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Trip Report - SA and Botswana - or "Beauty, Cruelty and Bad Air Days"

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Jul 24th, 2005, 06:26 PM
  #1
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Trip Report - SA and Botswana - or "Beauty, Cruelty and Bad Air Days"

Just got back and decided to start typing to help with jet lag, so this will definitely be an installment trip report.

We left home on 7/11 and flew SFO-LHR on United. From memory, the staff may have been a little less surly than normal, I also may have imagined it or have simply become used to a certain standard.

Picked up a car in London and visited my sister and her family in Hampstead. We spent the afternoon at Kew Gardens, then returned the car and made our way to Terminal 1. We checked in for the SAA flight (using Delta miiles for 1st class). The First Class lounge was quite disappointing, but probably reflected the amount of traffic. The best lounge at LHR is Virgin, hands down. Service on board was excellent, the flat bed was very spacious and comfortable. IFE was pretty good as was the food and wine. Famous person sighting #1 - Jonty Rhodes SA cricketer. The attendant actually makes up your bed, they put a sheet on the bed, then make sure your duvet is comfortable for you, I half expected a kiss on the forehead and a hushed "night, night". Elke of course slept almost until landing, while trying to wake her, a young boy travelling with his parents helpfully suggested that we could throw cold water on her. It didn't come to that.
Arrived around 7 so went to the Arrivals lounge for a shower and breakfast, then checked in for the flight to Mala Mala.
It was quite cold in Joburg, though after the flight I always feel quite warm, so I actually like some cold air.

Mala Mala
This was our 8th trip since 1994 and second of the year. I do enjoy visiting new camps, but there is something very special about getting to know a place and its people well. I suppose its all about being comfortable, even the sometimes tiring (and worse) task of socializing with strangers seems to be easier there. The rangers treat us as one of them, and we had our customary dinner as guets of the owners, who are terrifically generous hosts.

Game Viewing
This was one of those times that our rangers have spoken of, when all the animals seem to be hiding, and they have to work very hard to see anything. For us this is not such a problem, our souls are refreshed as much by being there as by seeing game. In addition we had a bird count to keep us occupied.
Highlights were a new Leopard for us the Manyalethi male, who spends most of his time further north, I have a feeling he may be one of the Leopards of Simbambili, but have not been able to confirm that yet, I will have to knuckle down and compare whisker patterns when I feel less fried.
Had a poor view of the son of the Hlabitini Female and that was it for Leopards! 2 in four days on a property that has yielded 7 in one drive before now. It just goes to show that nothing is guaranteed.
Lions - the 6 females and 2 cubs of the Eyrefield pride briefly. Then we saw a new pride for us, we had to travel all the way to south of Kirkmans (over 15km) to see the Selati Pride. This pride consists of two females and 6 sub adults and has managed quite a comeback.
On the way to see them we hada fun encounter with a Rhino and her calf. The little fella saw us stop and came bounding towards us feeling very brave and important, as he got closer to us and futher from Mom his courage deserted him and scampered back to her side. Its apity we dont see more Rhino calfs, because they are quite good value.
More to come.
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Jul 24th, 2005, 07:23 PM
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welcome home matt,
i was hoping we'd be hearing from you soon. get some rest and continue when you're ready. cant wait to hear about the rest of your trip; especially botswana.
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Jul 25th, 2005, 02:36 AM
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Welcome home. Can't wait to read more!
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Jul 25th, 2005, 11:46 AM
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Work has been remarkably calm in my absence, so I am taking a quick five minutes to post a couple more sightings from our time at Mala Mala.

On our second night we saw a fairly relaxed Serval at dusk. This beautiful cat hung around long enough for some video and we considered ourselves very fortunate to get a decent glimpse. One of our vehicle mates had decided not to go on the drive (she has been visiting Mala Mala for 35 years and had never seen a Serval so she was disappointed). However at camp she watched a male Cheetah stalk and chase a Bushbuck into the reeds right by the swimming pool. The kill was obscured.

Next day we were driving through an open area when we saw a Serval lying on the ground just twitching. Our ranger and tracker investigated and decided that in the absence of injuries it was likely bitten by a snake. At this point it was very difficult, we took one photo and no video, I always feel like we are intruding in some sense. There was discussion of ending the creatures misery, but Mala Mala has a strict policy of non-intervention. So because the Serval was lying in the open, it was moved to cover and camouflaged with some grass and some water was left close to it. The manager of the camp drove out a couple of times to view it from a distance. Two days later it was gone, with no signs of action around where it had lain. The assumption is, that the toxin worked through the system and the Serval recovered, that has certainly been documented in Honey Badgers, so I will side wth the optimistic view. It was so sad to see it lying there, but it was right not to interfere.

