 

The afternoon drive was rather short since again we hardly saw anythingworth mentioning - except two more male lions Over the radio we were told theythese were the Splash Brothers but Bate and Justice quickly identified them asthe "missing two" of the "Coalition of Seven" - now I hadseen them all.

 

Jan 08, my final day at Kwara. Once again I decided to leave camp earlyat 4:30 am. We drove all the way back to Four Rivers but all we spotted werethe two male lions from the day before. We also paid another visit to the hippocarcass; by now all that was left were bones, scattered all over the area.

 

Looking back, I rate my time at Kwara as "ok". I saw fourteendifferent lions, most of them multiple times, plus two leopards. Otherhighlights were the sable antelope and the civet. However, compared to parks I've visitedlike Kruger or Masai Mara, I don't find these numbers exceptional. Although Iof course admit: the exclusiveness of the concession together with all thetracking and off road driving makes it a completely different experience.

 

 

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madaboutcheetah

Could you see any tracks at 4 30?

 

Did you guys go to tsum tsum to look for cheetah or no access already due to high water crossings?

 

I have ne er seen all 7 brothers in one trip - lucky you!!!

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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Could you see any tracks at 4 30?

 

Did you guys go to tsum tsum to look for cheetah or no access already due to high water crossings?

 

I have ne er seen all 7 brothers in one trip - lucky you!!!

 

 

no, at 4:30 the leopard was "just there"

 

yes, we did go to Tsum Tsum (I'm pretty sure Bate mentioned this name), that's where we checked all the marking points and even found the place where they had rested for the night

Edited by ice
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I left Kwara at 3:10 pm. With me in the plane sat Linda from the Kwando reservations office and her mum who was visiting her from Australia. In Lagoon we were met by Carlos and James, our guide and tracker for the upcoming drives.The first thing Carlos told us was that they had not seen the dogs for seven days now - and neither any other big predator. I was completely devastated -apparently the ostrich kills the Americans had witnessed were the last timesthe dogs had been spotted. This was clearly the absolute low point of my trip.Carlos' explanation was that two big male lions from Namibia had crossed the River and not only killed the male lions of the resident "Pride of 18" but also chased away all the leopards, cheetahs and dogs. True enough, we'd hear the Namibian lions roar from the other side of the river pretty much every night. Needless to say, we basically saw nothing on our drive. But "help" was on its way: during our sundowner stop Carlos told us that he had some good news and some bad news: one of the other drivers had just minutes ago spotted the dogs, although far away from us which meant that we wouldn't be able to see them today. To tell you the truth: for me that was 99% good and only 1% bad news.

 

The next day we left camp at 6:00 am, obviously pretty excited. Too bad that there was only one other car out with us (Lebala had had no guests), Spencer with three Americans and a couple from Belgium, I believe. At 7:15 am we spotted the wild dog tracks but it was Spencer who half an hour later found the pack: all 20 of them, 9 adults and 11 "puppies". One of the puppies was visibly limping. We were hoping to also see them hunting but no such luck, although it seemed as if they had not yet eaten this morning. We stayed with them until 9:00 before heading back. Less than 3 miles before camp we got stuck - problems with one of the petrol tubes. They had to drive out another vehicle to pick us up.

 

For the afternoon drive our group of three was joined a Welsh / Scottish couple. Spencer had dropped his group off at the airstrip so now we were the sole Uri out. Nevertheless we found the dogs straight away, again close to what they call Half Way Point. At first they were just resting but half an hour later they seemed to get into a hunting mood - their first "victim" was a fully grown wildebeest. I'm not sure if this animal was indeed too big for them, as Carlos suggested, as he himself had told us that the biggest animal he ever witnessed them taking down a fully grown male kudu which is certainly bigger than a wildebeest. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that wildebeest and zebras are known to stand their ground when attacked by wild dogs. Anyway, the canids quickly left the wildebeest behind, it looked as if they had spotted something easier to bring down. We followed them for another half hour or so until Carlos decided that "that was it, it's too dark, they are not going to hunt any longer". So we stopped and had our sundowner when all of a sudden a breeding herd of zebras ran past us. Minutes later we heard the telltale sounds of eating dogs. Yes, we did find them again but it was of course too late, there was not much left of the baby impala they had killed- and there was hardly enough light left to make decent photos / video footage. I certainly regretted Carlos' earlier assumption. On our way back we spotted a roan antelope - one more animal I have been trying to see for years - too bad it ran away into the bush before I had my cameras ready.

 

I might try and add a few dogs pictures over the weekend

 

 

Edited by ice
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madaboutcheetah

So male Lions from the Namibian side came in and chased away all of Kwando's predators? Too funny ........ It's actually the ex-Kwando male Lions (now residing at Kings Pool in NG 15) that were responsible for the death of one of the Male Lions(still one of the males is left in charge of that big Selinda pride). Story can be read at both the WS and Selinda newsletters.

