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Predator Biologists Botswana Report: the search for something different

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Warning: I am not a concise writer and have not been able to keep this short. It should be very useful for those planning trips but a long read just for fun.

This trip came together as a result of multiple goals for me. Over the summer I began to seek some new lodging alternatives in Botswana that could offer the high quality experiences that Botswana is known for but at more affordable pricing than most of the well known camps are going for. As I sometimes lead groups and I love Botswana I felt like I needed to find some new alternatives that could make it price competitive with leading groups to other countries. Just as importantly I have been looking for wildlife projects that could possibly fit with some other things that I’m working on and this trip let me have some meetings and make contacts to pursue those goals.

My research led me to a group of small independent properties who recently have all begun a marketing association with Footsteps in Africa. The more I researched the more impressed I was with the level of community involvement and the vision that Footsteps is pursuing. I was very impressed with the Kalahari Summer special pricing that was the best deal I have ever seen for a fly in Botswana safari and that it included a circuit that really covers a wide range of habitats and experiences. So in August I decided to squeeze in a two week trip during November.

However, what was to be a solo trip turned into leading a group of 2. I am friends with a couple that have wanted me to lead them on safari for a while and were waiting for the right opportunity. They loved the sound of this trip and decided to make their first trip to Africa with less than 90 days until departure so that added another dimension and certainly added to my enjoyment.

Itinerary was:

1 night Metcourt Laurel (Emperor's Casino Complex near airport)
3 nights Deception Valley Lodge
4 nights Mapula Lodge
2 nights Delta Camp
1 night Makgadikgadi Camp

Getting There

Important tip for anyone flying through Washington Dulles. A great last meal stateside is to go to Five Guys for a burger and fries. I grew up in the Washington, DC area and it was a great pleasure to see that Five Guys, a legendary burger joint in Northern Virginia has an operation inside the airport. I am a carnivore with eyes in the front of my head and teeth built to eat meat. As such I have developed a great knack for tracking down the best burgers, cheesesteaks, etc. and trust me that this is a great burger and fries. Retired General Wesley Clark happened to frequent Five Guys while we were eating in case anyone is moved by celebrity endorsements.

I fly packed in the back of economy so needless to say it is a hell that has to be endured to get to Africa. I was pleasantly surprised that the flight from D.C. made it all the way to Joburg without a fuel stop. Previously I have always flown from Atlanta with a stop in Sal Island so this made it about an hour less. Also nice was the flight from D.C. departs late in the day so I could leave Denver in the morning and make it. Previously I had to red-eye to Atlanta meaning I basically missed two nights of sleep instead of one (I can’t sleep well on planes so I’m lucky if I can get an hour and a half). So this was all improved over my previous trips.

Joburg – Metcourt Laurel

We arrived at about 3 p.m. and had a 10 a.m. flight the next day to Botswana so we just stayed near the airport. There is a complimentary shuttle that takes about 10 minutes or less to get to the Metcourt Laurel which is a part of the Emperor’s Casino Complex. The rooms here are very spacious and plenty comfortable to do an overnight. The casino is a 10 to 15 minute walk inside so there is no noise or disturbance but it is great to be able to walk around with a number of restaurants, shops and the casino. Think small Las Vegas. This was originally owned by Ceasar’s and those common areas are very reminiscent of being at Ceasar’s Palace. It is a very surreal way to start your time in Africa. We did eat at Tribes African Grill, which was very good with fake alfresco dining under the painted sky ceiling of the casino complex. Good night sleep and an excellent breakfast at the hotel and we were off on the complimentary shuttle and onto an on-time Air Botswana flight into Maun.

Deception Valley Lodge

This was a lodge I had been to previously and that I really loved, in large part because my guide Adriaan was one of the best I have had. An afternoon flight on a hot November day lead to a warm and choppy flight by Delta Air and all 3 of us felt a little nauseous. I was happy to land and it was great to see Adriaan there waiting for us.

When we arrived at the lodge it was obvious they had been busy in the year and a half since I was last there. A new outdoor area for dinning and lounging had been built and was wonderfully done. I also learned of a new extravagant DVL camp that was under construction – it will be a self contained camp for just 4 people and meant to provide a Kalahari location for the 6 paw crowd. It should be very wonderful and exclusive for those who can afford it. It has a completely separate location from the existing camp and will function independently. It will add a 4th vehicle to the property when at full occupancy which I don’t think will impact anyone’s experience as we never see another vehicle unless a call goes out for a special sighting and even then I have rarely had two vehicles at a sighting.

We got settled into our chalets, I had #1 at the far end of the row, which was a great location. Lions had been in camp throughout the previous night and tracks surrounded the walkway between our chalets. Chalets here are very well done with a living room, bedroom, and bathroom with a clawfoot tub and outdoor shower. They are very comfortable accommodation and they are very well spaced apart, which is necessary since there is not very much bush around the lodging but it helps add to the solitude. One thing to note is during the hot time of year you definitely need to open your windows all night and they are unscreened. This is a non-issue for me but I know some people love more exposure to the outdoors and others panic about it so I am noting it for whatever your preference may be.

Finally off on the first drive and we start tracking lions. Mostly we are seeing steenbok, it seems like every 100 meters with a few kudu or scrub hares mixed in. Then we come to a dead honey badger that had been found in the morning, killed by lions. This unfortunately was my first sighting ever of a honey badger, a species that fascinates me, and that I most wanted to see on this trip. I was able to get out and make a nice examination, studying the claws, coloration etc. We continued on and found the lions by a waterhole. This is an unlikely group of 2 year olds, 2 males and a female. They are a little young to have been evicted from the pride and yet they have set out on their own. This would be the first of many encounters with animals that were defying the expectations for their species. As is typical with precocious adolescents without adult supervision these three were being plenty naughty. In addition to the honey badger they had killed a brown hyena a week earlier. These are not the easiest species to mess with and one of the males had porcupine quills sticking out above his nose as evidence that Kalahari school does have some consequences. We had our first sundowner within view of these magnificent young lions bathing in spectacular light and needless to say my clients were ecstatic to see lions on their very first drive.

The night drive back continued our good luck as sightings became much more plentiful. Black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, African wild cat and then my first living honey badger! Of course it was dark and the badger was on the move – I saw it for a fleeting moment but almost felt as if I hadn’t. Still a wonderful first drive out that had started slowly and built into lots of sightings ending with another corpse, this time a jackal killed by a leopard the night before. These big cats of the Kalahari are rough on the smaller carnivores.

Camp was full, including us, a Swiss couple who shared our vehicle (excellent photographer), a group of 4 from the U.K., and a group of Germans who had come in from a mobile through the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). I don’t usually note the specifics of food but it is a very pleasing experience at DVL. The first dinner was an oryx fillet, which I had been looking forward to from my last visit. This is another very important thing to note. At DVL game meat is a common component of the food. In addition to excellent dinners things like kudu mini-burgers make a substantial snack at tea. Oryx, kudu, and springbok are all commonly served. I think they are outstanding and in Namibia game meat was common but nowhere else that I have stayed in Botswana has served it so it deserves to be noted. Dinner gave way to drinks and the first springbok shooters of the trip went down as a big storm rolled in out of nowhere. We walked quickly back to the chalets as the rain began to fall and thunder roared. As my guests were dropped off it began to pour and I was soaked by the time I reached my chalet. As I pulled off my wet shirt lightening struck and it felt like the earth shook with a crack of thunder that made me jump and left my head ringing. I was concerned for the guide Douw who had just dropped me off. The next morning he said the lightening hit about 50 feet from our chalets. Each chalet has a lightening rod (60 feet or taller) next to it so they are prepared for such events.

First night disappointments. One of the great things about DVL is their involvement with the bushmen, which includes having a bushmen as your tracker. At our sundowner I asked Adriaan about Rouse, our tracker from March 2006. Unfortunately Adriaan told me that he had become extremely ill from HIV and was no longer with us. I know many of you have encountered this same sad news on your return trips with guides, trackers, etc. that you shared time with. It definitely left me hollow. My second disappointment pales by comparison. Prior to dinner there was a flurry of activity on the deck that I discovered was due to a porcupine feeding on kitchen scraps thrown over the rail with everyone crowding in for pictures. Of course everyone loved seeing the porcupine so close up so I understand the draw of doing it but it is simply a poor practice to feed wildlife and it is something I very much object to camps doing. I did not see it occur my other 2 nights so it does not seem to be a regular feeding/baiting station as some places do but perhaps more of an infrequent practice to show the guests a little something extra.

My internal clock did not quite make the adjustment and I was awake at 4 a.m. so I just sat on my deck railing enjoying the stars followed by the birds until my wake up came at 5:30. Our a.m. game drive was mostly quiet sightings wise with a nice journey of giraffes being the highlight. We did have some very interesting tracking though with a good trail from an aardvark and a unique print of where a leopard had laid down in the road and you could really make out the base of its tail, its leg tucked under the body, everything. In my minds eye I could see the leopard laying right in the spot from this imprint left behind. A steaming hot day was passed at the pool and then one of the DVL highlights, our p.m. walk with the bushmen. We had a special treat as our tracker !Xashi (pronounced Cassie but nicknamed Zami) was joined by his older brother !Xunta (Kutta) who was in his mid-50s. These two were old enough that they had actually lived the life of survival within the CKGR before the bushmen were evicted by the government, often in a very unpleasant manner. The bushmen walk starts with them changing from their everyday clothes into their traditional wears. Adriaan says that these guys know their way of life is virtually extinct and they treasure the opportunity to be able to share their incredible knowledge and they also are very strict in teaching the younger bushmen and insisting that they do everything correctly. As part of this they insist on wearing their traditional clothes. On the walk the bushmen will talk to one another in their language stopping from time to time to show us various survival techniques or to just talk about something interesting they see such as a leaf or a root that has a special purpose. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of all that is around them and learning about how their tools are made and used (including making fire with sticks) is an incredible experience and for me a highlight of my trip despite going on the walk previously. They inspire my soul to want to learn the things that my people have forgotten in the generations since leaving Africa and it is a very profound and thought provoking privilege for me to spend time in their company. Their enthusiasm and good humor are infectious and highlight our similarities as well. There is also an unexplainable magic in the bushmen and in this case !Xunta, having joked earlier about being a gum gum (old man) and pretending to walk all hunched over on his walking stick like a crippled old man performed a vibrant giraffe dance (Adriaan said he had never seen that one before) and then the oryx dance – would this influence our trip to the CKGR the next day?

