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From Termites to Elephants: Around Botswana, Finale at Vic Falls

From Termites to Elephants: Around Botswana, Finale at Vic Falls

Jun 21st, 2009, 03:49 PM
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From Termites to Elephants: Around Botswana, Finale at Vic Falls

This was my first safari, and I was joined by my son Sam, who had just graduated from college. It was a trip we had long dreamed of doing together. It was all we had dreamed of and more…
Itinerary arranged by Africa Adventure Company

Depart JFK for JNB SAA May 24 ( I did the international flights on my own)
Chitabe Lediba May 26-29
Kwetsani May 29-31
Camp Kalahari May 31-June 2
Savuti June 2-5
Zambezi Sun Livingstone Zambia June 5-7
Depart Livingstone to JNB, to JFK June 7-8

Firstly I want to once more thank everyone on this forum who patiently answered all my questions, and to all those that posted their trip reports and photos. I am sure my experience was richer because of all your knowledge.

Part 1 Chitabe Lediba
5/26- Chitabe- We were met by our guide Ebs. The first thing we noticed was the intense smell. It was African sage. As we drove to Chitabe, a trip of about 20 minutes we saw our first animals; a Warthog, a large group of Elephants, which Ebs told us were all female and young, Zebra, Impala and various birds. I was going to try to keep my “promise” not to take photos on the first drive, but Sam had no such idea, and quickly took out the camera, and took pictures of the elephants.
We arrived in camp, and were assigned to tent #5, a family tent, consisting of 2 bedroom areas and a joint toilet, shower, and sink area. We had a deck with a large table and some chairs. There was an outdoor shower, which was something I fell in love with. We had enough time to unpack and settle in a bit before tea and our first drive.
Chitabe Lediba is a 10-tent camp, and there were 2 vehicles in use. For this first drive it was just the 4 of us, Rainy and David from Australia, and Sam and me. This was their first safari game drive as well; so all my “concerns” about being a “newbie” disappeared. We all shared a total sense of wonder and amazement at everything we saw, and all that Ebs told us about the animals. We came upon a group of elephants, and Ebs was able to drive in quite close to them, then they walked towards us, OK time to take out the camera, forget the “wait till tomorrow idea.” We came upon some female kudu, and I asked about the birds sitting on them, and learned they were Oxpeckers (red and yellow billed), and that they eat the ticks from many of the hoofed animals, forming a symbiotic relationship. We then drove up to a wide-open grassy area. There were Zebra, Wildebeest, Tsessebe, and Elephants all roaming and grazing in the area. It was exactly how I pictured Africa. We sat watching them, until Ebs got a “call”. There were some Cheetahs nearby. We got to the area, and there on a termite mound were a mother and her two 8-month old cubs catching the last rays of the sun. We watched as they nestled with the mother, and they roamed around the mound. The light was too low for any decent shots, though I took some regardless. We then drove away and had our first sundowners, though the sun was already set. Ebs, Rainy, and David pointed out the Southern Cross, and other southern constellations. The moon was just a small crescent in the sky, so the Milky Way was amazing. Back for a delicious dinner, but first we all sat around the fire and chatted. Then to tent and bed, and I hugged the hot water bottle against me thru the night.

