Before returning home, most of our group went for a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana for more animal viewing. Chobe has several factors that make it a premier safari destination:
- The Chobe River creates a unique ecosystem with an abundance of wildlife, and safaris via land vehicles or boat offer equally productive animal viewing.
- The park has a spectacular elephant population numbering in the thousands. Visitors have a very high chance of seeing entire herds of elephants at work and play.
- Chobe National Park is one of the few places one regularly sees hippos on land during the day. They do this because they’re competing with elephants for food. Getting out of the water during the day gives hippos more opportunities to graze and helps make sure the elephants don’t get all the grass.
- Because of the river, birdwatching here is good all day, not just in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
- The park is on the border between Botswana and Namibia, and is just an hour’s drive away from Victoria Falls, which itself is on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. You have your pick of countries to stay in when visiting Chobe.
Our group started out the day with a drive from Victoria Falls to Chobe National Park. It didn’t take long to get through Botswana’s border control, and we were outside the park at 9 a.m. We spent the next few hours on a river safari, with our two guides pointing out a lot of remarkable wildlife we hadn’t seen yet on this trip, such as African fish eagles and black herons, or hadn’t seen up close, such as hippos and a baby crocodile.
What surprised me most was how many land mammals we could view from the river. We saw Cape buffaloes, kudus, and a red lechwe. Most of all, we saw elephants—probably close to a hundred of them, and many up close as they played and drank on the shores of the river.
Our group left Ngala Reserve yesterday, taking a short flight from Kruger National Park to Victoria Falls. We’re staying on the Zimbabwe side of the falls at the classic Victoria Falls Hotel, founded in 1904 as one of the first modern hotels in southern Africa.
We arrived at Ngala Tented Camp yesterday and have seen a lot of magnificent wildlife since our arrival, from a two-ton rhino to a pack of hyenas with their young. (Who could have guessed that baby hyenas could be so adorable?)
For most people, the word “tent” doesn’t immediately evoke comfort and luxury. But the tents of Ngala are a different kind of tent. Erected on a wooden platform with a permanent wood frame, these tents have most of the fixings of modern life, including electricity, plumbing, and furniture. What distinguishes them from a cabin or cottage are their canvas walls and roofs, which allows you to clearly hear the sounds of the bush. Last night, for instance, the sounds of chirping frogs and roaring lions lulled us to sleep. (You wouldn’t think a lion roar would be relaxing, but it can be when it comes from far away.)
Here’s the inside of a tented room at Ngala:
This place is nicer than my home!
(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator, who is spending two weeks in South Africa and Victoria Falls with a group from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, Missouri.)
We woke up to some much-needed rain in Sabi Sands, South Africa. The area has seen a severe drought this summer — so severe that a local hippo declared Kirkman Kamp’s swimming pool its residence for a week until the staff finally managed to scare it off.
Game drives can go on rain or shine, and a few in our group decided to tough it out. We were eager to see some of the animals that come out in the rain, such as winged termites and the birds that feed on them.
We got in our ponchos and started out on a relaxed game drive. Besides termites and birds such as franklins, brown-headed parrots, a purple roller, and a rather wet and unhappy-looking tawny eagle.
About fifteen minutes into the drive, a kudu leapt across the road in front of us. We didn’t think much of it until several more quickly followed in its path.
I don’t remember who shouted it first – our guide Ally or our tracker Richard — but all our heads spun in the direction from which the kudu were fleeing. There was a straggler in the back, and right on its tail a lone African wild dog sprinting through the scrub.
The dog moved so fast we didn’t have a chance to get good pictures, but we were too thrilled to feel disappointed. There are only about 220 wild dogs in the 250 million hectares that make up Kruger National Park and the surrounding reserves, so getting a single glimpse is an incredible treat.
However, where there’s one wild dog, a pack is usually nearby, so we decided to see if we could find the others. Ally radioed the other guides to let them know what she’d seen, and a few minutes later another tracker found additional pack members. We joined up with them and I took this video.