 

Spencer is the man, indeed!!! He can and will sniff out any predators, if at all they are around .......

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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here are some pics of the dogs

 

post-6901-0-32040800-1327732933_thumb.jpg post-6901-0-81933200-1327732914_thumb.jpg

 

post-6901-0-27670900-1327732901_thumb.jpg post-6901-0-74943000-1327732861_thumb.jpg

 

post-6901-0-01419300-1327732845_thumb.jpg    post-6901-0-25145100-1327732816_thumb.jpg 

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On January 10 we were again the sole vehicle out in the entire concession. Carlos had decided to "take it easy" which meant we needed two hours to get to the area where we'd left the dogs the night before. On our way we stopped for a little while at a hyena den - one adult and one puppy was all we saw. We then started to look for fresh dogs tracks - without success, for more than an hour. General game and nothing else for the rest of the drive.

 

Just before we were supposed to start our afternoon drive it started to rain, for the first time during my trip. Our departure was delayed until 4:30pm - not that it mattered because once again: absolutely no predators and certainly no dogs.

 

For my transfer to Lebala Camp I had chosen the road transfer so on January 11 I left Lagoon together with Spencer who'd meet personal clients there, while Carlos stayed behind with the British couple. However, I'm afraid to say even the great Spencer was unable to re-locate the dogs. We did pick up fresh tracks, from two animals, possibly from a different pack, we also found hyena and even leopards spoors but that was it. The mood was further darkened by Spencer's remark "They tell me it has been very quite at Lebala lately". All in all I also rate my three nights at Lagoon as "average": we'd seen the dogs on two out of six drives, so that was certainly an accomplishment. However, the experience could have been much better had Carlos not decided to finish following them in favor of our sundowner. Moreover, during two thirds of the drives we did not see anything that (in my eyes) justified the extraordinary prices of Botswana.

 

In Lebala I was put together with two Swedish couples. They were nice enough but their wish to pretty much stop for every warthog and giraffe was soon getting on my nerves. Unfortunately Bali, our guide, was more than ready to join them and soon the car was filled with more or less constant chatter. Maybe he was simply trying to cover up the fact that we didn't see anything else? Once again we heard the story about how the Namibian lions had chased away all of Lebala's predators.

 

And that's pretty much it, folks. For a stretch of four continuous excursions all we saw was once again only general game. One afternoon we even drove way into the Lagoon part of the concession, without success. All we found was tracks. One notable exception was my next to last drive, on the afternoon of January 13: we spotted lots of fresh hyena and lion tracks, then saw vultures circling in the sky, headed in their direction, picked up the small of a rotting carcass until we finally found another dead hippo, surrounded by appr. six hyenas. Too bad the stench (which I did not find that annoying, I'd had certainly smelled worse) was soon getting too much for my Swedish friends, so we left the area rather soon, certainly too soon for my taste.

 

January 14 was my final day in camp and in Botswana. I insisted on driving back to the carcass. There we were "rewarded" once again with about six hyenas. I don't know why, maybe the direction of the wind had changed, but this time we stayed there much longer, maybe half an hour. The hyenas were less careful than the night before, we even observed them how they dived into the pool to get inside of the carcass. Certainly a placable finish of my vacation - or so I thought. Because on my very final drive to the airstrip we did come across more roan antelopes and now I even had enough time to take pictures and film a few a minutes.

 

Nevertheless the three days in Lebala were the least enjoyable part of my first trip to Botswana. Overall, I'm happy I went since I did spent valuable time with a big group of dogs. On the other hand there is no doubt that had I not seen them, this would have been my most unfortunate safari holiday ever, even if it had not cost as much as it did and does. I spent perhaps 90 hours in the bush and saw (next to the dogs) only fourteen different lions and two leopards. Compared to the other destinations I usually travel to (Kruger, Kgalagadi, Masai Mara) that's next to nothing.

 

I know a lot of people (especially in this community) rate Botswana as a prime safari destination - well, I don't (although my experiences are of course minimal). Yes, it is much more "wild" than places like Kruger and at least the concessions are much more exclusive than the a.m. parks. On the other hand you pay costly for these feelings of wilderness and exclusiveness, too costly for my taste. I, I'd rather have more sightings of a bigger variety of animals (not necessarily predators) and share them with other cars than have no sightings at all for a stretch of four continuous drives (something I have never ever experienced in more than ten years of trips to safari destinations in Africa). Another factor (which has been discussed many times before and which I therefore do not want to elaborate on) is the sharing concept: whenever I was with other people in the vehicle I would have preferred to spend more time on the few exceptional sightings we had. At this point I'm not sure if I'll do this again or spend my money elsewhere.