5/27-We actually were awake before our 5:30 wake up call, though not yet out of our warm bed, into our cold clothes (we remedied that for future mornings, by putting our clothes in bed with us, under the hot water bottle, and dressing inside the bed). After breakfast, we departed at 6:30, before the sun was up though the sky was getting light. We got to experience our first African sunrise, and it was lovely. We were now six in the vehicle, and we were given these wonderful flannel –lined ponchos to wear. We drove along and in the early light we saw our first and only Side-Striped Jackal. In my readings before the trip, jackals were among my “little five” that I wanted to see. As the sun was just rising, we found the Cheetahs another termite mound not far from the previous night. The early morning light made for some great photos. We sat and watched the cubs scamper about racing each other as the mother kept one eye on them, and another for any dangers. They had recently eaten Ebs noted by the size of their stomachs, and as Cheetahs rely on their speed to hunt, were not likely to hunt today. We watched them as they moved eventually onward to the tree line where we stopped following them. We drove to an area of open grassland, where we saw some Wildebeest and Tsessebe. We sat enjoying them for a while until Ebs noted a change in their sounds and behavior, which indicated to him that there was a predator in the area.
At this point I should note that of all the guides we had, Ebs was the only one who had not “studied” to be a guide, rather he had learned tracking as a child with his uncle who was a tracker for hunting safaris. Ebs had done this for a while, till he could no longer tolerate the hunting, and left. He was “discovered” by Wilderness when he was doing maintenance work at the airport, that was 11 years ago.
Ebs noted the direction of their gaze and headed off. We drove off-road over small bushes and trees, we felt we were “on the hunt”, and soon we came upon a young male leopard and followed him. At one point he climbed up a small tree and while he was there, I got to really SEE him. The size of his paws, his eyes, his face. What an amazingly beautiful animal. Sam and I grabbed each other’s hands and tears came to my eyes, for of all the animals I dreamed of seeing this was the ONE. We followed him for a bit longer, but eventually he moved into areas with larger trees, and we just sat back and reflected on our experience. As we continued our drive, Ebs pointed out the many beautiful birds that we saw; Wattled Cranes, Lilac Breasted Rollers, Yellow-Billed Storks, African Jacana. Soon Ebs drove to a water hole filled with Hippos. One was not yet in the water, and we watched him amble his way there. We all got out and stretched our legs, had some tea and biscuits, and watched the hippos. We drove on, watching Impala, Giraffe and Zebra. We soon came to an area where there were Vervet monkeys and Baboons, and as we slowly drove past them, we came to a peaceful shaded area where tables and chairs were set up for us for our brunch. We thoroughly enjoyed our brunch out in the bush. Back at camp, I took the first of my delightful outdoor showers, as I spied upon, and was eyed by some Vervet Monkeys in the branches overhead.
PM drive-We saw our first lone buffalo in the deep grass. Soon we came to a large herd (20+) of Eles as they neared a water hole. The sun was perfect, and their reflections in the water were wonderful. Between taking countless photos, and watching them as they drank, and continued their forward movement, I really saw what amazing animals they are, and fascinating to watch. With the great range in ages in a large herd such as this, to the amazing dexterity they have with their trunk. Eles never cease to delight me. We had sundowners near a small waterhole, and for the first time there were some light cirrus clouds in the sky, making for an exquisite sunset, and many photos. As darkness descended, Ebs turned on the light and began to look for predators. All of a sudden he stopped, and asked me to hold the light, I shone it where he directed me, and 2 green eyes reflected the light. There on a termite mound was a Leopard. We watched it briefly until it moved off, and we attempted to follow it, but the grass was tall, and we lost it. But soon came upon a Small-Spotted Genet, a Civet, an African Wild Cat and a Spring Hare.

5/28 Sam woke me up by calling out “Mom, did you hear the lion roar?” I hadn’t, but soon did as we walked to breakfast. As we started our drive, we heard him again, and drove towards the sound. The other LR from Chitabe joined us, and soon we found a lone male lion, which both guides thought to be about 7-8 years old. He walked in front, to the side and then behind our LR. Not more that 7-10 feet from us!! His eyes were so beautiful, his mane full, and he continued to produce a gruff sound, a low roar. It was another handholding moment for Sam and me. He continued to roar, smell the ground, and scent-mark the area. Ebs noted he was looking for female lions. After following him around for a while, we turned aside. Soon we came to a large group of Baboons. The young were busy scampering about on an open dead log. We saw a very young baboon, still pink, latched onto its mother, as she held him with one hand as she moved about. We watched them groom, some others mate, and always the young were playing. We drove on, and came to a water hole filled with Yellow-Billed Stork, and Spoonbills. By the airstrip, there was a large group of Zebra and Giraffe. One Zebra was extremely pregnant, almost as wide as she was long. Ebs began driving very purposefully, and soon we came to a female Leopard up in a tree. How beautiful she was.
PM drive- We saw a Reedbuck, and then a small herd of Cape Buffalo. So we headed off for a closer view. Along the way we stopped and watched some Eles, with some very small ones, Ebs noted if they are small enough to walk under their mother (and some were) they are less than a year old. We got to our herd of 6 Cape Buffalo, and noted Cattle Egrets perched atop, and Oxpeckers as well. As the sun had set, and we passed a quite close to a small herd of Eles, we herd them trumpeting loudly, and flaring their ears wide, and stepping towards us, and then back. We were told this behavior is a mock charge. I found it thrilling, but I think I was in the minority. As darkness descended, Ebs turned on the light, and we found a Large-Spotted Genet, a Spring Hare, and Scrub Hare. Soon we just sat and listened to the sounds of the Bell Frogs, and stared at the amazing sky.