In forgot about one last Leopard sighting and Lion (my brain was fried yesterday and foolishly I have not referred to my journal). We had seen one of the 8 month old cubs of the Campbell Koppies female, then moved on to our old friends the Styx pride who were sunning themselves on rocks in the Sand River with one of the Split Rock Males. When suddenly Alex our ranger told us to hold on, we went very rapidly back to where the leopard was, who by now had stalked and caught a young Klipspringer (this was a first for Mala Mala). Unfortunatley the youngster didnt know how to dispatch it and so played with the poor thing, whose distress calls were quite something. We expected some other predator to be attracted, but none came while we watched. Unfortunately we had to leave to catch our flight back to Jo'burg.

4 day bird count - 94.
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Jul 25th, 2005, 04:29 PM
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A bit more.

After a night at the Sun Intercontinental we headed over to the Air Bots check in at 8:30 for our 10am flight to Maun. Which was now apparently the 12noon flight to Maun, so we headed back to the hotel, who very obligingly allowed us back into our room for a couple of hours. Checking back in at 10:20 we were told that they were about to close the flight to check in, but she knew we were coming back - amazing. Then we got some more delays and finally left at 2:30, arriving Maun at 4:00. We had assigned seats on the flight, but on walking up the steps were told that free seating was in operation, so I grabbed 2E and F, that way we would be at the front of the line for immigration, if you've ever been through Maun you'll know how important that is. We got through immigration, grabbed our bags and headed into the terminal, hoping we were flying direct to Kings Pool (50 mins) as light would soon be a concern. The Wilderness Rep greeted us and explained that we would be going via Mombo to drop someone off (30 minutes) then onto Kings Pool (40). But someone else's misfortune worked out well for us. Apparently the other people had left their passports at Jo'burg airport and so were unlikely to be allowed into Botswana, so we caught a break and headed straight to Kings Pool. Dont know how they fared, maybe there will be a post on it someday.
The flight was smooth (the dreaded 206) and we landed about 5pm. The guys at KP had laid on a special game drive for us with Isaac the senior guide, Andre the chef, Mick the Sefofane pilot and Lizzie one of the camp management team who had been at Savuti last year and who greeted us as old friends.
Kings Pool is a beautiful camp with a lovely location. It is loud at night, though we had room 1 which has far less Hippo action, though at times you felt as if the Elephants were in the room with you. The rooms are spectacular, very spacious and well appointed. 3 days is a must here just so you can spend some time in the room. I would recommend rooms 1-5, with room 1 getting a very high recommendation. There is also a gym at this camp.
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Jul 25th, 2005, 09:03 PM
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Matt,

Great to hear that you had a good time at MalaMala, even if a little quite in the leopard department - it happens to all of us as in June last year in 24 days I saw 8 different leopards, but saw a lot of lions that trip, so each trip is different and I cannot complain about 8 leopards! I envy you seeing the Serval - one thing that is always on my wishlist! I agree that to watch an animal that is not in good health does seem in poor taste, much like stopping at an accident scene. I have seen shows where honey badgers have recovered from snake toxin but they are tough and have recently seen a south african man that was bitten by a venomous snake, I believe, a black mamba, as the show was about black mambas, who was delayed from reaching a hospital and the time limit for the antivenin was past and he also survived with no permanent damage. I am also hoping that the serval survived.
Have just read about the cub of the Campbell Koppies Female getting the baby klipspringer - remarkable feat for a cub that young.
Kings Pool sounds great, but I do not know if I can bring myself to lose a whole day of gameviewing to travel to another country.
Shall look forward to the next instalment of your travels and any photos that you send to MalaMala as the last time I looked, your photos from the last trip were still showing as the most recent photos.

Kaye
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Jul 26th, 2005, 07:14 AM
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With getting back a day late, the photo selection and upload is behind schedule. Elke did get started last night, but I think we will be a few days away from getting a link posted.