On our third day we had scheduled an all day trip into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This is an important change to note. When I had stayed previously it was standard practice to allow for an all day trip into the CKGR on a 3 night stay but now these day trips are supposed to be pre-arranged and cost $175 per person. Luckily we were able to schedule it without the prior notice, I did bring it up for planning when we arrived which left time to get it sorted. Game drives had been starting at 6:30 and since I had been waking up at 4 a.m. everyday I’d become impatient with people taking 6 to 6:30 to eat a bowl of cereal with the day full of wonderful light so I was ecstatic that for this trip we had the vehicle to ourselves and thus got up at 4:30 to depart at 5:15. The day was perfect, relatively cool temperature and it seemed that animals were everywhere as we drove through the DVL concession on our way to the CKGR. As we passed the airstrip there was a nice herd of wildebeest and red hartebeest and then a pair of jackals. The jackals split apart and started howling to each other with a 3rd jackal unseen joining in the howling from a distance. I must have had a huge smile on my face, so happy to be out early as we neared the edge of the DVL property and then I saw them, a pair of honey badgers digging in the ground!! I quickly alerted Adriaan to stop and back up and then he kicked it into high gear to get us to them quickly as they had started to disperse. They ran in opposite directions and as we followed one the brilliant power pack stopped, turned toward us with an audible snarl and flash of the teeth and then quickly ditched us. Between the movements of the ratels and the bumping of the vehicle there would be no in focus photo but I finally felt like I had seen the magnificent honey badger and in fact had seen two of them in thrilling, exciting fashion. My day could have been done and we hadn’t even left the DVL premises yet. The drive to CKGR was interesting as we drove through a quarantine area. Fences of the private game reserves to the north and the fence of the CKGR to the south. Within this buffer area we came across a wonderful group of oryx and when we drove on they also ran in our direction paralleling us for what seemed like minutes. The flowing muscles and grace of 4 oryx running in a single file line at 30 mph or so was awe inspiring and something I will never forget. At the end of the quarantine zone we had to stop and have government employees spray the tires of the cruiser and we had to step on the chemical mat to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. All told I think it took about an hour and a half to enter the CKGR. DVL has tried to get a gate put in that would allow direct access to the park and would allow guests to reach Deception Valley in the park in about 45 minutes instead of 2 ½ hours by driving around and it would bring in lots of additional park fees for the government but thus far it is a no go. It appears that Wilderness Safaris is buying a property that is east of another property next to DVL. The property immediately east of DVL (Haina) and I believe the prospective WS property were both hunting areas that have been converted to photo areas. I imagine with additional lodging coming soon there may enough demand to get an access gate to the CKGR granted in the future. Once we arrived we basically had the CKGR entirely to ourselves. I was told this is the second largest reserve area in the world and we saw only two other vehicles in about 6 or 7 hours. I had hoped a little rain may have made it to Deception Valley which can be a paradise full of huge herds of springbok and oryx with cheetah and lion watching for opportunities. However, as Adriaan had suspected not a drop had fallen and it was bone dry leaving a sparse scattering of wildlife. Raptors were abundant, especially pale chanting goshawks. We saw our only springbok(s) of the trip as well as a smattering of oryx and a leopard tortoise. Completely unexpected we saw a giraffe which supposedly are not to occur in such dry areas but here he was and with a crooked neck likely from an injury necking vs. other males. It had me think back to !Xunta and his giraffe dance the night before. Then as we pulled into our picnic spot, under a group of trees in Deception Valley at the former location of the Owen’s research camp (brown hyena researchers who penned Cry of the Kalahari) there was an oryx with a hobbled leg. I wondered to myself, could it possibly be !Xunta pretending to be hobbled and then dancing for giraffe and oryx that brought us these unlikely sightings? That sounds crazy until you read a lot about the bushmen and you find such things to be commonplace. In the end we saw very little wildlife and yet we all considered the visit to CKGR a highlight and an activity we were thankful for doing. There is a tremendous sense of space that dwarfs you that is hard to understand unless you stand there. If you appreciate large wilderness and the humbling effect it can have on you this is a must place to visit. Deception Pan appears to be a huge lake right up until you are literally feet away from it and realize it is nothing but sand. Huge space in all directions, it was really just phenomenal.

We made it back at about 4 and decided to quickly freshen up and get out for another drive. We had an outstanding sighting of 3 oryx bulls posturing with one another. The strongest bull put on a fascinating display of stomping his back feet in front of the number 2 bull who in turn went into displacement behavior and dropped onto his front knees and started slashing the bushes with his horns before finally rising and chasing off the #3 bull. Beyond this it was a quiet drive as sometimes happens at DVL. This is not the delta but the desert, and one that is largely filled with shrubs that can make viewing difficult. It is also a wonderful sandy substrate that provides unparalleled tracking opportunities and within that thick bush there is a wonderful pride of lions, including big black-maned males, and there are 8 leopards. With patience and putting in tracking work quiet times can give way to unbelievable sightings. We would have one more opportunity in the morning.

At dinner an animal made a quick approach toward the deck. Quick lighting revealed a honey badger coming to visit but lighted he made a hasty retreat, none the less our 4th honey badger sighting (not counting the dead one). Camp had emptied out and now there were only 5, us + Ysandre (see her ongoing report The River and the Rain: Botswana 2007) and her husband who had arrived in the afternoon. They were big fans of the desert, passionate about checking the historical flow of the Boteti River at their last stop, and they were return guests who had incredible sightings the first time at DVL. I of course immediately liked sharing camp with folks that have such appreciation for the desert and the small things. Too bad we only had one night but it was an enjoyable one. We retired to our chalets for our last DVL sleep. I took a shower and was in the process of photographing a gecko on my wall when I heard my name being yelled by one of my clients. I went out on my deck and asked what was the matter and she said “Bill, we have a snake in our room!” I quickly grouped myself together and grabbed my laundry bag and headlamp. I scanned the light carefully to cover the 50 meters or so between our chalets and didn’t see any lions so I quickly jogged over to find a snake against the wall near their bed. It was maybe 3 feet in length at the most but I wasn’t sure of the species so I quickly looked around the room and found an umbrella in their closet. I pinned its head with the umbrella and then slid it out from the wall and over to the laundry bag. When I first let him go he kind of tried to move around the bag so I had to pin the head again and do a better job of presenting the bag as the nice, safe place for the chap to go. This time I barely unpinned the head and guided him a little and he was pleased to go to safety in the sack. I then took a sash from a bath robe and tied up the sack. With my clients being a little unnerved but really handling it quite well I offered to stay and sleep on their couch if needed but they decided that would not be necessary. Then I said their favorite line of the trip: “the chances of another snake coming in here is like being hit by lightening, oh wait, that almost happened two nights ago”. Having left them completely settled I again checked for lions and returned to my chalet with a sleep over guest who would remain in his protective laundry bag. It was hard to resist the temptation to walk to the lodge and start looking through the reptile guide but I decided not to violate the rules. Again up at a little past 4, I enjoyed my deck and early morning birds until Douw came for the wake up and I greeted him with a snake in a bag. I brought it with me to the lodge and Adriaan was shocked, first snake in a chalet in his 3 ½ years. The id process was difficult as this is a nocturnal snake and not often seen. We finally figured out it was a night adder or an egg eater (I have since confirmed night adder which is a poisonous snake but not deadly). We then loaded up the snake for a safe release during our final game drive.

A tracking we will go. Zami is a brilliant tracker and Adriaan is very good as well. We find some very nice lion tracks leading to I can’t believe it – another incredible print of the lion laying in the road. In this case he has squatted down as both his hind feet have left wonderful prints inside of the rest of his shape, which includes the impression of quite a nice mane. We go on and this time Adriaan spots a honey badger moving through the bush. We watch for about 30 seconds as it moves along through the bushes and then gone. 4 sightings and 5 honey badgers. Then we come across a leopard trail. The guys get out and follow it for a while, circling here, moving there. Back into the vehicle. About 3 minutes later a gentle wave of Zami’s hand and ahead in the bush is a stunning female leopard. I’m thinking she is going to run away but instead she walks right in front of us crossing the road and going about her business that would seem to be finding food. We leave the road and weave through the bush to follow as best we can. Adriaan does a fabulous job of not disturbing her but keeping up as she is stalking guinea fowl. At some point the other vehicle arrives with Ysandre and we share the sighting for a short while before we move on and leave her. We spent close to 45 minutes observing and want to get back to tracking the lion. First we make a stop by a waterhole with a hide and release our night adder to the wild. Then we proceed and we drive right past a small leopard laying just off the road. This turns out to be one of Adriaan’s two favorite leopards and another very unlikely story. This young boy is just a year old but somehow he lost his mother at just 5 to 6 months of age. Against all odds this crafty boy has made it on his own and is in great condition. Apparently the same thing happened to his father who is now the biggest, baddest male in the area and Adriaan’s other favorite leopard. This boy was very relaxed and a real poser, giving a new head tilt or expression every 30 seconds or so. He led us to the waterhole, great fortune as it’s a big open area with no cover. Then he decided to use the photo hide on us by walking around the far end only to peek his head out of the near side to look at us moments later. He then went to stalking a family of warthogs, ambitious prey for a young guy. We did not follow him into the bush to give him a chance but we found him 5 minutes later panting presumably from a missed attempt. In all we probably had 45 minutes with this glorious leopard! A fitting way to end at DVL.

A quick summary: this camp is special but viewing takes patience. There is a lot of bush and some drives can be low on sightings but it also is an area that provides amazing tracking experiences, the bushmen and guides work the tracks more than anywhere else I have been, and often you finish with amazing observation opportunities. For people with the proper expectations and appreciation this is a an amazing place to view Kalahari predators and general game (we saw 22 mammal species). I am hoping to lead future groups that will focus on the art of tracking (including aging of tracks), studying the spoor and sign of aardvark, porcupine, honey badger, etc. and of course most excitingly trailing leopard and lion with a combination of foot and vehicle for the viewing. Beyond the wildlife experience, camp management, food, comfort, etc. are all at top levels at DVL and everyone should walk with the bushmen at least once in their lives.

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    Thanks, I'm really enjoying your report! Looking forward to more.

    Would you mind posting the per person cost for this trip? Since one of your goals was to find a high quality experience at more affordable prices, I'm wondering how that worked out. I'm starting to daydream about Botswana (still probably many years away for us), and I suspect all we'd be able to afford is a group mobile camping trip, if that. But I'm still curious about what's possible when you put together your own trip with these goals. (Apologies if you've already posted this elsewhere and I missed it.)

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    I'm loving your report. "Have not ot been able to keep this short" are good words in a trip report.

    I look forward to hearing more about these camps. You were practically tripping over honey badgers, relatively speaking. And I like the comment on the snake, poisonous but not deadly. Very reassuring to snake phobics like myself.

    For game-viewing, what's the best season for DVL?

    CW


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    You are very concise! Of course, look who is talking. Your hints and details make this a keeper for anyone headed to the Kalahari and I'm hoping that's me someday.

    Your report is a great read. I recall way back you had mentioned you wanted to see a honey badger. That first sighting must have been a disappointment, though a natural part of life in the wild. That's wonderful you had additional live sightings. Your description of the second honey badger--you almost felt you hadn't seen it--reminds me of my night view of the caracal.

    The bushman dance and subsequent unusual wildlife viewing makes for a gripping tale. I recall that giraffe photo because I winced, remembering the couple of neck problems I've endured in the past.

    I was looking forward to the snake incident after Ysandre brought it up. Your account was quite entertaining. Now I just have to wait for the night adder's harrowing version of it.

    Looking forward to Mapula. I already know where the towel bar is from the photo gallery.

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    As always I'm enjoying your details and adventures.
    You have a way of making each trip sound like your first. Your enthusiasm is addicting - sigh -you're making me long to get back to Africa.
    Thanks for posting!

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    PB,

    I have so far read your first two days at DVL ..... have to get back to work this minute ;)

    You mentioned, you met people on a mobile trip thru the CKGR. Do you know what company they used for the mobile trip? For the CKGR itself, i bet Jan-April ought to be pretty amazing.

    Thanks
    Hari

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    Thanks everyone for your comments, glad the report is being enjoyed.

    MyDogKyle: pricing is going to vary based on what type of commission an agent demands but the best deal is under the Kalahari Summer special from December through March when 9 nights split between DVL/Mapula/Delta Camp could be had for about $3,200 per person including all the internal flights. November (April & May too) was shoulder season so it is more at about $4,500. Even in the high season Mapula is very much a bargain with a rack rate of $600 pppn vs. $825 and up for the Kwando and Wilderness Safari Camps. Likewise Makgadikgadi Camp has a high season rack rate of $475. Thus, these camps save you a fair chunk of money at any time but of course those really looking for bargains need to avoid high season and take advantage of the summer special. I've traveled in January and March and Botswana is wonderful during that time of year.