5/29 -Our last drive at Chitabe. We saw a Reedbuck and Black-Backed Jackal as the sun was just coming up. Then we got a call and headed to find a lion. We approached him, and Ebs noted it was not the same male we had seen yesterday. This one was a bit older, with a lighter colored mane. Ebs told us that there are 2 coalitions of male lion, one had 3 members (he thought this lion was of that coalition) and one had 2 members. He also told us that the Chitabe pride had lost its dominant male about 2 years ago, and as of yet, none of these males had assumed that role. As we approached the male, getting quite close, Ebs noted the size of his stomach, and felt that he had recently eaten. The lion began roaring, and in the distance we could here the sound of another lion. They continued to call to each other, until they met. The second lion was older and his mane was a bit less full. He also had a full belly. They walked together, and then found a nice shady area, and sat, the older one eventually lay down and slept, as the younger one sat, head upright, but periodically closing his eyes. We got a call, and soon went and found the Cheetahs again. They were under some small brush, but clearly visible. Later we came to a small group of Giraffes “fighting”. Ebs described this as “practice”, as this is what they do to establish dominance in the herd. It was amazing to see them swing their long necks and heads and hit the other with their horns. Back at camp we said our goodbyes, and picked up our packed ”lunch” as we did not want to miss a moment of our drive to have a sit down meal. We boarded our plane headed to Kwetsani.

Photos- I am making albums by camps. Chitabe and Kwetsani are posted as of now at http://gallery.me.com/amycyma

Feedback wanted-is this too long a report???
amycyma is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 04:27 PM
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Not too long! This is a really interesting report. I'm glad your first safari was such a success. Great pictures, too.
samcat is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 04:46 PM
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I am really enjoying the details, sounds like an amazing trip!
sealstep is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 06:35 PM
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Too long? Impossible! Please carry on. I am thoroughly enjoying your report and photos. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 06:55 PM
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Not at all too long. You've describe your Chitabe outings beautifully. And you have the pics to match.
atravelynn is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 07:34 PM
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Wonderful report and great pics.
VeeR is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 07:35 PM
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Hi amycyma

It is too long for me! But I did love the album photos. I never knew the flamingo ate shrimp I thought it was an algae, so that was interesting. I also loved seeing those Meekats using your bodies as look out points, though I thought they would go on top of your heads, being the highest vantage point. A lovely selection of photos!

Kind regards

Kaye
KayeN is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 08:03 PM
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Not too long for me! I know how you feel about seeing the leopard, and I have only seen them fleetingly through the brush. Hopefully, that will change when I take my daughter in December after her college graduation! It looks as though the female leopard in your Kwetsani shots has a bum left eye, but she sure looks fit and beautiful otherwise, so it must not be affecting her hunting skills? I am eagerly awaiting your next installment about Camp Kalahari as it is to be a new destination for me, and the meerkats were the draw. I always wondered if the photos of them with "guests" were staged and you certainly answered that question in your gallery.
scruffypuma is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 08:14 PM
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Not too long. Am really enjoying your report and look forward to the next installment.
twaffle is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 09:58 PM
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Fun report, no no no, not too long, your enthusiasm is showing!!! Good photos also, you are using Nikon so of course they have to be good!!! Or wait, is it, as I say about photos - "it's the Indian, not the arrows that counts"!!!

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 03:02 AM
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Thanks all for your feedback. I will do Part 2 when I get back from work, I am inspired by your positive responses.

Kaye, there is an algae that flamingoe eat which is what produces the pink color in the flamingoes found in Lake Manyara area of Tanzania I think, there is no algae of that kind in the Kalahari, hence no pink flamingoes. I had edited and edited down the report, but I can recognize it as a bit long, so feel free to skim, or just look at the photos.

Tom- your positive response to my photos is much appreciated. I put in the best of them, and kept alot out, but so far my Savuti album is bigger, with lots of eles and lions.

Scruffypuma- yes the leopard in the Kwetsani pitures has an eye infection our guide thought. but he too noted it has not affected her hunting, in fact she still hunts for her almost fully grown son he commented,thou we did not see him.

oops got to get to work.
amy
amycyma is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 05:45 AM
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Not too long a report for me. I only looked (so far) at your Chitabe photos, since that's a camp I stayed at, and they are great, especially the cats.

