Botswana Trip Report...Surviving Lions!

Jun 3rd, 2005, 04:55 PM
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Botswana Trip Report...Surviving Lions!

This year's trip combined Horseback Safari with traditional safari...another 'once in a lifetime' experience! We departed JFK on May 21st and stayed overnight at the Grace Rosebank before flying Air Botswana the next morning. I highly recommend an hour massage at the Grace following your arrival. It was both rejuvinating and heavenly!

Our week at Macatoo Camp for Horseback Safari was remarkable. Game was plentiful and we spent time in the company of red lechwe, kudu, zebra, impala, elephant, hippo, giraffe, cape buffalo, wild dog and lion. The camp has been blessed with three wild dog who established a den nearby. We spent one evening in a vehicle watching the six eight-week old wild dog pups playing within 15 feet of us. They displayed a natural curiosity for the vehicle, while the adult dogs were completely indifferent to our presence. It was a perfect encounter!

We had two other remarkable encounters at Macatoo. One of the big challenges involves riding five hours on horseback to a fly camp and then returning to main camp the next day. We encountered numerous sets of lion tracks, which keeps riders and horses at high alert. After tracking a large herd of 300-400 cape buffalo at close proximity for about an hour, we experienced one of those 'Africa only' moments. A female lion jumped on the back of a large male buffalo about 40 yards from our group of 8 riders. The bull's bellowing drew the attention of the 30 or 40 large bulls keeping sentinel for the herd. In a split second, the herd turned toward us to drive the lion off the bull under attack. At that moment, we stood facing a fleeing lion and about 40 charging buffalo! What a terrifying and exhilarating moment! Needless to say, we turned the horses and galloped off as quickly as possible. I have so much admiration for the courage and athleticism of these horses, as well as for our guide. As we rode out of danger, our guide jumped off his horse with rifle in hand to face the lion. His explanation is that lions have a natural fear of men and he wanted to separate himself from the outline of the horse. The moment passed without incident, so we were thankful for the skill of both the guide and the horses. It reminded me of what we say about firefighters...when everyone is running out of a burning building, they are running in. I cannot understate my admiration for someone who places themselves in harm's way to protect another person.

Combining horseback and traditional safari provides for very different perspectives. Horseback allows for a complete immersion experience. As you can imagine, hippos and elephants appear much different to you on horseback as compared to the safety of a vehicle. Interestingly, many of the game animals seem very relaxed with the horses and we could approach quite closely. Of course, I always felt much safer and more relaxed in a vehicle! However, one of the great thrills of Horseback Safari is galloping through the Okavango Delta. It is pure exhilaration and I was only thrown from my horse once! Fortunately, the Delta waters provide for a soft landing : )

You might be interested in reading about a remarkable event experienced by two people at our camp. The tents at Macatoo are on the ground. One night at 12:30 am I heard something running through the brush beside our tent. The next morning the couple in the next tent had an explanation for the impala carcass next to their tent. A hyena had chased an impala INTO the side of their tent and the collision moved one of the beds about a half foot!! They both screamed and grabbed for their flashlight. They proceeded to watch the hyena eat the poor impala. All that remained of the impala the next morning was it's head, eyes still open. At times, it seemed that there was more game in camp (wild dog, leopard tracks, elephants and hyena) than outside of camp!

A final Macatoo story involved our riding group, but occurred the evening we departed for Kwetsani. The group of six remaining riders took the normally sedate evening ride only to encounter a bull elephant in must. As soon as they were spotted by the elephant, he trumpeted and charged. What followed was a terrifying mile-long dash for their lives. The guide's horse ran into a tree and he was thrown off. As his horse galloped away with his rifle, the guide was left to face the enraged elephant on foot. Fortunately, our guides carry "bear bangers" which are like large fire crackers thrown to scare off dangerous animals (they were developed in Canada for hikers encountering Grizzly bears). Fortunately, all the riders and the guide survived unhurt, but shaken by the experience.

After the excitement and challenge of a week at Horseback Safari, we ended our trip by spending four peaceful days at Kwetsani. This camp provides an intimate five-tent facility overlooking a vast flood plan populated by large herds of red lechwe and wildebeast. The real thrill of the concession was tracking the various lion prides by day and by night. We were fortunate to spend time with three different prides, including a group of ten lion. I highly recommend Kwetsane for it's land and water activities, cuisine, friendly staff and outstanding game viewing and prolific bird wildlife. Besides mokoro rides, boat rides and game drives through two feet of water, Kwetsani has traversing rights on Hana Island, home to Jao and Tuba Tree. This relationship provided a fantastic combination of land and water activities.

One of the more unusual sightings involved watching four banded mongoose parry with a male impala. They had him surrounded and were nipping at his heels, as he lowered his head to ward them off. Our guide had never seen anything quite like it...very funny to watch! It was the perfect way to end a vacation in Africa and we returned to the USA on June 1st.

girlpolo33 is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2005, 09:33 PM
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What an exhilarating trip! I've been curious about the horseback safaris... so glad to read your trip report.
safari274 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 04:02 AM
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Thanks for sharing your amazing experiences!

I am trying to place my wife and I in the shoes of the couple that experienced the hyena / impala incident...that must have been quite disturbing for the two of them, with thoughts racing through their minds that lions or other hyenas would soon arrive. Did this couple go the entire night on their own, and if so, how did they cope?

Now for that amazing buffalo / lion incident, once the stampede was over, were you able to see whether or not the buffalo who was attacked was rescued by the other buffalo?

I envy your wild dog viewing. While on horseback are you able to safely take photographs, or would this put you at risk of falling off the horse?