    Matt: I saw that you discovered in my photos that I was lucky and found a pair of Pel's fishing owls at Mapula. I also had a couple of great bird behavior observations while at Deception Valley. One pleasure was seeing a red-crowned korhaan with its crown fanned out displaying for a female. I also saw a male ostrich with a great courtship dance, dipping its head and spreading its wings in a little dance. Swallow-tailed bee eater was a gorgeous new sighting for me and I had some excellent views of black-breasted and brown snake eagles. So I did have some very nice bird sightings. The courting time of year is an interesting time to be there.

    CW: very good luck with the honey badgers and snakes on this trip. Best time for viewing at DVL is like most of Botswana, the dry season particularly August, September and October until it rains. Most of the wildlife is resident so it can be great at anytime but it is very shruby so having no leaves around helps quite a bit with visibility. During the green season though is the best time for a visit into the CKGR.

    Lynn: thankfully the snake is still around to tell its tale. I was glad to be able to live capture it and have a safe release. I know most are glad that poisonous snakes are short lived near camps but I'm happy this one could make it to a new area of the concession since we discovered it.

    Cybor: thanks for your comments. Indeed each trip feels new and full of first experiences, I'm glad the enthusiasm comes through in my writing.

    Hari: the Germans had come from Windhoek on their mobile led by a German ex-pat who set up a travel business in Namibia a long time ago (15 years maybe). He leads all kinds of tours and I have a card for him that I just saw a day or two ago but now of course can't locate it on the whirlwind that is my desk. I'll email you when I find it but I imagine you would rather go with someone based in Botswana anyway -- or of course we can rent our own truck with the pop top tent and get after it ourselves;) You are right January through March should be glorious inside the CKGR.

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    Thanks PB, an enjoyable read and photos to match. At last another HB fan!!!! They are my favourite African mammal and finally someone else shares my fascination with them. Pound for pound, I think they're the toughest out there. What do you think?

    In all my safaris, I've seen 8 honey badgers, but never managed to capture one on film or stills - so you're not alone.

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    Gaurang: yes, I've long been fascinated with the HB and ecstatic to finally have some sightings. I agree pound for pound Africa's toughest mammal. I believe the wolverine (a cousin of the HB) shares many of the same characteristics and is just as tough pound for pound and tends to be a little bigger. By the way to add to the legend, some doubt the famed report of a honey badger killing a buffalo by castration but one did just that to a kudu at Deception Valley Lodge. The November issue of Africa Geographic has a nice little article of a family raising an orphaned HB that is worth a read.

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    In the book "Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide," author Peter Allison (formerly of Mombo and other WS venues) relates a story of encountering a HB on a pathway at night. I no longer have the book (having left it with a guide), so cannot quote directly, but he makes reference to the HB's propensity for attacking the genital areas and the uneasy feeling he thus had about this encounter...

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    Fascinating report Bill. I also read your report from the previous trip to DVL (2006). Noticed that they;re going more upmarket. Add to that the feeding of the porcupine. So you still rate it as highly as you did before this trip? Is the bushman experience the true highlight?

    I am intrigued by HB's and I still havent seen one. Missed one by minutes at Mashatu. Spent 30 min trying to track it without any luck.

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    This may turn into a honey badger fan club thread. I've also been told about their unique and effective attack and defense methods.

    I recall a guide telling me he had explained to his walking safari clients about the honey badgers and their method of going for the underbelly so to speak. When a honey badger was spotted in the distance during the walk, all the male participants grabbed onto their respective most vulnerable regions. And lived to tell about it.

    In the Lower Zambezi I got to walk with a pair of honey badgers for about 10 minutes. They were busy with breakfast and not aggressive.

    Since you mentioned a wolverine, that's another animal I'd love to see or a North American badger.

    Thanks for the pricing info too. All very helpful.

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    PB, thanks, a very interesting report to a less frequently visited destination. I'd like to visit the CKGR, and I'm glad you can do so while staying in such comfortable lodgings.

    For the record, I have either seen a honey badger or a civet (I don't recall and have no photos) in Botswana.

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    Thoroughly enjoying :)

    Impressed by your (correct) spelling of the guys names - I've long since given up and just write what I hear on the grounds that this is what originally happened anyway... Memo to self - must try harder with my spelling!

    I'm unconvinced personally by the 'maid, butler, cook & chocolate-dipped strawberries' of the new area, but hey - if it makes good business sense and introduces some people to the desert who wouldn't have gone there, I'm not gonna winge... I would immediately get excited about the gate to the CKGR, but I waited for 5 years for the Mata Mata gate to open (OK - maybe the cross border stuff slowed it down...) so I'm sure it will happen, but maybe not for next year :/

    Totally agree with your summary section - but you need to tell your prospective clients that tracking is a terribly addictive hobby (even worse then photography!)

    Looking forward to your next camp report!

    Ysa

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    Bill,

    On my first safari, we saw a female honey badger carrying its young in its mouth. When she saw us, she fled for a short distance before dropping the youngster and disappearing into a burrow. But the baby turned on our vehicle and made a short charge before changing its mind and following mum. Now I understand...it couldn't see any vulnerable bits under the vehicle :D

    John

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    One of my scariest African moments involved a honey badger. Last year during a trip to Tanzania, we were scheduled to stay at Gibb's Farm for 1 night. The property had overbooked, so me and a friend were given the managers house for the night. This is quite a distance away from the rest of the rooms. We were on our way back to the room after a late night when we heard a loud and heavy rustling noise in front of us. We shone our torches in the direction of the noise and there was a HB - 15 metres away and staring at us.

    Me, my friend and the HB all froze waiting for someone to make the first move - this lasted about 10 seconds (but it felt a lot longer). Luckily for us, the HB ran in the opposite direction. Beware those staying at Gibb's Farm!!!!

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    PB, great report so far, which I am particularly relating to since I was in the Makgadigadi area at the same time, and experienced the same storm. I especially liked your description of the oryx herd. I am SURE we were sitting right behind you at Tribes in Joburg. Was it the 3rd of Nov, about 5ish, and was one of your clients a woman with longish brown hair? I noticed the 3 of you because I was looking at people's plates to see what to order, and you (I think) were chowing down on a huge hunk of meat (a shank of some kind?) and I heard an American accent. Small world.
    Leslie

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    John,

    The only Honey Badger i have seen was with Kanawe this past trip by the spillway. He wasn't excieted at first, but ..... joined in the chorus when he saw my enthusiasm, and was surprised by my excietement.

    Hari

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    Hari,

    I guess honey badgers are fairly commonly seen at Selinda, but still Kanawe should have been a little bit excited, even if only to impress the clients. I suspect guide morale at Selinda is frequently very low nowadays.

    John

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    rickmck: sounds like a good book, I'll have to track it down.

    Amol: it is very intersting to visit a place over time and see how it changes with the trends. I'd say DVL was upmarket in 2006 when I visited too in that the food was as good as it gets and the accommodation is very nice, far short of 6 paw over the top but right there at the high end of the 5 paw standard so I don't think it has changed. It provides a huge green season bargain and in high season comes slightly cheaper than other similar level of accommodation in Botswana. The Kalahari Suite they are developing will reach the over the top upgrade level but I'm very pleased that they have chosen to meet that market with a small 4 person offering while maintaining the standard and pricing of the existing lodge. This is a nice compromise to the trend of changing entire camps to new exhorbitant levels -- basically I can still enjoy it the way it is and DVL can make some extra money by servicing a select few in the highest end of the market. I definitely have the same feeling as I did after my 2006 trip in that DVL is one of my favorite camps and a brilliant experience. In fact on this trip my game viewing was quite a bit better so I'm probably even more high on it now. The only thing I didn't like was the feeding of the porcupine and I am making that known and hope it will not occur in the future.

    The bushmen are definitely the highlight but so is the ability to track down big cats. Considering the bushmen tracker is key to the tracking it really all ties together. Also for me getting to see oryx and other desert species is a big high point since I don't see them elsewhere in Botswana.

    Lynn: your story of covering the jewels will parlay nicely into part of my Mapula segment. Wolverine would be a dream sighting, very hard to come by as they probably have the largest home range of any mammal. The American badger I have had some very good sightings of including snapping some photos. They are handsome blokes and a real pleasure to see, also an animal not to corner too closely. The entire mustelid family is fascinating and arguably contains the most impressive cast of carnivores of any group, just not nearly as well known or sighted as cats and dogs. I know first hand that getting a weasel out of a live trap is like working with lightening in a bottle.

    Michael: DVL frequently is a spot where mobiles come to stay after two or three days of camping in the CKGR too. I'd like to try it that way sometime, allowing for a deeper experience in the CKGR and then cleaning up at DVL with increased chance to see leopard.

    Ysa: last go round I knew I butchered the spelling on the bushmen's names so badly and I've been reading two bushmen related books gaining a better foundation. So this time I asked Adriaan about the spellings since I had a little more background to comprehend it. The fact that you can say anything in Naru puts you well ahead of me. My little son is the only one who understands my clicks.

    I'm with you on the new digs, CDS (to quote Lynn's new Americanized acronym for Hari's chocolate covered (dipped) strawberries phrase) is not my style and I don't see shelling out those kinds of bucks there but its evident that there is a set of travelers now who only want to go to the 6 paw over the top CDS places so with it being so small I'm sure they will keep a good occupancy rate and make some cash. Of course some of those people may not understand about working for their wildlife sightings. Tracking is a spectacular way to spend time and I agree with you can be addictive in its own right for those who really want to dive into the natural world.

    John: thank goodness the vehicle didn't have any wedding tackle down there or you may have found a little HB chewing his way right up through your seat! Would love to see the classic mom carrying the baby, what a sighting.

    Gaurang: very glad you came away from Gibbs Farm with all your parts. Pound for pound you must be the toughest safari goer since you faced down the honey badger.

    Leslie: wow, Fodorites are far reaching -- I can't believe you observed me dining! You are correct, that was us. However, as much as I would love to back up my carnivore statement by saying that I was the one with the enormous lamb shank and grow my legend he was actually my client and the woman you described his wife. I was the other guy eating a magnificent ostrich fillet. I have to admit after virtually no sleep on the flight over and just arriving at the hotel at 4, and then into a meeting at 5 before catching up with them at dinner I was barely coherent and can't picture anyone around. I wish you would have asked for a food review and we could have met. What was your itinerary? Report and pictures coming perhaps?

    Hari/John: if I'm lucky enough to ever see a million honey badgers I guarantee that I will be very excited at the site of number million and one.

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    Gosh, isn't it amazing that so many of us have such a fascination/ attraction to the honey badger.

    During our marathon 2004 trip one of the sightings I most coveted was of a honey badger.

    I decided to sit out one single afternoon drive because my back was really causing me a lot of pain that day. I knew I'd miss some great sightings as every drive at Mombo gave us great sightings but... I was gutted to learn from husband that they'd had a honey badger sighting!

    The one day within a 9 week trip and I'd missed it!!!!!

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    I didn't realise that Honey Badgers were such a sort after sighting.

    I haven't kept count of how many I've seen but I would now almost rate them a bit higher than a herd of impala. ;)

    Geoff.

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    Bill,

    I have a very blurred shot of the youngster, as it turned away from our vehicle...taken with my old manual-everything-and-I-mean-everything camera (on the Okavango Delta page of my website).

    Unlike Geoff, I've seen only about three honey badgers, so my herd of impala is quite small ;)

    John

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    That should read

    Was the weasle in a laundry sack tied with a bathrobe sash too?

    The CDS acronym has also been revised, upon the request of the term's creator, to CCS for chocolate covered strawberries. Covered not dipped. Along the lines of shaken not stirred.