Michael
thit_cho is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 06:54 AM
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When you finish parts 2 and 3, stick the photo link in again so it's handy. I've only looked at Chitabe photos so far and the yellow billed stork photo is a unique perspective.

Glad you described the background of Ebs. That's a positive story from a conservation viewpoint.

With the heavy floods, was there any mention of different water levels around the normally dry Chitabe?
atravelynn is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 03:07 PM
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Lynn-The waters had yet to reach Chitabe the guides and managers felt, and they were unsure when/if/how it would impact them. As yes I felt that Ebs, with his background was unique among the guides I had, and I will always have a special place for him, because of that, as well as being my "first" guide

and now back to my report writing, and i will keep posing the photo link.

amy
amycyma is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 03:13 PM
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Definitely not too long for me either, I like the details. Looking forward to as much detail as possible on Camp Kalahari, especially after seeing your photos!
mongoose is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 06:29 PM
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Part 2 Kwetsani

5/ 29-We arrived at the airstrip on Jao Island, and went by speedboat to Kwetsani camp on Kwetsani Island. The ride took 40 minutes, mostly through narrow channels amongst the reeds, with waterlillys all around. At one point we came to a large lagoon with hippos. It was a completely different experience to view the hippos from the water, as we were now, then to view them from the land as we had at Chitabe. We arrived at camp, and it was lovely. We stayed in tent #4, a single room, but it had separate shower, toilet and sink areas. I enjoyed my outdoorshower with Red Lechwe off in the distance. The area is completely flooded, and the water that I saw in the near distance from our tent is not normally there, in fact the usual way to arrive at camp is by LR.
PM drive- We headed out after a lovely tea, and found that there were a total of 6 guests at Kwetsani, and 2 of them were leaving the next day. Our guide was OP, and we were joined by 2 new guests. We drove along on what was formerly a road, but now is completely under water, as is most all the nearby “grassland” at the edge of Kwetsani Island. Along the way OP pointed out Red Lechwe. He noted that unique amongst all the antelope their back legs are significantly larger and higher than the front; this gives them more power to move through the water. We such a variety of birds .OP told us that the small island just ahead was once a termite mound. He explained how Baboons would perch on the mound, and their droppings would contain various seeds. As the mound disintegrated, and the waters came, the seeds would germinate and grow, and hence this small island would develop with quite a variety of flora. This began my fascination with all things TERMITE. I found a small Steenbok, the first I had seen, sitting in some grass that we passed. We stopped to look at him, and unfortunately the LR wheels began to sink in the soft wet sand, and we could not get out. OP radioed back to camp for help as he and Joseph (a trainee) attempted to put more sand under the wheels. Deciding the glass is always considerably more than half full while I am in Africa, I suggested we have our sundowners, and pointed out that we were perfectly positioned to watch what would be a beautiful sunset And so the sunset beautifully in the west, and the stars began to slowly fill the sky. It was quite dark by the time our rescue vehicle arrived, and towed us backwards to more stable sand. We made our way uneventfully back to camp, though OP did find a leopard, but it moved away before I could get a good look at it. Dinner was very good.
5/30-AM drive- wakeup at Kwetsani was a 6, breakfast at 6:30 and we left for our game drive at 7:00. We went by speedboat to nearby Hunda Island (I think
Tuba Tree camp is there). On our way we saw these huge spider webs glistening in the morning light. OP told us they are communal spider webs. When we get to the island we got into a LR. Our vehicle mates made it clear they wanted to see a leopard. As we drove we saw various grazers, Impala, Baboon, Zebra, Wildebeest, and OP explained which animals form commensal relationships. The Impala are often found near Baboons, as the baboons will knock down the leaves from the trees, and the impala then eat the leaves. OP noted that you could always find where North is by looking at a termite mound. Termite mounds always lean to the west. This is because new material is laid on the mound by the termites at night. The sun hits the east side first, drying it, and pushing the wet buildup towards the western side. More termite trivia: As abandoned termite mounds erode, the holes in them fill with water. This causes further breakdown of the mound. But there is a substance in the mound that acts as a sealant, allowing water to be trapped, soon an elephant mud hole will form, and this then enlarges through repeated use until it becomes a permanent water hole, as the mound is predominantly underground. We then sought a nice place for tea, but we got a call, that a leopard was spotted near the airstrip. So off we went. OP did his best, driving all through the area, well into the