Edited by ice
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Atravelynn

That bug in the ear is odd. Good thing it did not cause more of a problem. Your 4:30 am starts are very impressive. Good thing you saw wild dogs a couple of times, at least. In the instance when you stopped for sundowners instead of following the dogs, was that what the majority of people wanted in the vehicle? How did that decision come about?

 

Were the Scottish/Welsh couple good sports? All the Scotts I've ever run into anywhere were great fun. Nice going with the roan!

 

Thanks for the comments and specifics. Hope you can post some more photos. Nice shots of the dogs.

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Sangeeta

Thanks for a very informative report, Ice. It certainly seems to suggest that the early green season travelers to Bots had overall much better sightings. If I recall correctly, Russell and Stokey were at the Kwando concessions Nov and Dec, and not unhappy with their experience. The others reported back mainly from the WS concessions and all were happy.

 

I hear you on the prices, shared vehicles and overall paucity of wildlife, though. Thanks for sharing. I am very glad you did because it will help other people in their green season planning.

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PeterGermany

Thank you for your courage to just express your personal view on your "Lebala/Lagoon" experience. Given the Botswana-mania from so many outspoken veterans here on ST it is somehow refreshing to read a bit of a different report. Hence I am also enjoying the more positive reports a lot I have to say.

 

I have only be once in the Kwando Camps (Lebala and Kwara) after many trips to the Mara and the Greater Kruger, so I do understand where you are "coming from". Nothing can beat the Mara and Greater Kruger with regards to number and quality of lion sightings (while I have never been to Samibia, Zimbabwe and Southern Tanzania) and nothing can beat the Greater Kruger with regards to number and quality of leopard sightings ... from my personal point of view.

 

Everybody expecting a similar experience esp. in the Kwando concession will most likely be disappointed. They are struggeling with lion sightings since many years based on the numerous available reports and leopard sightings are not something that can be described as being "regular" it seems. Whatever the reason is, I have tried to figure that out to basically no avail (...). But the size of the concession and the low number of vehicles / spotters is playing some role for sure. Everybody being keen on large predator sightings should think twice before booking Lebala or Lagoon, esp. during green season.

 

I think everybody looking for a different and truely remote and intimate safari experience will find that in the Kwando Camps. Seeing Wild Dogs in the wild is a privilegde I think, that alone may justify a stay in Lebala and Lagoon. But of course there are alternatives close by in nothern Botswana (similarly expensive, similarly remote and intimate based on the available reports).

 

The absence of the Cheetah brothers and the misfortune to locate the dogs regularly may have added some bad luck. The tale about the Namibian Males chasing all predators off the area is may be a result of some desperation amongst the guides having to manage expectations.

 

I loved the Kwando Camps. Lebala was one of the best guiding experiences I ever had and the qualitiy time spent with the dogs will ever stand out. Kwara is probably one of the best safari destinations across Africa from my point of view given the diversity of habitats, the remoteness and the regular sightings of pretty much all large predators. During dry season both concessions are surely amongst the best for viewing all sorts of herbivores, buffalo and elephant.

 

But I happily return to the Greater Kruger and the Greater Mara even after the Botswana experience, plus next time in Botswana I will certainly try some of the WS camps.

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stokeygirl

I am also curious as to why you regret the switch to Kwara- it sounds to me as if you had your best sightings there.

 

I have visited Lebala, Lagoon and Kwara and of the 3 Kwara is the one I would definitely return to, although I would probably opt for Little Kwara as I did think the main camp was looking in a pretty tired and unloved state.

 

As for Lebala and Lagoon, I visited these in July 2010 for 2 nights each, and I found the same as you- Lebala was very quiet indeed. We ended up driving to the Lagoon area of the concession where we did see the dogs and the 3 cheetah brothers, but the Lebala area itself was very quiet. I was told that the lions had crossed to Selinda. There was one family there who were Kwando regulars and they asked to be transferred back to Lagoon.

 

Lagoon was fantastic as the dogs were denning and we got to follow them hunting all the way to a kill, we also saw the cheetahs and a hyena den. I would (in theory) revisit at denning time, although in reality the high season prices mean I probably won't go back to Botswana in high season. In low season I would be dubious what else there would be if the dogs weren't around.

 

Kwara- I was there in December and generally impressed with the range of sightings- lions, cheetah and a great leopard, plus very nice night drives sightings of serval and spring hares. It would have been nice to see more of the big male lions in daylight, but that was purely luck as they were definitely around- we saw them many times after dark. The general game in the delta concessions was definitely more present than in the Linyanti where it was notably absent.

 

Overall, my conclusion is that the Linyanti is more of a gamble in green season than the delta. I had a great time at Duma Tau, but we were lucky with the dogs, who were so entertaining and there were lions around too. However, if the dogs hadn't been around it could have been dire. I certainly don't think I would do an itinerary with 2 Linyanti camps in it in the green season.

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