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    Kavey: always seems to work that way, if you sit out a drive for any reason something special will be seen. Luckily I've never missed and I get excited when someone else does because I know a great sighting is likely coming.

    Geoff's been spoiled! No more HB's for you -- they should go to John instead.

    Lynn: I showed up and found a long-tailed weasel part way in and part way out of my small aluminum live trap meant for rodents. Having it part in and part out made it difficult to get a clean release, and no laundry bag involved just some gloves and quick hands. I can vouch for the scenting power of the mustelids, my trap was pretty much ruined from the smell left behind.

    Noted: over the top shee-shee now = CCS (chocolate covered strawberries)

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    PB,
    I didn't spproach because I only figured out it was you at Emperor's Palace after reading your trip report about your two clients, the date, Tribes, and a vague face recognition from the pictures.
    We went to 5 camps, 3 nights each: Jack's, Chitabe Lediba, Kwetsani, Kwando Lagoon and Little Vumbura. Trip report to follow asap.
    Leslie
    PS: No Honey Badgers. But dogs, dogs, dogs, a Kalahari lion, a brown hyena, a flying black mamba, and an ardwolf.

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    Mapula Lodge

    Mapula Lodge was the original area that had drawn my attention to the Footsteps in Africa offerings. In July they had big news – Doctor, a well known guide with Kwando, had changed venues and was guiding at Mapula and he had discovered a wild dog den. This was shortly followed by news of an active hyena den. The concession is enormous (875,000 acres) and shares borders with both Vumbura and Duba Plains. Further research suggested that the viewing would be similar to Vumbura and reports on sightings were consistently excellent. I was also intrigued by the remote location near the panhandle of the Delta, with the added benefit that with no camps to the north there would be no plane traffic as this is pretty much the last stop in the Delta area.

    The flight in from DVL went smoothly and no one felt ill this time around. We landed at Delta Camp on our way and disembarked long enough to view an elephant on foot near the runway before continuing on to the far reaches of Mapula. Friendly greetings and a quick exchange with out going guests and I was confused by a statement about wild dogs at a den. The dogs should have left the den area by early September I thought. We piled into the transport vehicle with Josiah, a guide with a tremendous humor and easy talking manner that is hypnotic. Here we received bad news and the most outstanding news I could ever hope to hear. The bad, our requested guide Doctor had flown to Maun to see the doctor with a back problem. It was in doubt if he would guide us at all. As for the good I had been tipped in Joburg that a big surprise awaited me somewhere during the trip but I never would have imagined this! I asked Josiah about dog sightings, knowing the dogs had continued to be seen regularly since denning. His response, “they are at a den a very short drive from camp – yes, you will see dogs.” A den? Was there a litter of pups out of season? “Yes, in a most unusual circumstance the beta female has had a litter, we have 5 week old puppies that have just come above ground about 5 days ago!” As wild dogs are my favorite species to observe and this would be the most interesting circumstances for viewing possible with 5 month old puppies of the alpha female and 5 week old puppies of the beta female I could not have been more excited.

    We arrived to Mapula and were greeted by singing. I always have mixed feelings about that as I have been to camps where it seems to be a required show and then the staff are servants with no personal interaction and in some cases it is just a natural extension of the culture and an important part of the atmosphere. Here it turned out to be the introduction to a very welcoming place, featuring a wonderful, warm staff and lots of interaction. This lodge is owned by a Batswana woman and her husband, who is a Swedish doctor, but my understanding is the financial benefits to the community far exceed those of typical concessions. They are receiving a large stake and I was told by a couple of staff members that they really feel like it is their lodge and that they own this venture and thus love working there as compared to other camps where they have been. There are many couples on the staff and the village that most of them come from is just 2 hours away. Both factors that I think are better than typical conditions and lend well to high morale.

    I was told when I stand on the main deck for the first time and look out at the lagoon and floodplain I would have goosebumps. I thought sure it will be lovely, but as I walked up the steps and looked out that is indeed how I felt. The setting was spectacular! Of course the bar in the corner with the perfect view caught my eye as well. The camp has only been open for a year and much of the staff new in the last 6 months so I expected some wrinkles but found almost none. We sat down in the nice open air lounge for the initial briefing with the camp manager Do Do and assistant manager Lesh and had the wonderful surprise of roosting fruit bats high over head, about 30 are here every day. We then proceeded to our chalets, and once again mine was at the end of the path concealed wonderfully in the vegetation (#9). As we neared my new home I carefully stepped over an elephant print in the walkway headed into the trees between our chalets. I don’t usually like to spend too much time detailing accommodation but since this is the first lengthy report on some of these camps I will provide extra detail. My chalet was extraordinary, much more than I had expected. I come for the wildlife and accommodation is not all that important to me but I was extremely impressed with this offering. The view out to the lagoon is magical, reminiscent of Kwara camp. I had a comfortable deck with chairs to enjoy the view and bordering my deck was an enormous Jackalberry tree that rose above the chalet. A separate door led to the best shower of my life, outdoors nestled on the other side of the Jackalberry tree from the deck with the same view of the lagoon. I really don’t like calling it a chalet because typically to me that denotes all hard walls and a separation from the outdoors, sometimes muffling the sounds and smells. These chalets are kind of a chalet/permanent tent hybrid forming quite a combo. Where you enter it is hard cement walls and you can see it’s raised on stilts with a cement foundation. Inside is all wood floors like many permanent tents and then ½ of the sides and the entire back is all mesh screening. The combined effect is the sturdiness, tight fit, and privacy of a chalet but the open air connection to nature of a tent. I know some people are expecting me to compare to known lodges of other companies to put it into perspective. On the Wilderness Safaris scale they would need a new category as it would not be considered 6 paws, no plunge pool or outdoor sala, nor are there leather couches or chaise lounges etc. However, compared to the WS classic camps that I have been to that are rated as 5+ this was much larger including a seating area with wicker furniture and more luxurious feeling. Thus, I guess to pigeon hole it on such a scale it would be a 6- or something silly like that. For further comparison I would say Kwando Lebala would be on a similar scale to the classic 5+ camps that I have been to and Kwando Kwara would be a smidge below that for the accommodation, probably more comparable to WS vintage camps of 5-. Little Kwara was under construction when I was there so I can’t really compare it but I would assume that it is at least 5+ or possibly on this same level? Basically in Botswana I would say without a doubt that my Mapula chalet was the nicest accommodation I have been in except for Mombo. Yet when I stayed at Mombo the camp overall had a soulless feeling about it once I left my own digs, it was so formal and the staff reserved (this was back in 2003 so its dated info) while Mapula had a tremendous community feel to it that reminded me much more of my stays at Duba Plains and at Lebala. They also do the food quite differently at Mapula. There is an emphasis on traditional cooking, obviously it would be the high end local food. Kwando often offered a local dish alongside the more typical tourist type food. I don’t think I have ever had a real local dish at a WS camp. Here the emphasis on local dishes according to the manager is an effort to show tourists a little something different and to enhance the cultural aspect. I am a slightly picky eater but I found the food to be excellent. In comparison to other camps I’d say it fell somewhere in the very respectable middle. I’ve had a few stays like DVL and Duba Plains where the food was incredible and a few places where it was simply solid, this would be in line with the majority as very good but not extraordinary although there were a couple of dishes that were exceptional. In keeping with this local slant the brunch was not the typical English breakfast either but tended more toward lunch with local twists. I have to admit after 4 days I was very excited to get some eggs, bacon and sausage again at my next camp. Mostly I enjoyed the brunch food but its funny how you become so used to having things one way. Ideally for me I would have liked it if the standard breakfast came out once during my stay, but much like accommodation this all is really not that important to me and just information for those who weigh this more seriously when planning itineraries.

    Whew, now that accommodation has been covered comes the most important part for me – game viewing and activities, detailing the actual experience. I’ll preview by saying that I saw 34 mammal species here, the most I have ever seen at a single camp. Birding was glorious as well, including one of Botswana’s most prized sightings and a couple of new species for me. The landscape is large with varied scenery and habitat and we covered a huge amount of ground.

    Off for a long work day in the field but I’ll try and get to this next segment soon …

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    I am ready for goosebumps at Mapula Lodge. If not from the spectacular view, then the abundance of wildlife. Your 34 species is impressive. Thanks for the detailed description of the place but you had me at the towel bar photo.

    Hope Doctor fully recovers. Back problems and safari vehicles are a poor mix.

    Have a good day in the field.

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    Sorry its taken a while to get back to this.

    First a tip for all of you honey badger fans. If you spot a congregation of pale-chanting goshawks they are probably following a honey badger. At DVL Adriaan said this as we spotted 3 goshawks together. 90 seconds later there was the HB running in front of them through the bushes. This will be especially helpful for those of you self driving in the KTP, Kalahari, etc.

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    Back to Mapula...

    Mapula offers walks with an armed guide, mokoro, and game drives. Our first activity was an afternoon walk. The walking guide, Eustice was knowledgeable and had a nice easy manner about him. The focus was discussion of how different plants were used by the River Bushmen as well as examining animal sign. We had one nice sighting of a bull elephant and the wide plains lined with islands of large trees made for a beautiful landscape. We decided to do no mokoro rides here since we would have the opportunity at Delta Camp so from here on out it would be game drives.

    With Doctor out injured we had Dicks as our guide and Simon as our tracker. First drive out and of course we headed right for the wild dog den. I was tingling with anticipation. We arrived and all was quiet with the 6 adult and 3 5 month old puppies all sleeping in their various groups but within two minutes the beta female walked over to the den and 5 little black blobs erupted out with excited twittering sounds waking the other dogs. After a quick lap around with the older pups joining in they settled down to nurse. The older pups harassed the alpha female begging for food by nuzzling under her chin as wild dogs do throughout life to cement their bonds. Once nursed the younger puppies would play with one another, tug a war vs. small plants, and take rough play beatings from the older puppies. These young guys are going to be extremely tough and capable after going through this rough housing. Dicks would occasionally add some meaningful commentary to this very unique situation. It is almost unheard of to have puppy litters 4 months apart like this since typically only the alpha pair breeds and in the rare instances that the beta breeds she usually has puppies within a week of the alpha. I’ve explained the situation already on its own thread so won’t repeat it all here but this was the chance of a lifetime to see a pack with multiple litters and all of the interaction made for fascinating viewing. The pack has amazing discipline and all the puppies playing could turn into a tornado of activity until the beta mom would stand up and just give the little ones a look as she approached and they would all run straight into the den where they would remain out of site and completely quiet until either the mother or father would come and look in the den and they would rocket out and the whole thing would play out again. Especially interesting was a couple times the father went to fetch them out as if he just wanted to play for a minute and enjoy the excitement and then when he had enough he would break away and leave them to play with the older pups or harass their mother. Also, once sent to the den one of the older pups could look in but the little ones would not come out for him. Through it all the alpha female is tolerant of the little pups and allows the pack to care for them which is the key for their survival. Dicks was a great guide to have for this as I could tell he wanted to stay here and observe also, and hope for a hunt. A couple times he talked about patience being necessary to see great rewards but after a lengthy stay and no hunting I think he sensed he better move on for the other guests who I think were all first time safari goers and probably didn’t have any notion that this would be amongst the top sightings ever.

    As I arrived for tea I was greeted by a familiar face. Doctor had returned from Maun. Unfortunately he was ordered to rest his back and would not be able to guide us but he wanted to come and say hello and give his apology. I assured him that was no worries and to take care of himself. In addition to doing some guiding Doctor is a manager at Mapula so we would get plenty of time to talk over the next few days just not experience drives together.