brush, but as the leopard was on the move, it proved difficult, (and uncomfortable) to continue the search. We stopped for tea, and then proceeded at a leisurely pace back to the boat. OP continued to provide insightful commentary. Local people to fish use the Fever Berry leaves. They do this by grinding up the leaves and placing them in the water. When fish ingest the leaves, it paralyzes them, and the fish are then just taken from the water. We came upon a Leopard Tortoise shell. OP told us that the tortoise eats the scat of hyena, for the calcium, which keeps their shell hard. When we got back to Kwetsani, we found the camp had been “invaded” by a large herd of elephants. One of them was very young, it still had some hair on it, and Joseph felt it was only a couple of months old. We were in the midst of all these eles and were able to watch them from every vantage point, from the LR, to the walkways (as they walked under us), as we ate our brunch and then took an outdoor shower. The walkways at Kwetsani are quite high, and for the first time, we were above the eles, and could look down on them. This made for some interesting observations.
For our PM activity we were given the option of going on a Mokoro ride, It was just Sam and me with OP and Joseph. Sam and I told OP we were interested in seeing frogs. He told us they were small. So I start looking on the reeds for the Long Reed Frog, thinking to look for a frog about the size of my thumb. When we found some, it was the size of my fingernail. We were able to hold them on our fingers. They just stayed with us until we put them back into the water. We were going along when OP noted the little head in front of us was Cape Otter. Sam was able to get a brief video of it. I took photos of water lilies, and OP made me a water-lily necklace. I noted that the “stems” of many of the water lilies were coiled. OP noted that they coil when the water lily is pollinated; this coil will keep the “fruit- (I can’t recall the exact term) under the water. We ambled our way back as the sun was getting lower in the sky. The mokoro was a unique experience, completely changing the pace and the focus of what we were looking at/learning about. The perspective from being low in the water was also completely different then riding up high in the LR. When we got back to land, we drove around a bit, coming upon some baboons, and watched them groom. But my attention was turned to the termite mound nearby. OP and I got out to look at it more closely as I continued to question him about termites, this continued as we got back into the LR, discussing how this mound was abandoned and remarking on the signs that indicated this. Evidently as OP and I discussed termites, Sam videoed a pair of Baboons mating, with the sound track being my discussion of termite mounds with OP. When cocktail time came a bit later, Sam amusingly showed the others this little video, with the accompanying soundtrack about termites. All had a good laugh!
5/31-AM This morning Sam and I went with OP and Joseph by boat to Jao Island. Soon after arriving OP got a call about a Leopard sighting. She was in a Sausage Tree, which gave us good views of her. OP noted that she had an eye infection in her left eye. But he did not think that it significantly impaired her vision, and hence her ability to hunt. He commented that she had a male offspring, who was old enough to hunt on his own; though she continued to provide for him at times. She stayed in the tree, moving periodically from branch to branch, and then climbing down and eventually moved into the grass, when we lost track of her. She was so beautiful, and it was amazing to watch her as long as we were able to. After we left her, we drove about the island, noting how much flooding there is. OP noted that the area we were driving in, which seemed like a large shallow lake, was formerly all grassland. We stopped for tea, watching various birds and antelope in the water. We headed towards the airstrip, and the plane that would take us to the Makgadikgadi Pans. (Which I had finally learned to pronounce correctly-(Ma Kah dee Kah dee- the “g” is silent)

Photos- I am making albums by camps. Chitabe, Kwetsani, Camp Kalahari are posted as of now at
http://gallery.me.com/amycyma
amycyma is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 07:07 PM
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Thanks for the Kwetsani installment and my apologies for getting ahead yesterday with the leopard and her eye infection...unlike the others, I have no restraint and have looked at ALL the photos. You have some nice lighting on your lionw/ their giraffe kill shots. The meerkats are so cute and I am SO glad that you listed the pronounciation of Makgadikgadi, thanks. Eagerly awaiting the Camp Kalahari segment. Keep up the good work!
Pat
scruffypuma is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 09:54 PM
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Thanks, great, and more please.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 10:53 PM
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Bookmarking.
This is wonderful reading, thankyou
oneday is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 04:35 AM
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Great reading. And, report is certainly not too long. In a way the more details the better especially years from now when you re-read it you will "relish" the trip even more. Thanks for your time and effort. Dick
rsnyder is offline  

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