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Botswana & Vic Falls - Part 4 (Duma Tau) -- First Timer Reporting

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Aug 8th, 2004, 09:17 AM
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Botswana & Vic Falls - Part 4 (Duma Tau) -- First Timer Reporting

Duma Tau was our last camp. This camp definitely gave us some of our ultimate sightings - a great deal of thanks go to Cilas, who is an outstanding tracker. We asked and he found. His understanding of the animals, their behavior, and preferred habitat, as well as his knowledge of the area served us well indeed.

We celebrated the 4th of July with two lionesses and three cubs - Cilas's guess was two boys and a girl, about two months old. When we first encountered them they were just finishing suckling; it was breakfast time after all. They soon rose and ambled down the dirt road, letting us follow right behind them. Watching the cubs padding along single-file, with their mother prodding them along, was a special experience. Eventually, they entered a thicket - we followed. I didn't think we could get through the bushes and trees, but knowing the 4x4's capabilities, Cilas took us to and through places where no man had been before - literally over saplings and bushes that bounced right back up behind us and dead tree stumps that crackled as we drove over them. The hard, bouncy ride was worth it. The lions finally came to rest on one of the thousands of termite mounds that dot the Botswana landscape. For at least 30 minutes we watched the cubs until they wearied and joined their mother in a snooze under the ever-warming sun. (As an aside, this was one of the few times we really went off-road, and I must say I was happy to see that the guides did not gratuitously go off-roading and thus damage the environment.)

During a mid-day boat ride on the Linyanti we had our first sighting of elephants carousing in the water. Until then, almost all of our sightings had been of them browsing on land. It was such a treat to see them enjoying themselves as well as each other in a different setting. While many of them stayed on shore, protecting the calves from wandering too far into the water and drowning, others moseyed into the depths where they played - either alone or with others. It was hilarious to watch them wrestling with and dunking each other - just like humans cavorting in the water. A young ellie pretended to be a submarine, submerging himself far enough that only the top of his head and the tip of his trunk was visible. One calf was of particular interest as he had lost most of his trunk to the lions. Unlike the others, he had to kneel down to the water for a drink. Our guide said that since the trunk is so much more than just a means for drinking water, the chances of his surviving for long were nil. A sad thing for us to hear, but it reiterated that in the wild the survival of the fittest rules.

Hippos also abounded in the Linyanti. While a great many of them were submerged, we also got to see them rushing out from the reeds lining the riverbank into the water - I'm glad we were not standing in their way of reaching the water; they would have run right over us! We later saw more hippos in pools of water infested with salvinia molesta - a plant that invades waterways and chokes off the water as it consumes all the oxygen. Landscape-wise, it was a beautiful scene, but obviously this plant is quite detrimental to the environment. The hippos didn't seem to mind much, though, and looked to be using the greenery on the water's surface for added camouflage.

It was at Duma Tau that we had our one and only leopard sighting. I have to say Cilas's exceptional tracking skills were really demonstrated here. What we would have passed by as scuff marks in the Kalahari sand, he recognized as the drag marks of a kill. Following them, he led us to the mopane tree where a leopard had cached his impala kill. Leopard sightings are notoriously rare, so we were particularly glad to be able to see this one in action - even though he bolted shortly after we saw him hidden amongst the branches.

Our last morning in camp brought with it a truly special sighting. Cilas decided to once again check the long-dried-out Savuti River Channel where the night before we had glimpsed a couple of wild dogs. We were in the middle of our tea break in the company of a herd of zebra and some impala when Cilas called out for us to drop everything and get in the 4x4. We all moved with lightning speed, never stopping to ask why. Off we went to a distant point where he had spotted a couple of dogs running. They were mere specks on the horizon when we finally saw them for ourselves. Considering how well they blended into the natural setting of the bush, it truly was an amazing feat for Cilas to have seen them from where we had stopped for tea.

We quickly lost sight of the dogs, but the palpable sense of alertness amongst the impala herd at a standstill in front of us signaled the dogs were not far off. Suddenly, out of the thicket on the far side, animals started streaming out at an alarming speed - more impala, followed by zebra. In the blink of an eye, behind us appeared a baby kudu with two dogs nipping at its heels. I couldn't help but whisper, "oh, no - go, go, go," as it seemed inevitable that he was about to go down; they quickly disappeared out of view in the brush on the opposite side.

With an uncanny ability to pinpoint where the dogs would come out, Cilas took us to a clearing hidden from view by the trees. And there they were. The kudu had gotten away, but not an impala that had apparently been hiding in the trees. It was no more than 3-5 minutes from the moment we lost sight of the dogs to when we found them, and yet there was little left of the impala - just bits and pieces of its carcass and its head. Knowing that the wild dog kill is one of the most ferocious, I was glad we had not seen, or heard for that matter, the actual moment of the kill; what we did see was brutal and bloody enough to put me off food for the next little while.

What added drama to the scene was the arrival of a hyena, a notable scavenger of the bush. After snarling at each other and scuffling for a bit, I was surprised to see the dogs let the hyena take away a chunk of the hind quarters of the kill. Moving in front of our vehicle, he started in on his morning treat, shooing off members of his own pride when they tried to scavenge from him. It did not take the hyena long to devour his piece - the crunching sounds as he chewed through the bones was amazing to hear and a testament to the strength of its jaw. No wonder we saw so few animal bones as we traversed the bush.

Next Chapter: Vic Falls
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