    The afternoon drive was an absolute contrast to our morning experience. Dicks covered an enormous amount of territory spotting species left and right. From one open plain we would cross through a small wooded island and into another plain. It would be the drive of herds and plains game. Starting with a bull elephant just out of camp, mixed herds of zebra, wildebeest, and tssessebee. Impala, steenbok, yellow mongoose, black-backed jackal, African wild cat, 3 ground hornbills, etc. Knowing that a male lion was a priority for my clients he tracked down a buffalo herd of about 100 head (no lions). A bachelor group of kudu – 15 bulls mostly between 8 and 12 years old with large majestic horns, by far the largest group I have seen. Capped off with a nice breeding herd of elephants with about 30 members including a few young ones. The drive was fast paced, quickly moving from one sighting to another (with proper time to photograph) with very little down time. The spotlight produced an outstanding view of a genet. When we arrived back at camp Dicks said with a sly smile “tonight we have seen great quantity, tomorrow we focus on quality.” As he looked at me I could tell we were on the same page and I liked his plan. He had flooded the guests with variety and so many sightings that now we could balance it with time with the dogs.

    I had another member of the team to connect with though, our tracker Simon. As is often the case with trackers Simon did not speak very much English. At 57 he had worked in the mines in South Africa for 20+ years and when asked about it via Dicks at sundowners he said ‘very strong man’ as he did a little flex. I could tell this was a man I wanted to know and I wanted to bond him with our group rather than have him drift like so many trackers do. Somehow tonic had not made the drive so we took Dicks up on a suggestion to use ginger ale with our gin, resulting in a new sundowner drink we dubbed the ‘Ginger Rodgers’ that was good enough to request on subsequent drives. As I enjoyed this new concoction I waxed on about the honey badger to a new arrival from Spain who was not familiar with this magnificent creature that we had seen so many of. As I told him of its legendary reputation for castration I covered by vulnerables with two hands and fake yelled honey badger in a drawn out voice. To this Simon was belly laughing along with the rest of the crowd. We had now broken the language barrier and the team was bonded.

    Post dinner tonight there was singing and dancing as the entire staff participated and soon drew in the guests to the fun. By far the most engaging one of these musical affairs that I have witnessed at a camp. Into bed with the whoop of the hyena and awakened at 4 a.m. to the distant roar of lions – just the way I like it.

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    Mapula looks fantastic, apart from the dogs your game drives sounds excellent with nice variety and quantity of species.

    This is the reason why Adriaan tall you about the goshawks following honey badgers.
    "A study in the southern Kalahari showed that two mammals and five birds were observed to follow foraging honey badgers with the most common associations between honey badgers and pale chanting goshawks.
    In the Kalahari study, honey badgers caught more than 80% of their prey through digging, and small mammals and small reptiles were the most common prey items caught. When digging for these small prey items more than 40 % of the lizards and rodents escaped above ground and it is these escaped prey items that are available for capture by the associating species. These associations appear to be a form of commensalism where other opportunistic predators key into the opportunities provides by the hunting efforts of the honey badgers, and this appears to have few direct costs or benefits to the badgers."

    It makes sense to me...but also you got to prove it in person.
    If i ever visit the Kalahari i will remember your adviced.

    Paco.

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    Matt: Johan is correct that Dicks did work at Gudigwa. I know he also worked at least one other in the Delta but I can't remember which one. I don't think he ever worked at Mashatu.

    Not sure if I mentioned it earlier but Dicks is a cousin of Charles, one of the highly regarded Kwando guides.

    Paco: thanks for posting that. I had read that before so it clicked immediately when Adriaan said that about the goshawks indicating the presence of a honey badger but I have to admit that I was just admiring the goshawks rather than piecing it together until he pointed it out and kick started my thought process. Coyotes and sometimes ferruginous hawks follow our North American badgers the same way for the same reason as they dig out prey, usually prairie dogs and rabbits and that often creates opportunities.

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    Dicks sounds like a very experienced guide who can cater to all tastes in his vehicle.

    I never considered honey badger castration as an ice breaker topic. I'll remember that for the upcoming holiday office parties. And they think I'm odd now.

    Your dog pictures illustrated much of the activity at the den. Your description of everything going on added further enlightenment. You are right, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You are also right that the magnitude of the sighting can be hard to comprehend for first time visitors. I also viewed a den of 5-week old pups at Mala Mala with first time visitors. The ranger (who had never seen pups at the den) and I were trying to impress upon them what a miracle was playing out in front of us.

    Fascinating observations and comments on the chanting goshawk and honey badgers. Thanks, PacoAhedo and Predator for that info!

    The Ginger Rodgers--brilliant. I'll order one at the office party.

    Looking forward to the rest of your trip. Don't dawdle too long or you'll have overlap. Feb in the Serengeti is not that far away, especially with the holidays in the middle, which is busy time.

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    Amol: Last I saw from Nyama Gudigwa is operating but when I asked Dicks he wasn't even sure so I don't know but usually Nyama is spot on. The concession is 350,000 ha (875,000 ac) with villages a 2 hour drive north. Throughout the huge area that we covered on drives there was no sign of anything but wildlife area and Mapula Lodge.

    Lynn: Thank goodness Dicks was an outstanding guide because it was very disappointing that Doctor could not guide us. Doctor is known as one of Botswana's absolute best and I had really been looking forward to being with him but Dicks was a perfect fit for me so it all worked out great. Dicks is fairly young but highly skilled for his experience level, definitley made a great impression on me.

    No worries with finishing the report before my next trip but you are right it's best to ride the momentum. I'm about to post the conclusion to Mapula which will have 8 nights down and only 3 left although still covering two camps.

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    Lynn: forgot to say that the HB castration legends works great for ice breaking with men because every man cringes the same at the thought, not sure how well it plays with women. Also forgot to say that the sundowner fun was amplified as I spun the tales and then one Spainard would translate them including some classic hand gestures to another Spainard who didn't speak much English.

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    Onto the quality plan.

    Next morning straight out to the dog den but wouldn’t you know it, they were already out hunting and the pups were stashed down in the den so there was nothing to see. On to a standard game drive with a good sighting of a marsh owl (new one for me) flying right in front of us and into the high grass. Owls are a family that I have spent a lot of time studying so I am always excited to see them, and this particular species is closely related to the short-eared owl that I have observed many times in the USA. The marsh owl was behaving similarly with a daytime hunt coursing low over the grassland. This was followed shortly by one of the crown jewels of the trip, my first ever sable. One magnificent, jet black bull with full arching horns, and ten others of various ages and shades of light brown to dark chocolate. I was surprised that the herd was very easy to approach and allowed for excellent viewing. It seems that many people report spotting sable briefly as they flee but this herd was very relaxed and we would see them two more times on our drives. Add in some giraffes, ostriches, jacana, brown snake eagle and a very nice black-breasted snake eagle and it was another very nice drive.

    I had been working on trying to learn animal names in Setswana and that was a great way for Simon and I to connect as both he and Dicks would tell them to me. The entire staff I think enjoyed hearing me struggle with them over meals but also seemed to appreciate that I wanted to learn them. Of course one of the first I learned was honey badger so as I boarded the vehicle for the p.m. drive I stretched my fist out toward Simon and as he returned the gesture I called out Mantswane bringing a nod and a huge grin. Back to the dogs, this time arriving just as the pups burst back onto the scene. Lots more great viewing and this time it was clear that true to Dicks plan we would wait and see what would happen. After another great long period of observation up the adults rose and the alpha female started to head for the nearby water to get a drink. Along the way she marked two spots and each dog stopped and visited these. We headed through the woodland to meet them at the waterhole and I spotted an impala ram just as the dogs entered the area. The impala was frozen and we stopped the vehicle. The dogs continued to the water and as soon as we started the vehicle the impala was off and running through the trees. The alpha must have sensed opportunity because instead of stopping to drink she took two licks of the water and trotted into the mopane woodlands to hunt. Amazingly each of the 8 dogs to follow (including the 3 5 month olds) stopped just long enough at the water to collect their two sips of water and continue on the hunt. The discipline is amazing, to see it lends immediate understanding of why they are the most successful hunting species. Our plan in full effect we try to follow the hunt but the mopane here is extremely thick and they lose us in just minutes. None the less another amazing session watching the dogs.

    The next morning the mokoro are being readied for the rest of the guests so we will have the vehicle to ourselves. While we are eating breakfast Simon passes through and says something lengthy in Setswana but keeps on walking. Lesh (Asst. Manager who we learn is married to Dicks) translates that Simon has said “He wishes he would have had the opportunity to go to the University and learn English because he wishes he could communicate more with you”. I’m not sure a report can possibly convey this kind of thing but it was a highlight for me that even with the language barrier we had formed a great connection. Dicks focus now was to try and track down lions. A pride of 10 including two large males were seen the day before we arrived but they had since been elusive. Twice in the early morning hours I heard distant roaring but the area is huge. We headed to an enormous plains area that is near the border with Vumbura. Far across the plain Simon points and shouts to me letotse, indeed there is a cheetah in the classic laying down on a mound with the head up pose under a large tree. As Simon gets off his tracker seat he bypasses the passenger seat next to the guide and joins me in my row, a great pleasure to enjoy this sighting together. The cheetah is very relaxed as we approach and once we get there we can see that he (believed to be known as ‘Patrick’ in Vumbura) has eaten about as much as a cheetah possibly can and all he wants to do is nap. Hari will be glad to know that Dicks makes the call and everyone in the mekoro’s come racing back in with a long drive ahead of them. We have the pleasure of being cheetah sitters. After we have had some close time with great photos we move away 50 yards or more to not pressure him while we wait for the other guests to arrive. Dicks proclaims with great pleasure “you chose to skip the mokoro so we could search for lions but instead we have been blessed with a cheetah.” Whilst cheetah sitting our peace was disturbed for about ten minutes as we had to listen to the helicopter flying Vumbura Plains clients around a mile or so to our south. A true shame that even while staying at the farthest end of the bush plane route, and thus in the rare situation of avoiding plane noise we still had our wilderness disturbed by this relatively new joy ride activity :-< When the other vehicle arrives we move in again for some more photos and then back to our lion search. This area was like a big cat grocery store teeming with wildies, zebra, tsessebe, and warthogs. Then a good distance out on the plains a little tank is walking through, with binoculars we confirm a honey badger! Kick into high gear across the open plains for a decent view of a trotting honey badger. We are forced to go around a bush but the badger opts for a hole and our view ends. This would be our 5th sighting for a total of 6 individual honey badgers, exceptional luck considering this was the species that I most wanted to see as I had never found one before. We found tracks of lions but they were a couple days old. Another very good sighting of sable, a one tusked elephant ripping down tree branches, and then the flying baboons put on a circus act leaping from one tree to another across our track. Another amazing drive! The other vehicle actually saw a huge male leopard once they left the cheetah but we were too far a field with our lion tracking to get back to see it as he did not stick around for long. With the area being so huge it is often like that, just not possible to go to every call and thus we often saw different things. It became a ritual for me to ask Josiah what they saw. The first night he said in his slow drawl “oh not much, just some serval… and a python.” Following our cheetah drive he of course claimed his nkwe (leopard) but then I surprised him with our mantswane.