I’m happy with how the video turned out, though it can’t convey the whole experience: the excitement of tracking such an elusive animal, the wet dog smell upon finding the whole pack, and the strange hooting sounds the dogs make to communicate with each other over long distances. It was a thrill to be among these rare animals — the kind of thrill one can only find on safari.
(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator.)
You never know quite what to expect on safari. Make plans to see one animal, and you often end up finding another.
Such was our experience this afternoon. After yesterday’s experience finding African wild dog tracks, we were eager to see if they had wandered back to our neck of the scrublands.
Fifteen minutes into our drive, after we encountered some gorgeous nyala antelopes, our tracker Richie and guide Ally heard vervet monkeys crying out a warning call. Following the sound, we eventually found the tree where the monkeys had run from danger. One stood at the very top of the tree, calling out as it looked down on a nearby dry riverbed. We headed in that direction while Ally explained that monkeys most often warn for leopards and lions, but occasionally for other predators as well.
At the riverbed, Richie spied fresh leopard tracks. The excitement rose as he followed them through the trees. Meanwhile, Ally drove us toward a small pond that the tracks pointed toward.
At the pond, all the tracking was rewarded with the site of a large, eight-year-old female leopard.
We decided to stay and watch her for about half an hour. Even though she didn’t hunt anything, it was fascinating to simply watch such a magnificent animal up close. The camera alone can’t convey the excitement of being near her. And even though she spent most of the time relaxing, she was still constantly moving: panting to cool herself down, looking around to see that the nearby herd of giraffes was still in sight, sipping water from the pool, and grooming herself.
Though we never found the African wild dogs, our afternoon safari was a definite success.
Our group has been at &Beyond’s Kirkman’s Kamp for two days, and the stay so far has been outstanding. Browsing through Ujuzi’s Flickr page and YouTube channel, you can get an idea of the incredible range of wildlife our guides here have introduced us to. But pictures aren’t enough to convey other aspects of the experience, such as an attentive staff, meals that would do any five-star restaurant proud, and accommodations that are at once luxurious and steeped in the wild.
We start out each day at 5:30, just around sunrise, with a wake-up knock on the door from our guide. After getting dressed, we walk from our cottages to the main lodge for coffee and biscuits, then head out for the morning game drive by 6:15 a.m.
Mornings are a great time to view animals because many of them are most active before the heat of the day sets in. On mornings here we’ve seen leopards, lions, Cape buffalos, giraffes, and a variety of birds and antelope, from small duikers to great big kudus.
The guides and trackers here are incredibly knowledgeable and have great eyes for spotting things most people would miss. Yesterday our tracker Richie stopped the vehicle upon noticing tracks in the sandy road. He soon identified them as the two-day-old footprints of African wild dogs headed east. Though we weren’t able to follow the tracks all the way to the dogs themselves, it was exciting to know we were standing in the same space as these elusive predators had a short time before. From tiny carmine bee eaters (a colorful bird) to huge hippos, Ally and Richie have shown us hundreds of animals we never would have found on our own.
Yesterday, we stopped on a shady bluff overlooking the Sands River for coffee and ginger cookies a couple hours into our drive. My group’s guides, Allie and Richie, introduced us to a drink they call a “mocha-choca-rula” — a blend of coffee, sweet-and-salty hot cocoa, and Amarula, a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the native marula tree.
We left Cape Town yesterday for Sabi Sands, a private game reserve on the edge of Kruger National Park. The wildlife here is incredible. Within a few hours of arriving, I had already seen a herd of elephants, a pair of leopards mating, and two young rhinos.
Today, I saw hippos, a crocodile, lions, Cape buffalo bulls, giraffes, half dozen different kinds of antelope, and enough birds to fill a few pages of my notebook.
Internet is a little slow out here in the bush, so I’ve only been able to upload a few photos and videos from the past two days to Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. Please drop by those sites to browse the images.