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Atravelynn to Duba, Vumbura, Zib

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Aug 10-13 Duba Plains--4 nights
Aug 14-15 Vumbura Plains-North--2 nights
Aug 16-19 Zibalianja—4 nights

A link to photos will appear at the conclusion of the report. Food and accommodations at each camp were excellent. All staff and guides (Duba= James 007, Vumbura = Z, Zibalianja = BB) were outstanding.

This safari started with a bang! Literally. As the Sefofane charter with 8 of us aboard was about 10 minutes out from Duba Plains, I was startled out of my drowsy aerial sightseeing by a loud thud outside the right windshield of the plane. The pilot immediately informed us that we had hit a bird. The poor bird was the loser in that confrontation.

There was no additional excitement on the plane until we taxied down Duba’s airstrip after a safe landing. That’s when we saw it! One quarter of the Duba Plains wildebeest herd was migrating from one end of the airstrip to the other in a wild welcoming gallop. Then suddenly it was gone. “It” being the one wildebeest out of the herd of four. A few days later either that quarter of the herd or a different one-fourth would be spotted hanging out with the tsessebee.

Bridget, the hostess at Duba, gave me my welcome briefing in the gazebo overlooking a large marsh in front of camp. Throughout our conversation a Spur-winged goose kept flapping around, making itself quite conspicuous. I hoped its mate was not what the plane had knocked from the sky. After the briefing I hit the loo and was greeted with a lovely poster showing Botswana’s endangered birds. Of course I sat there speculating which one we may have obliterated. Not even an hour out of Maun and I had already violated the “leave only footprints, take only pictures” motto of eco-tourism.

My guide at Duba was James 007 and I have this forum to thank for that wonderful recommendation. This was the first time I had ever requested a private vehicle and guide. I made the request at the height of the excessive rains because I was concerned that with the extra water, getting to the lions at Duba might require an effort that I’d be willing to put forth but might not suit my potential vehicle-mates. The private vehicle turned out to be such a blessing but not for the reason I had intended.

Regardless of the number of people in the vehicle, if the buffalo move to an inaccessible part of the concession, the lions may follow, but the vehicles cannot. Even in drier years, it is not until late Aug or early Sept that the area known as Paradise can be reached by vehicle.

In fact, the day before I arrived a couple of guests had wanted to see the Skimmer Pride and went with the Mawalusy, the camp manager, to the far reaches of Duba Plains in search of them. They were successful, but on the way back the vehicle got stuck in the water, which required them to abandon it and wade through areas where they had earlier seen hippos and crocs. The rescue involved a tractor, which also got stuck, and another vehicle that brought them to safety. The woman came back to camp minus her soaked trousers, wearing one of those fashionable ponchos from the vehicle as a skirt.

So even a private vehicle could not get me to Paradise in mid-August. But I discovered a private vehicle was a necessity where lions hunt and interact with the buffalo primarily during the day, which is the rare case at Duba and Vumbura. If you wish to see that interaction you have to stick with the pride all day long and wait for them to make their move, which may not coincide with the morning or late afternoon game drives. Splurging for a private vehicle at Duba is some of the best money I ever spent.

After tea, I hopped into the “Bondmobile” with my guide, James 007, who had guided the Jouberts for two years in the making of Relentless Enemies and had taken Kenneth Newman, the bird book author, on seven safaris. “Wow,” I thought, “This is going to be an experience of a lifetime.” And it was for 10 minutes. That’s when the Bondmobile conked out. James did his best looking under the hood and checking wires, but it just wouldn’t start. Another vehicle pulled up next to us and I joined the couple and their guide and off we went.

About 30 minutes later we were enjoying a pair of bat eared foxes when James located us with his new vehicle. So I rejoined James and discovered the new vehicle was the one that had been abandoned in the water on the way back from the Skimmer pride. The plastic binocular/bird book/water bottle holders behind the seats were still filled with water! James was quite apologetic for the rocky start. Oh well, at least we were rolling now.

Whatever the breakdown did to delay or alter our route, it put us in the perfect spot for a first for both James and me. I saw movement at about 20 meters and suggested the creature looked doglike. James confirmed it was an aardwolf. I took a few photos and asked if we could try to get closer. James slowly approached and the aardwolf was quite relaxed going about its aardwolf business. It even stopped for a short snooze. We slowly moved closer and gauged the aardwolf’s reaction, which remained unconcerned. We ended up about 3 meters from it with unobstructed views in very good light and hung out with it for at least 15 minutes. James said he had never had such a good aardwolf sighting, nor had I, of course. (So there, Derek and Beverly Joubert!!)

My first afternoon and evening at Duba Plains proved to be ironic in its abundance of excellent canine sightings, as opposed to sightings of its famous felines. We came upon an open field of eight bat eared fox, all visible in a panoramic view. I had sundowners with eight bat eared fox! I discovered those little foxes do not offer an adequate silhouette with the setting sun in the background. So I deleted the bat eared fox sunset shots but did enjoy their company.

That night we spotted another aardwolf and some more bat eared fox. We stumbled upon just one lioness by accident as we were tracking the foxes in the spotlight. So that made for two aardwolves and a total of 13 bat eared fox in one outing—all in a land known for lions. I thought 13 bat eared fox might be exceptional, but was told that was common at Duba Plains and another vehicle had also seen 13 that day.

There was some notable campfire conversation that evening. I was sitting near a family of four and posed the often-asked question, “What brings your family to Botswana?” The mother shifted nervously and turned to her teenage son and said, “Do you want to answer?” He responded that he had chosen the destination and that the trip was sponsored by Make-A-Wish. (That is the charity that grants children with cancer a wish.) Now I was shifting nervously. He went on to indicate that he had been healthy for several years and then proceeded to talk enthusiastically about future college plans. That certainly put concerns about water levels, species wish lists, and bird ticks in perspective.

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