    We had one p.m. drive to go and I had requested that in addition to the regular drive we have a proper night drive to begin after dinner. Dicks recommended that we have the canopy removed so we could enjoy the stars and have unobstructed viewing. I was excited by that plan as I love being in the completely open vehicle, it really makes a difference to me. We would cover all new ground in the never ending quest to locate the lions. First stop a big bull elephant who mock charged into water kicking it up everywhere. Then onto a beautiful water area packed with pelicans, herons, spur-winged geese, marabou and yellow-billed storks and a pair of fish eagles. More plains games until our very long drive ended at Hippo Pool (seems like every camp has one by that name). We watched the hippos with their threats, splashes and almost out of water dances as they displayed for one another and to us. We had our sundowner and then a long drive back in the dark with more genets. As we had traveled so far we actually had close to an extra hour in the dark on our drive back. Having driven such a distance and with everything running a little late I told Dicks for our night drive it was fine if we just went out for an hour and a half or so as I didn’t want to overwork him and Simon, basically I said its up to you to determine how long you want to go for. About four hours later at quarter past 1 a.m. we arrived back from our drive. A couple porcupines, genets, lots of springhares and a giant eagle owl was our tally along with an incredible night sky. I was impressed with Dicks and Simon, they were showing great stamina and desire to deliver everything they could for us.

    Sadly just one Mapula drive to go. I would have loved to return to the wild dogs but when you lead other people sometimes your own interest is not the way to go so we went on another enormous distance exploration to the edge of Duba Plains in hopes of finding the elusive lions. Unfortunately the lions appeared to have temporarily moved over to Duba but it was still an awesome drive as we just kept getting to see new areas and ended in a real paradise. We came to a very wet area with a channel of water and enormous old trees ringing a small island. Here we saw our first waterbuck as well as a few red lechwe. This spot was breathtaking and on the other side of the water was the Duba Plains concession. As we pulled in for a stop we were greeted by a leopard tortoise. This had been the site of Old Vumbura hunting camp some years back but the camp was long gone and paradise is left behind. Over tea (really cokes for most of us) Dicks said the Mapula owners have some interest in putting a small camp of maybe 3 to 5 tents here in the future but no plans are currently in place. As we were talking Dicks looked deep into a thicket of large trees and then with surprise said Pel’s fishing owls. I turned and there was a pair of Pel’s, the holy grail for birders in Botswana just roosting next to the water waiting to be found. As this area is so far away from Mapula Lodge, probably about 2 hours by game drive speed, I don’t think it is visited very often and the Pel’s pair was a significant find and certainly great news for birders coming to Mapula.

    It was sad to have goodbyes with Doctor, Josiah, Lesh, and the rest of the staff. It was particularly difficult to leave Dicks and Simon who had worked so hard and made our days and nights so enjoyable. For my farewell I asked Doctor for an appropriate Setswana term to express my connection and respect to Simon, and thus on this last morning I called him mogolole (quite possibly the wrong spelling but this one I said well), meaning my brother. I think we were all pleased with my growing language abilities and I promised to try and know more on my next visit.

    To sum it up Mapula Lodge was the best of everything that I want on safari. Outstanding wildlife in both diversity and quality of sightings, immense wilderness area to traverse, areas of scenic beauty including the camp location, knowledgeable/passionate/personable/hard working guides & trackers, community feel with an engaging staff that appears to enjoy their jobs, and an economic set up that delivers great benefit to the local people. The fact that the lodging is stunning, cost is well below comparable camps, and the food excellent were a huge bonus on top of my true priorities. Overall I’d have to say that my Mapula experience moves straight to the top with Duba Plains as my absolute best camps to date.

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    Delightful report, Bill.

    Your description of Mapula has given me much to chew on, but serious thought about that considerable meal will have to wait until after SLNP.

    John

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    Sorry for the delay but on we go to Delta Camp.

    I chose to visit Delta Camp for the traditional Okavango experience. Along with its sister camp Oddballs, this is one of the oldest tourist camp areas in the Delta. Here each chalet has its own guide and you travel by mokoro to nearby Chief’s island where you do walks in the Moremi Game Reserve. If desired and your stay is long enough (3 nights I think?) it is also possible to do long mokoro trips and camp with your guide on other islands. There are no game drives.

    This was definitely a unique camp, very different than any I have previously been to including the focus completely on walking. The walking guides do not carry rifles so this is a raw connection to the environment where you have to carefully interact in the living system. Accommodation had a similar rawness. My chalet was raised about 3 feet off the ground with three walls and a roof but my fourth side was wide open to the flood plain with just a single open rail on the decking separating my quarters from the wilds, basically allowing access to most manner of creatures and leaving my mosquito net as my only true barrier. For those looking for the close connection to the environment this would be ideal lodging, for others it could be a little nerve racking since you feel very exposed. Surprisingly I slept better here than anywhere on the trip going sound out for 8 hours a night other than waking up once to the sound of a hippo around the stairs to my chalet. There is also one, very well done tree house that my clients stayed in. They would have been nervous in my chalet but they loved the tree house. It also has open sided half walls but the bedroom is probably about 40 feet up in the tree. There is a nice deck with a hammock a few feet lower on one side and a bathroom about 10 feet further down the tree. The main lodge is beautiful, excellent setting with a view across a channel to Chief’s island. Food and service was first class. As we were the only guests I cannot comment much on atmosphere.

    Since we were together and happened to be the only 3 guests at this camp we had one senior guide, Matsaudi who had been guiding at Delta Camp for 15 years, and one guide in training Kaizer who was a young guy who poled the mokoro I was in. Matsaudi was outstanding and clearly was very cautious and alert at all times. He also had the strong knowledge of vegetation, animal sign, etc. to make a walking experience thoroughly enjoyable. Anyone planning a trip here needs to be acutely aware of the seasonal differences in water levels and thus your activities. In November water levels are very low which means hippos congregate in some of the remaining areas forming gauntlets that are too dangerous to try and pass. Thus our mokoro time was very short, usually just about 10 minutes to get to where we would walk and then the majority of our activity time would be walking. This worked well for me as I enjoy the interesting perspective and traditional experience of the mokoro but would rather be walking than confined to a mokoro.

    On our first walk we almost immediately found a few giraffe and we were able to approach very closely, possibly to about ten meters. The animals in this area tend to be acclimated to walkers so excellent viewing is possible. On 3 walks we saw 14 mammal species including our only side-striped jackals of the trip, elephants, buffalo, zebra, warthogs, vervet monkeys, baboons, and many more. Of course being on the ground opens up an entire different world so we could witness things like termites cutting grasses and carrying them down their burrows. One fascinating experience resulted when the greater honeyguide (bird) came calling to us. This was a rare chance to actually interact with an animal on its terms as the greater honeyguide has a symbiotic relationship with humans (reportedly with honey badgers as well). The bird finds bee hives that it wants to eat from but is not able to open the hive itself so it finds a partner and leads the way. I of course asked Matsaudi if we could follow it and he was excited to do so. The bird would chatter at us and fly around conspicuously and then fly off ahead. We would follow and if we lost it Matsaudi would whistle to stay in contact and the bird would eventually come back into sight calling before heading off again. After about 15 minutes we came to a large tree and spotted a bee hive in a cavity high off the ground, maybe 25 feet up in the tree. Unfortunately we could not finish the experiment by rewarding the bird with an opened hive and consequently the next day we did not follow the honeyguide who came to us as legend says if you do not share the honey with the bird it will lead you to lions next time. Another interesting pursuit was following the flight of a number of vultures in hopes of finding lions (perhaps should have tested honeyguide legend) or other predators on a kill. It would seem that the vultures may have intentionally been deceiving us and/or a side-striped jackal as Matsaudi said they will sometimes be misleading to avoid the competition. It was exciting to follow them anticipating a kill but we came up empty.

    One afternoon we took the standard camp employee commuting route, a 15 minute mokoro ride over to their local village. It was extremely interesting to walk around and see how the homes are constructed with termite mud and empty aluminum cans. Many local women brought their crafts over to a market area for us to peruse. We said hello and talked briefly with a few folks sitting around but it is a quiet village and basically you just walk around as a visitor, there is no tourist show or canned experience which is nice. Eventually we worked our way to the far edge of the village where Matsaudi has built a bar consisting of a large deck area and a secured building with a generator to keep a refrigerator running as well as power a dvd and projector. He shows The Gods Must Be Crazy and a couple other movies nightly on a screen, really quite a nice enterprise he has going. I’m trying to edit him some of our video such as him poling the mokoro to show as well.

    On our last morning walk I have to admit I was feeling a bit complacent. We had some very interesting experiences but no dangerous game had been sighted so it was feeling quite tame, that was about to change. Just as you are feeling at ease you quickly learn that you must always be vigilant. We spotted two bull eles far in the distance and decided to approach closer. As we were about to cross through a narrow ribbon of trees all of a sudden Matsaudi heard bird warning calls and came to a quick stop just as we were about to pass under a tree with an enormous black mamba! The snake was curled up and around a large branch and its crook against the trunk. After taking a couple steps back we watched as the mamba began to lengthen and climb up higher, then stretching across to another tree revealing its full length that had to approach 14 feet. It was unnerving and spectacular. To be that big as well as extremely fast and unbelievably venomous just doesn’t seem fair. Seeing such a sight on foot really takes your breath away. We then continued on a new route to see the elephants but kept a big distance as one of the bulls was a teenager and thus highly unpredictable. All of us still wowed by the mamba were winding down as we approached our mokoros when all of a sudden the large head of a dagga boy buffalo revealed itself next to a bush. Hopefully we were not too close! We slowly backed off and slid partially behind a termite mound surveying for climbable trees as the buffalo took a couple steps toward us exposing his full massive body as he tried to scent us. He looked right, then back at us, and then darted off to the right. Fortunately we had moved far enough that he felt safe retreating rather than forced to charge. The day before we had seen a group of 4 dagga boys from Delta Camp on this part of the island so there were almost certainly a couple more back there and it was clear from the guides and the camp manager that they would rather walk into any other mammal than the dagga boy buffaloes. We altered our course to go the long way around to the mekoros and headed back to camp fully exhilirated from having our feet on the Botswana soil. That would be going out with a bang for my client who were flying out and home while I continued onto Makgadikgadi.

    Delta Camp provides a very adventurous, back to the wild experience for those looking for something that is traditional and old school. I can highly recommend it for those who have a high adventure quotient and desire to explore on nature’s terms.

    Next up – Makgadikgadi Camp


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    Bill,

    Nice to hear that Delta Camp has not changed since our last visit 5 years ago, I cannot say that it is our cup of tea but it certainly makes for something entirely different.

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    Amol: there are legends of mambas hanging down to give a bite but typically anything they can eat is going to be too small to catch that way and they are thought to take an escape route when available so I doubt they would drop out of the tree on anything. They can hunt birds and squirrels in the trees. I imagine we could have passed right under and never known it was there, of course if it felt threatened it would have been bad news.

    Sniktawk: it seems that Delta Camp is committed to the experience that they provide so I doubt it will change anytime soon. It's great that they realize that their uniqueness is their strength as it really is quite different from other camps and thus I doubt they will join the trends of change sweeping through Botswana.

    Kavey/John: I was really lucky that all my stops delivered great and interesting experiences. I had done the research but going off the beaten path there was some risk, fortunately every stop delivered something special and exceeded expectations.

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    Bill,

    Thanks a lot for a fantastic report. It´s just wonderful to be able to follow your adventures here on Fodors.

    I am thinking about an itinerary with Mapula and Deception Valley next december, but I am not sure wether to include Delta Camp or the new Sankuyo Plains? Whats your opinion ? Have you heard or seen anything from Sankuyo Plains ?

    Would Delta Camp be much more about mokoro than walking in December due to the rains ?

    Thanks, and a happy new year to you all!

    regards,
    Tom

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    PB, since many of us here love researching our trips in advance (to the extent of often researching ourselves into Analysis Paralysis) it's great to hear about a trip where careful research and focus on a few fairly specific criteria yielded such great experiences.

    I appreciate you might not want to share too much detail on pricing but would you be willing to give an average per night or perhaps any other kind of breakdown or ballpark?