As for missing a day, it is worth it, to visit Botswana.
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Jul 26th, 2005, 03:46 PM
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Kings Pool Viewing

The Linyanti area is one of my favourites, mainly I think becasue the dryness of the surrounding Mopane is tempered by the lush green of the river and flood plain areas.
The Linyanti is elephant country, we saw lots of them, with some very relaxed breeding herds present. Highlights of our drives included three lionesses of the Selinda pride being driven from an Impala carcass (well scraps) by a young male who was hanging out with them. He didn't get much to eat, but the interaction was a good one for the video, lots of snarling and growling.
One evening we followed a male Leopard for a while before he headed into thick bush.
But the real highlight of Kings Pool and as many of you know the reason for my trip at this time of year was to see Wild Dogs and ideally their puppies. Well at Kings Pool they are taking the safety of the dogs very seriously and allow just one vehicle per drive to visit the den site. We were fortunate enough to arrive about ten minutes before the Alpha female brought the cubs out of the den. They were seven little pups all running around, generally annoying each other and all the adults. It is so wonderful to watch the whole pack as they interact with the youngsters, this really is the most fascinating of the carnivores and their plight fills with me sorrow. We have wanted to see the dogs with their pups since our first time seeing dogs in 1999 and we have finally done it. I will no longer need to plan trips just to achieve this end, which is something of a relief, because we have been disappointed on more than one occasion.

We had planned just two days at Kings Pool in what was planned to be a trip with some first time friends, when they cancelled, we wished we had been able to book three. Two days really leaves little time to relax, particularly when the camp boasts an attraction like the underground hide.

Our guide Cady (new and very good, and up to speed with my humor very quickly)took us there after brunch and we spent an hour seeing a few babboons and monkeys. The hide sits right at ground level, so that you look through observation slits at the animals feet. It was fun to be watching the waterhole and realize from the coprner of your eye that a little Vervet Monkey was watching you, wondering whether it was safe to go and drink. We had abandoned hope of seeing elephants because we were due to leave. However Cady spoke to the next guests and they were happy for us to stay, which was very generous of them. The next guests turned out to be Daryl Balfour the photographer and a private client, a lovely older american lady called Lilly with some serious camera equipment. The elephants when they showed up dont bother with the part of the waterhole furthest from the hide, they come right up to the borehole in front of the hide (about 10 ft away) and drink the fresh water. Soon there were 30+ Elephants all fighting over the water, splashing mud on their backs and generally having a good time. Word of warning when an Elephant splashing mud turns his back on you - take cover. We got soaked in mud and so did our equipment, Daryl got the worst of it, followed by me. Good thing the laundry was working.

Bird life at KP was also pretty good, with us picking up 93 in two days with several lifers. On one day we had six sightings of Giant Eagle Owls. Best sighting was a Little Bittern, rummaging around in the reeds right under the verandah of the lounge, I spotted this guy as we waited for our delayed (again) flight to Mombo. Suddenly Lizzie appeared and told us to grab our stuff because we had to get to the airstrip right away for a special sighting. We ran to the vehicle and did the ten minute trip to the airstrip in five minutes with Isaac at the wheel.
At the strip we saw the four lions from the previous day killing a young elephant. Fortunately we did not see the takedown and did not get the full story on why the elephant was separated from the herd, but we saw enough to be fascinated and a little upset at the same time. Somehow elephants seem so close to us, that it is more difficult with them, than with Impala. I did take a little video, more for the archive, I will likely not include it on my trip DVD. I am just thankful that I couldn't see the elephants face.

After about fifteen minutes we drove to the airstrip to await the incoming flight.

Then it was off to Mombo, which you will have to wait for.
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Jul 26th, 2005, 08:25 PM
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Thanks for all the accounts of your wonderful sightings, even the likely wounded serval. I'm betting on its recovery. Cats are such resiliant creatures.

Glad you saw the wild dog puppies and that there is such care taken at the den. Do you know the age of the pups when you saw them?

Even prior to Mombo, you've had some excellent viewings!

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Jul 26th, 2005, 10:03 PM
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Hi Matt,
THANK YOU< THANK YOU < THANK YOU for such a great report.
What a tremendous trip so far!
Watching the death of a baby ele must have been really gut wrenching. Sometimes it is so hard to root for the predators even knowing how hard it is for them to survive.
Looking forward to the next installation...it's like methadone for safari addicts.

Brenda
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Jul 27th, 2005, 08:17 AM
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Lynn

The pups were about seven weeks old I believe. The good news is that there is a pack of 13 with a den at Selinda and that the dogs at Mombo have denned. Given that the Mombo pack is only three dogs and unlikely to be successful given Lion numbers in the area, the guides agreed not to go anywhere near the dogs or try and find the den. I also heard from some people on a similar itinerary that the pack at Chitabe is doing well and once again very strict rules are in place for den visits. WS really does things right.