Lastly, during your horseback safari, is there also a daily game drive?

Thanks again for the wonderful trip report.
Roccco is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 04:29 AM
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Wow, this is one of the best reports I've ever read -- how exciting!
lisa is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 05:34 AM
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lisa and safari 274: thanks for the kind words...glad you enjoyed the trip report! : )

Rocco: Thanks for your interest...let me try to answer your questions. The couple in the tent were very brave and stayed in their tent all night. We are all given an air horn to sound in the event of an emergency. I was surprised that they did not sound their horn. However, the hyena did drag the impala carcass about 10 feet from their tent before eating. It was joined by a second hyena, but no other predator. Needless to say, they did not sleep much the rest of the night because of the adrenelin rush. Personally, I much prefer staying at camps that raise the tents on 12 - 15 foot platforms, such as Kwetsani and Chitabe!!

Regarding the lion/buffalo encounter, our guide was the last out and saw the lion chased from the buffalo. However, he felt that for a single lion to attack the buffalo, there must have been several more ready to join. There is no way one lion could/would attack a huge male buffalo without reinforcements. Fortunately for us, the lions were concentrating on buffalo, not horses. Several of the horses at Macatoo bear the scars of past lion attacks. The risks inherent in Horseback Safari make me question it a bit. If something tragic were to happen, could I justify the injury? That is something I should carefully consider before returning next May. Last year's Horseback Safari was completely tame, so this was much, much different. I loved every second of it, but I think it's important to evaluate the risk/reward ratio at some point.

At Macatoo, you have two activities a day and can choose between horses, mokoro, motor boat, walking safari or game drive. Of course, most people choose two horse rides a day, because they are horse crazy. However, we did a mokoro and then one game drive to the wild dogs. Yes, you can take pictures from horseback. I carried my camera in a waterproof sack in a small backpack, always at the ready. Hope these answers help you get a better feel for the experience! -- Nancy
girlpolo33 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 05:41 AM
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What a rush! Sounds like a thrilling trip - thanks for sharing!
Kavey is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 06:28 PM
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What an amazing trip you had! Thanks for the details on the horeseback riding. Glad everyone survived intact with tales to tell.
atravelynn is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 07:21 PM
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incredible stuff. i think i'll stick to the land rovers. those encounters are some of the most amazing i have ever heard. glad you got home safely. did you ask the guides if they have experiences like those frequently? if so i think i would be looking to switch to permanent driving positions
bigcountry is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 06:28 PM
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bigcountry: Our guide, Corne, had several encounters with lion, but never one with an enraged elephant. Yes, I agree with you...the land rover looked mighty good to me after a week on horseback!
girlpolo33 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 06:47 PM
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Girlpolo, did you book your trip to Macatoo on your own or through a tour operator? I train horses for a living and my husband rides too and we are very interested in doing the horseback safari. Thanks
Trish is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 08:24 AM
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Will you be loading any pics?
Kavey is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 10:52 AM
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WOW! What an exciting adventure! Thanks for a great trip report and I look forward to seeing your pictures.
sundowner is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 01:30 PM
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kavey, sundowner and atravelynn: Thanks for the kind words...I hope to be posting my photos soon! : )

Trish: You can book directly with Macatoo Camp by visiting their website at:
I was so excited to hear you and your husband have an interest in horseback safari. We spent 5 to 6 hours a day riding through the most pristine and scenic areas. The wild game is prolific and the people you ride with become friends. Everyone's favorite part of the rides is galloping through the waters of the Okavango is exhilarating! If you have any specific questions, I am more than happy to try and answer them.
girlpolo33 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 01:32 PM
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Girlpolo33! Amazing report, I would be very interested on how you came to plan this trip. Did you book on your own or was it arranged by a company? Just a great report, thanks for posting.
Thyra is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 01:41 PM
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Hi Nancy...
Welcome back, are you suffering from Post Africa Trip Depression?
We are just back as well and also stayed at Kwetsani, which was just beautiful.
Your horseback safari sounds wild...I would have loved to go to Macatoo but I was the only rider in our foursome.
Our guide at Savuti is a rider and said Macatoo is a great camp. Someday...sigh.
wallybrenda is offline  
Jun 7th, 2005, 02:58 AM
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What a dramatic adventure. Everything else seems so tame! I am taking riding lessons soon!
king is offline  
Jun 7th, 2005, 04:50 AM
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Thanks girlpolo, Macatoo's website is great lots of info. I ride one to two horses a day 5 to 7 days a week but I find the idea of riding at the canter for 10 minutes at a time daunting. I'll bet there was some sore legs and bums! Do you ride the same horse the whole time you're at camp?
Trish is offline  
Jun 7th, 2005, 10:29 AM
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Brenda: We loved Kwetsani, too! It was the perfect place to relax after the rigors of Horseback Safari. You have to put Macatoo on your list of things to do...very, very special.

Trish: I'm embarrassed to admit that we rode just a few times before going on Horseback Safari (I've ridden most of my life, so I do have a strong background...but, no horse at the moment). SO, you would be a pro!! Most of the time we are at a walk or trot. To be honest, the canter/gallop is the best part and there was never a canter that lasted more than 10 minutes. You ride the same horse each morning for the long (four hours or so) ride, then a different horse in the evening for the shorter (two-hour) ride. They have 34 horses and do their best to match you up with the perfect one. Everything about the experience is wonderful...the personal service, food and attention to detail are all first-rate.

Thyra: This was an easy trip to plan, because it involved just two places, Macatoo and Kwetsane. It was easy to book the South African Airways flight online for the best price, as well.

King: Too funny...good luck with those riding lessons! : )
girlpolo33 is offline  

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