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Selinda/Kwando/Zibalianja: full report 1

At last I have time for the extra detail which one or two of you asked for. Sorry about the delay but I've had to give priority to processing photos. Usually I've been able to make only too-hasty visits to the forum while waiting a few minutes for a slide scan to finish.

First, a little background. Two good friends, equally serious photographers, were our companions for most of this safari. One of them, a travel agent (not our personal agent) has been on about 50 safaris, half of them to Selinda/Zibalianja, so it's quite plain which place he prefers. The other has been on about a dozen safaris, including several walking safaris in Zimbabwe and Zambia and three visits to Sel/Zib. Y and I have been doing Sel/Zib since our honeymoon visit in 2000. We all agreed this was the best, at least photographically. At times, each of us has seen more action and more memorable moments...sub-adult lions knocking at the tent door in the early hours or licking boots occupied by person in vehicle doorway; witnessing umpteen kills by all big cats and wild dogs in one safari; watching the Selinda pride play with its cubs then learning a few months later that a fire has caused all 14 youngsters to die (this story is on my website); then watching the same pride with new cubs demolish an elephant carcass. They are just a few examples. But no safari has matched this one for consistently good photo opportunities. The light was often breathtaking, the angles wonderful and the backdrops so special. OK, I'll stop gushing now.

I don't keep a journal, so this is just the main highlights from my memory supported by the photos and brief photo notes.

Day one, afternoon (Selinda): We encounter the local lionesses quite soon, near the spillway north of camp, beyond the hippo pools for those who know the area. We watch them stalking lechwe and waterbuck grazing among the reeds. Three lionesses chase and catch a lechwe, the fourth one takes a waterbuck in the water. The fifth soon joins her to feed.

Day two (Sel): We visit the wild dog den near Zibalianja camp. It takes about an hour to get from Sel to Zib, much longer than it used to because the water has moved about 10 kilometres up the spillway from Selinda camp, blocking shorter routes. It's the best flooding in the spillway for 20 years, and suggests that new tectonic activity has occurred to enable the water to go so far "uphill". Most of the pups are outside (there are 10 or 11), cuddling up for warmth, with the alpha female and another sentinel dog around. We don't see the hunters. The den is in a great location, in a nice prominent termite mound on fairly clear ground.

Encounters with breeding herds of elephants make up much of the rest of the day, especially at a big pool near the water's furthest point. One cow elephant who looks like she has toothache charges us several times. The water is between her and us, and as the rest of her family are leaving, she must have decided it's not worth crossing all the way. The sight of so many herds coming to drink in the late afternoon light is so spectacular that we decide to approach them from the other side the next day to get the sunset in the background.

As night comes on, we find two cheetah brothers hunting near the spillway. We hear more than see their kills: one impala each. One antelope is left for the hyenas, and we get out the flash units to photograph the two cheetahs feeding on the other. These are the survivors of the trio which has been well-known from Savuti to Kwando Lagoon for about a decade. The third 'boy' is believed to have died of snakebite mid-year.

Day three (Sel): Sightings of roan, kudu and plenty of other game, but the best is to have a female cheetah and her two adolescent cubs to ourselves north of Selinda most of the morning. The late afternoon produces the elephant sunset which we anticipated.

Day four (Sel/Zib): Various sightings, including wild dog and one of those marvellous 'small' highlights which I enjoy very much: a flock of spoonbills doing a dabbling muster in the spillway. This is a transition day: our companions transfer by road to Savuti for a couple of nights, while Y and I go to Zib for just one night. Selinda has been overbooked, and by arrangement before we left home, Y and I move to help our hosts avoid annoying a new client.

Day five (Zib/Kwando): Huge buffalo herd in the sunrise, behind Zib. Selinda Reserve has not been noted for a big buffalo presence in recent years, but this has changed with the increasing water in Zib lagoon and the spillway. Herds have moved in from Kwando and other neighbouring concessions. Then, across towards the 'bowling green', we come across one of the new Selinda pride males, resting (as per usual) behind a bush. We had heard him roaring throughout the early hours as he crossed country calling for his coalition 'brothers'. A couple more of those small highlights: a tiny pearl-spotted owlet, in reasonable camera range, broad daylight, while a tree squirrel chatters in alarm nearby. Shots of both. Very pleasing, because I've not seen the owlet before, and have never been able to find a squirrel sitting still long enough.

This is going to be longer than I thought, so I'll cut it into instalments. More coming soon.


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