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    Sandy: glad you are enjoying the report! Only one more camp to go, must be almost time to travel again.

    Tom: Hopefully someone will correct me if this is wrong, but I think in December water level will still be very low so at Delta Camp likely short mokoro and longer walks similar to what I did. Rain may temporarily add some water but for the most part I think the water levels are dependent on the floods that won't arrive for many more months and the local rain has only a small impact. I recommended that the camp produce a chart that would give the typical activity breakdown for each month so hopefully they will like the idea and produce something like that in the future. Right now I would definitely recommend that you have your agent enquire what the anticipated activity situation is to see if it meets your desires.

    I am very excited to visit Sankuyo Plains when it opens. The area has been the base for the Botswana Wild Dog Research project headed by Tico McNutt so it is in a very good area for wild dogs and that is a great indicator that overall habitat and game should be good quality. It borders on the Moremi Game Reserve and somewhat near Chitabe which of course are both known for outstanding wildlife so I anticipate that it will be a very good area. There was a previous camp here, Santawani Lodge that is being replaced by the new camp so animals should already be habituated to vehicles. Also, the Sankuyo Trust is reportedly one of the best (possibly the best) managed local community groups, they do a great job in conservation on their lands and in deriving strong benefits that reach the people in their community.

    To visit Sankuyo Plains vs. Delta Camp just depends on your activity desires. Sankuyo Plains would likely be similar to Mapula Camp but in a very different area of the Delta, so they should compliment each other well. Also it would be interesting to be one of the first to stay at the new camp. Delta Camp would focus on walking so it would add a completely different dimension than than staying at another game drive based camp. Mapula does offer walks and I imagine Sankuyo Plains likely will as well but I don't think that is comparable to going to a camp that features walks and uses an area where wildlife is accustomed to walkers. Good decision either way.

    Kavey: a major impetus for selecting this itinerary was to find more affordable options in Botswana without a big sacrifice in quality. What I found was no sacrifice in quality but great pricing so I'm happy to share that information.

    These camps are all available under the Kalahari Summer Special via Footsteps in Africa and any agent should be able to book that special that covers December through March. It always depends what % commission your agent puts on but accommodation should run between $245 and $275 pppn during that time period.

    As you would expect high season rack rates (June - Oct) are considerably higher and in no way cheap but still a good bit less than most of the other Botswana operators. High season racks are:
    Deception Valley $750 pppn
    Delta Camp $700
    Mapula $600
    Makgadikgadi Camp $475

    Considering WS and Kwando camps have rack rates of $825 and up these camps are still a good value during high season with Mapula and Makgadikgadi Camp being huge bargains saving a couple somewhere between $400 and $1,000 per night vs. their WS neighbors.

    April, May, November are shoulder season pricing that is roughly 15% off or more from the high season.

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    I finished the Mapula portion and your high marks for this place make me want to hop on a plane/planes bound for Maplua.

    To finish with a pair of Pel's Fishing Owls is wonderful. The marsh owls gave you owl luck.

    I understand the highlight status you gave to Dick's comment on wishing his English was better. Your quest to learn the animals in Setswana is great advice for developing a relationship with your guide.

    Sable is a nice bonus for Mapula and probably a game driving ending at 1:00 am is too, but the early wakeup is the downside. Still, that effort by the ranger and tracker is highly commendable.

    Looking for lions and finding cheetah is a fair deal. If the lions went to Duba, I wonder if that could result in interesting dynamics playing out for the Tsaro pride.

    Speaking of Duba, do you think it is possible to drive from Mapula to Duba? It is possible to drive between Vumbura and Duba in Sept-Oct, or around that part of the dry season. A Mapula-Duba by vehicle could make for a stunning itinerary.

    I know helicopters are used for Wilderness transports. Your comment of joy ride makes me wonder if they are also used for just rides. How terribly disturbing. How did the cheetah react to the helicopter?

    "... flying baboons put on a circus act...

    When I read this at first I thought you were making derogatory remarks about the heli ride.

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    Bill,

    Thanks a lot for your answer. You are quite right about Delta Camp, I did not think enough. Of course the flooding comes from Angola, not from the skies, and they take a few months coming.

    I did not know that Santawani was closed. What really happened ? It was also run as a community lodge, and if I´m correct opened in 2004-2005?

    I am leaning against Mapula and Sankuyo, I think the reason being the chance of seeing the wild dogs. Depending on my economy perhaps just one of them as well.

    best regards,
    Tom

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    Sniktawk: thanks for posting that, my information is likely incorrect on Santawani and I definitely don't want to say something is closed/closing if it is not! I may have confused that it is being placed at the location of Starling's Camp rather than Santawani (or perhaps even a different camp?). I was told it was being placed at an existing camp site and that the former tourist facilities would likely be converted to provide very nice staff quarters while the new camp was constructed for travellers. I'll send and enquiry and double check that but it seems I remembered the wrong camp name probably because they both start with S. I was told this two hours after getting off my flight from the USA and I'm not sure I was quite all there yet.

    Tom: no problem, happy to provide more info on Delta Camp. See above, it looks like I was incorrect in saying Sankuyo Plains would be at Santawani location but rather another camp location within that concession.

    Lynn: I would love to do a drive between Mapula and Duba! It looked like it would definitely be possible to get from Mapula into Duba concession but whether you could actually reach the camp I couldn't be sure. My guess is during the driest times it can probably be done. When I visited Duba in 2003 and James had his research tacks in the map there was 4 prides that used Duba concession -- Pantry, Tsaro, Skimmer, and Old Vumbura. I believe the Duba Boys actually fathered cubs in all four (definitely controlled the first three) but Old Vumbura was seen the least because it was far out and inaccessbile for most of the year. I would surmise that this pride used Duba and Mapula area around the Old Vumbura former hunting camp area (hence the pride name) and perhaps this pride we tracked is that pride or a remnant descended from it that mostly uses the Mapula area but occassonally travels into Duba concession. I wish I could get much more time in the area to figure all such things out.

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    Skimmer thinks no driving between Duba and Mapula. Well, we'll just have to helicopter between the two. Kidding, of course.

    Speaking of Duba prides--not much has been mentioned lately on any other besides Tsaro. Perhaps the Skimmer males (the lions, not Johan) will become more visible if the Duba Boys decline. That's a sad but inevitable thought.

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    O.K. I have verified it and I was correct afterall. Sankuyo Plains is being built at the Santawani location.

    Lynn: on the latest WS update (unfortunately from October so pretty old) Duba Boys are now over 16 years old and have controlled the area from more than 10 years -- incredible! Also, reportedly the coalition of 5 Skimmer males has headed the other way and not been seen for over 6 months.

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    HI Bill,
    What a fantastic report and fabulous photos. Your photos of Mapula remind me a little of Tubu Tree (mekoro right at camp, the bar), that I know you enjoyed on a prior trip. If Mapula is up their with Duba on your list of favorite camps, I just have to add it to my wish list. DVL also sounds wonderful.

    You had some incredible wildlife sightings, particularly the 5 week old pups.

    The honey badger photo brought back fond memories.

    Like others, I'm so glad you have not kept this short. The details are making for such an exciting read.

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    The flight to Makgadikgadi Camp was very interesting as we followed the Boteti River to see the extent of how far the floods had made it, reaching far to the east to places where lots of people were seeing water in the channel for the first time in their lives. We then flew across Makgadikgadi National Park on our way into the airstrip. The first rains had arrived and there were wildebeest, zebra, and even a few oryx in all directions.

    I only had limited time for this trip so I would only have one night at Makgadikgadi Camp, which was a real shame, but I was determined to see the pans for the first time and get a feel for the camp and area for future visits. I was very intrigued to visit here because it never seems to be mentioned on this board and even most books and T.A. websites do not include it. Almost everywhere you look Jack’s Camp and San Camp are mentioned as the only camps situated on the edge of Makgadikgadi Pans but in fact there is a third – Makgadikgadi Camp also is situated right at the pans.

    On the flight in I met my guide, Geoff, a free lance guide of 20 years or so based in Maun. Also, the pilot Dennis and his girlfriend were going to stay overnight and fly me out the next day. We were met at the airstrip by the owner of Makgadikgadi Camp, a German expat named Reiner and a bushman who seems to be his right hand man named Boshi. Reiner is one of those charismatic characters who has turned to a life in the bush, full of energy and constantly talking. Our flight had been delayed due to an unplanned medical evacuation from another camp so we didn’t arrive until almost 4 p.m. A large contingent from the Department of Tourism was visiting camps in the area and were waiting when we arrived so Reiner had to immediately undergo an inquisition while I quickly prepared to turn back around on a game drive. Turns out I was the only guest so Geoff, Boshi and I headed out, gatherings of zebra and wildebeest huddling under trees for shade was common – supposedly the most they had seen in years. An elephant had actually walked through camp the night before (first in ten years) and we saw some sign of it. We checked two of the five warrens used by the local meerkats but unfortunately they were not in those areas and then we stopped at Chapman’s Baobab, a spectacular tree with 7 huge trunks and thought to be 2,000 years old as well as a major marker for early explorers. Geoff said Reiner wanted us at the sundowner spot by 6:30 so our drive was pretty short and that was a little confusing to me until we arrived at the sundowner spot, an elevated ridge with salt pans on both sides and a view straight ahead of a beautiful palm island to frame the sunset. Tables with a makeshift bar and snacks were there with a number of chairs. Reiner apologized for the hectic schedule with the late arrival and Dept. of Tourism etc. but explained that he had purposely planned for Geoff and Dennis to be there so that I could enjoy the sense of community instead of being the only guest and the big surprise was he had arranged for the Makgadikgadi brown hyena researcher to meet us so I could discuss wildlife research and the possibility of integrating tourism with the research. A few minutes later the researcher, Glyn and one of his field assistants arrived, unfortunately with a radio collar that had clearly been cut with a knife and discarded – almost certainly the result of a brown hyena being shot by a rancher. Glyn has been studying the hyena in this area for 9 years and his team is based at Makgadikgadi Camp. The sunset here was sensational, back lighting the palm island a brilliant orange, the sounds of zebra below on the pan, and the bushmen (Boshi & Cobra) making an instant fire by rubbing sticks. I had an amazing night of stepping into a new world, drinks, dinner, and hours post dinner around a fire discussing many topics with a bunch of old African hands freed from the presence of tourists (they acted as if I belonged) – a longtime guide, a pilot, an impassioned camp owner, a couple of bushmen and of course a research biologist. Remarkable that Reiner put so much together just for me and I did indeed savor it all, especially the opportunity to discuss so much with Glyn about his research and overall conservation. Any thoughts of resting up before my marathon journey back to the USA the next day were subdued by the copious amount of alcohol I was consuming and torched away by the fire. Eventually only Reiner, Boshi and I were still awake so I retired to get a couple hours of sleep in before my last activity of the trip.

    In the morning we explored the salt pans by quad bike (ATV). This is a seasonal activity and I was hoping I would not be too late, once the pans get wet it becomes off limits to the quad biking. Fortunately I got to be one of the last riders of the year. This was a phenomenal experience as we were engulfed by the enormity of the pans racing along single file on our two quad bikes across the desolate moonscape like surface extending for as far as sight could reach. Traversing by quad bike brings a great sense of adventure and is tremendous fun as you cruise at high speed with the wind howling all around you. Riding is easy, even for a beginner, as the terrain is fairly flat and of course wide open so it takes no technical ability. Half way through the ride we stopped deep within a pan and walked around at what was once a stone age workshop for the bushmen. In a matter of minutes we had found multiple spear points and arrowheads. On foot of course the immensity of the place was profound and to imagine trying to walk out on foot was daunting. On our way back as we passed grass areas we found a couple jackals, secretary birds, and of course a number of steenbok, zebra and wildebeest.

    Back at camp the bushmen, Cobra, said to come with him so he could show me some things. Cobra had hung out with Jack Bousfield (Jack of Jack’s Camp) for 40 years. Jack made a business of providing specimens for zoos around the world and reportedly he would give Cobra huge lists to collect and Cobra would disappear for three or four weeks and then show up with everything on the list. Even at his advanced age he will disappear without explanation to go walk about. He had just returned two days before I arrived after vanishing for three weeks. Reiner jokes about it saying who knows where he goes, perhaps he wants new shoes and without word he just leaves and comes back whenever. Cobra produced two jars with a male and female scorpion that he had caught overnight. Then he showed me how to build a trap to catch birds followed by how to modify it for steenbok or other ungulate species.
    This was followed by my last meal before traveling home. I only mention this because it shows the quirky, homey, but fun nature of the camp. We all sat down and had a full breakfast. As I started to get up to go pack up and shower Reiner told us all to wait as there would be more food coming. We all said we just ate a full breakfast what do you mean, he said “I don’t know, the ladies are making more food just wait.” About 15 minutes later a setting of spaghetti Bolognese was delivered. Who could argue, I just ate another meal – ended up being a good thing as it would be my last non-airplane food for some 30+ hours.

    For those looking to visit the Makgadikgadi pans this place is quite a find. Actual accommodation is a simple affair, something I would love to see more of in Botswana with its associated lower price. Camp is very small, just 5 tents. They are large green canvas tents that are almost filled up entirely by a big comfortable bed with just enough room left over to put your luggage on a table and walk behind the bed to the back zipper that allows you into a large open air bathroom with about 6 foot walls for privacy. It’s just what I need, very comfortable place to sleep, store my things, and clean up without a bunch of extras. The common areas are a fantastic open lounge and dinning area that have flair and gave me a Bedouin style feel. There is a large fire ring area that serves as a completely outdoor lounge with couches, chairs, etc surrounding the fire. There is also a walkway to a pool area with another Bedouin style lounging area. It should be noted that the pool did not contain any water and at the time Reiner seemed to think it was inappropriate to have water in the pool in the middle of such an arid climate so if a pool is important to you be sure and check to see if the pool can actually be of use. As it was I had no time to use it so didn’t bother me in the least. The camp is located on Hyena Island, which is a glorious palm island nestled against the edge of the salt pans and very close to the border of Makgadikgadi National Park. It is clear that this magical place is Reiner’s home, where both his soul and person live, and he is a dominant presence and very involved owner at his camp. Unfortunately I didn’t get to test it out but the area is very good for spotting brown hyena and aardvarks too. I only got to scratch the surface here in my short stay but I did feel like I was touched by the magic of this remarkable place and thanks to Reiner’s outlandish hospitality and effort to host me I had quite a vibrant and unique experience – much like the Makgadikgadi itself.

    This last stop epitomized what I had hoped to find on the trip – a significantly lower cost alternative to more well known camps without sacrificing experience or activities on offer. In locations like the Delta there are so many camps that it becomes difficult for such direct comparisons but out here directly on the edge of the pans there are only 3 choices, Makgadikgadi Camp, Jack’s Camp, and San Camp. They all offer the same activities and premiere access to the pans and parks yet Makgadikgadi Camp has a high season rack rate of $475 pppn and below $300 in the Green Season with the Kalahari Summer Special, San Camp starts at $650 and Jack’s at $750 and I believe that both camps are being upgraded which I assume means higher pricing is coming. 35% less during the high season is a huge difference to travel the same area and have access to the same activities so I felt like this was a very successful find and a much more affordable alternative to visit this amazing area.

    We had a great flight out to Maun and then it was hell getting home. Nearly a two hour delay in Maun left me running to make my connection to the USA. No time for food, shopping, mailing post cards or anything. Then we sat on the runway for an hour, flew past Dakar as there was a strike and the workers had parked vehicles on the runway so we diverted to Sal Island to fuel but unfortunately then the strike ended so we had to back track 45 minutes to Dakar and sit the full time for cleaning crew etc. Bottom line is it took 22 hours to get to New York from Joburg. I had a long layover in NYC and another hour and a half delay before finally getting home to Denver.

    In summary I had my best wildlife viewing trip ever, 44 different mammal species sighted, some new birds including the Pel’s fishing owl, my best snakes including first ever mamba sighting in exciting fashion and my snake removal experience. By far this was my best leopard viewing and I was extremely blessed with the incredibly rare opportunity to observe two different aged litters of wild dogs interacting. I found lodges that are indeed significantly cheaper than the other big operator offerings but the experiences were on par or even exceeded those I’ve visited in the past. I met outstanding guides, trackers, camp managers/owners, and staff. This safari exceeded all my expectations and I look very forward to returning to these wonderful places in the future.

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    Bill,

    Thanks once again for an absolutely amazing trip report. I think we all have learnt very, very much and I am sure all those camps will have lots of Fodorites in the coming years.

    The problem is that after this last instalment I would like to go to Makgadikgadi Camp as well ;-). I must buy another lottery ticket I guess.

    It will be interesting to see how these camps are priced for next "green season", let´s hope they stay comparatively low. I actually talked to some people from Kwando in Maun, and they said that their busiest time nowadays is in the green season. And we know the principles of supply and demand...

    best regards,
    Tom

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    Thank you so much for such a detailed, informative and illuminating report!

    Just one question, you may have already answered this above and I've forgotten (bird brain); did you book directly with the camps or using a local agent or operator. Same Q for the flights.

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    Tom: glad you enjoyed the report! There is always that one more place you have to visit, I'm the same way and also could use some help from the Lottery.

    I also worry about how long the green season pricing will remain where it is. At this point the pricing is so advantageous and the high season costs so ridiculous that a lot of people really have no choice which is why the green season is growing with visitors -- especially with the Kwando 5 Rivers special and the Kalahari Summer Special which are both amazing deals. To keep up the occupancy I think the green season will have to remain a good bit lower but probably not to the discounted levels currently available. I certainly hope it stays right where it is.

    Kavey: my pleasure to provide the report. I did all of my booking directly through Footsteps in Africa www.footsteps-in-africa.com who is the marketing group for all of these camps. The reservations manager, Pat, was extremely helpful and very prompt with all details and arrangments. They use a local air outfitter, Delta Air, for the flights which was comparable to Seafone and Moremi Air.

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    Thanks for posting the thrilling conclusion to a wonderful report and a wonderful safari.

    Madgadikgadi Camp goes to the same meerkat colonies as Jack's and San? Are there now 5 habituated colonies that are being visited? The possibility of joining brown hyena researchers is very intriguing.

    The news about the brown hyena collar would have been devastating to receive. I hope it did not set a depressing mood for the evening. If I were the researcher, I think I might be in tears.

    Cobra sounds like quite the character. What a bonus for you he walked back to camp during your short stay. You even got the scorpion demo and everything. And to also think you just missed the once every decade ele in camp. The spaghetti Bolognese after breakfast is an absolute hoot. My kind of place!

    You discovered some gems in addition to having a great game viewing trip. Thanks for sharing it all.

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    PB

    thank you so much for this interesting and informative post. Its great to learn about accommodation options and I think I will return to Botswana when I plan my next trip.

    Makgadikgadi Camp is definitely on my wishlist.

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    Thanks Kavey, that is high praise considering you have been on this board as long as anyone I know.

    Lynn: one pack of meerkats will utilize a cluster of 5 or 6 warrens so when we looked at a couple warrens they were likely at one of their others. I do not know if the pack we were looking for was the habituated pack viewed by Jack's/San camps or not.

    Being able to go out at night with the brown hyena research team would truly be an extraordinary experience and I need to devote some more time to working with Glyn and Makgadikgadi Camp to figure out how to best make it work for the research project and tourists. Browns are without a doubt one of the most impressive and interesting predators that go almost viturally unseen. I've been lucky to see one and it was a spectacular animal. The researchers also have great luck with seeing aardvarks and lions at night so it could be a top attraction if developed correctly.

    Recovering the cut off collar was very disappointing but unfortunately after 9 years I think they are very used to such things. A wonderful black-maned lion had been sighted the day before leaving the park into the private ranch lands and everyone pretty much agreed it would be lucky to live for another day or two. That is the tough reality as cattle ranching and predators are at conflict so the mood was only momentarily dampened and I'm sure there was a little elation that the collar was found saving the project a couple of thousand dollars by recovering the equipment plus getting important data of the fate of the hyena instead of speculation on whether it had been killed or could it be an equipment malfunction. For a field biologist budgets are always tight so equipment loss is a stressful issue and having good data helps keep you funded so it could have been quite a bit worse but it is a tragic waste to lose the animal, not to mention all the effort to catch and collar it and then lose it from the study.

    Pol: pleasure to share. I very much enjoy seeking out places that are not as well known. I like the sense of discovery and being able to help others find some new outstanding options.

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    Hi PB,
    Thanks so much for writing this and sharing so many of your experiences with us -- I think this is one of the best trip reports I've read on this board. It's wonderful that you were able to meet all your goals (with budget, etc.) in planning the trip, and then on top of that have it turn out to be such a goldmine of wildlife activity! I'm saving this for my travel dreams file, in case I ever do get to go to Botswana... Thanks again for taking the time to write all your thoughts and observations and funny stories. Much appreciated!!

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    PB Yeah I'm an old addict! I started posting on the Europe board back around 1998 and here on the Africa board, must have been 2000 I think. It was the year before my 2001 trip so that sounds about right.

    I enjoy most trip reports posted here but this one is not only a pleasure to read but also very inspirational and of practical use too. Had I not already booked two fairly long and very expensive trips for this year I'd seriously be considering following in some of your footsteps before the secrets get out!!!

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    PredatorBiologist: Great info and pricing. 2 of us are going to Botswana for 1st time in early March for 12 total nights, Looking to do 9-10 days safari with 2-3 days Victoria Falls at either Royal Livingstone or Zambezi Sun, Finally came up with a few possibilities, what do you think? And or other suggestions? Want good game experience, (not a big birder as we live near bird / everglades), more interested in big predators. Conflicting suggestions and not sure who gets the "lowest prices" since no one is too eager to show visible pricing. This is what we have come up with from various agent suggestions (with possible ties to certain resorts or opinions). Prefer right place for game, can't afford Mombo, which itinerary or alternative and who do you suggest is honest and will put together the best deal.


    #1 Little kwara x3, Xakanaxa x2, Kwando Lebala x3, Savuti Safari LODGE x3, vic falls x2

    #2 Little Kwara x3, Chief's x2, Kwando Lebala x3, Savuti Safari Lodge x3, Vic Valls x2

    #3 Xakanaxa Camp x2, Kwara /Little Kwara Camp x3, Mapula Lodge x3, Muchenje x2, Vic Falls x2

    #4 chitable x4 nights, Savuti x3 nights, Xigera x2 nights, Vic Falls 2 or 3 nights

    #5 chitable x4 nights, Savuti x3 nights, Little kwara x3 nights, Vic Falls 2 nights

    #6 Duba Plains x3 nights,Chitable x3 nights, Savute Camp x3 nights and 3 nights at vic Falls

    #7 (not in this order) Chief's x2, Baines x2, Little Kwara x3, Kwando lebala x2-3 and vic falls x2-3.

    Any suggestions?
    Thanks for posting info and prices.

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    Hello,

    Just tried to google up Sankuyo plains to see if there was any news, and somehow managed to get to a hunting trip report from Sankuyo Camp in NG34.

    Does anybody know how close this is to the new Sankuyo Plains camp?

    regards,
    Tom

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