Next Mombo. Maybe later today.
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Jul 27th, 2005, 04:53 PM
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The transfer to Mombo was another Bad Air Day. We left KP about 1.5 hours late, which again meant jumping off the plane and into a game drive vehicle.

Mombo
Mombo is spectacular, for thopse of you who have been to Chiefs and thought that was great, this is unbelievable. The scenery is even nicer and the game, the game is astounding, I figure that in 15 hours I went no more than 3 minutes without seeing a mammal, and for the most parts we would look out on vistas of hundreds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Lechwe, Impala and Tsessebe, with big herds of Buffalo thrown in.

Highlights were a spectacular Leopard doing the tree thing, occasionally sitting up to pose.We spent a lot of time with the Matata pride of Lions, with their now 17 cubs. Watching the cubs trying to suckle, playing with each other and annoying the adults was great fun. We also saw three of the four big males (Bob Marley and the Whalers - hate the name)including one great moment where one of them tried to stalk three warthog, watching a huge male trying to get low, with the big mane was quite entertaining. We thought as he disappeared behind a bush that if all three turned their back he might make a charge, but in usual male Lion fashion, one of his brothers appeared in the distance and the Warties took off.
A sad sight was a dead Buffalo calf, probably trampled by the herd as they were chased by Lions, interestingly the only predator on scene was a Bateleur that flew off sharply when we showed up.
There are lots of Hyenas at Mombo, in fact one night walking to dinner Brookes our guide spotted a hyena in the flat area behind camp, he had trouble identifying it, until he realized that it was carrying a garbage bag in its mouth. We also had a nice sighting of a female with two youngish Hyenas, again we thought one might have a dart at some Impala, but they went the other way.

Birding at Mombo was great, we had one drive where the vehicle was our own, so we did a bit more than usual, otherwise we kept the sitting in one spot, making Pearl Spotted Owl calls to a minimum. Our two day total was 103 with several lifers. In summer that total would be over 200.

Mombo - the Camp
Located in a beautiful spot and those photographs showing lots of animals out front are spot on. The tents are lovely though the rectangular design makes them less spacious and less practical than the wonderful Kings Pool tents. The staff were attentive and friendly and nothing was too much trouble, though we prefer to be low impact guests where possible.
If Mombo has a problem its the other guests, I know I will sound like a terrible snob for saying it, but it would be much better if the visitors actually wanted to be on safari.
Quote of the week from the first people we shared a drive with
"We've been here three days and we're pretty much OD'ed on animals"
When I think of the people who love game viewing who cant experience Mombo becasue of the price, people like that make me sad, and of course somewhat superior at the same time, always good for the egotistical among us ;-)
I would say to anyone that has thought of going, please do, you will not be disappointed.

Final comment, the difference between Savuti and the 6 paw camps was huge. In fact I really think Savuti is mis rated by WS. People we met who had stayed at Duma Tau said it was much better than Savuti or Chitabe, so we are giving Duma Tau a go next year along with Mombo and Vumbura Plains.

Photos will be next when Elke has them uploaded.
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Jul 27th, 2005, 09:55 PM
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great to hear you got to see the bob marley crew. they are a beautiful crew of black maned power. we saw them this past jan. do u know what the name of the leopard you saw? your report gets me excited about my possible trip for late aug/early sep 06; we are going to mombo, duma tau, duba plains and probably chitabe. maybe i'll see in botswana. cant wait even with it being over a yr away.
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Jul 28th, 2005, 08:50 AM
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As I canít hang in front of the computer 24-7 I usually only read posts about East Africa. I read this trip report because the title made me think I would get some ideas about ďhair on safariĒ, but instead I found the most incredible wildlife sightings described in a well-informed and interesting way. Thank you, Napamatt.

It was disturbing though to read about the lions killing a baby elephant. I donít think I would be able to keep my non-intervention policy.
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Jul 28th, 2005, 08:51 AM
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Bigcountry

The Leopard was the son of the Burnt Ebony male and unfortunately I didnt get the name of the female. Apparently a few days ago, he was present when Mom and Dad were mating, a very unusual sighting.
We have a long trip planned next year with pro-photographic help and a private guide - someone has got us a great deal otherwise I wouldn't afford it. We are doing 6 nights at Mombo, 4 at Vumbura and 3 at Duma Tau. Unfortunately flights and $ have precluded the first four days at Tubu.
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Jul 28th, 2005, 09:18 AM
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Hi Napamatt,

Your trip next year is my dream itinerary! You say you got a great deal -- how much did it end up costing? Who did you book it through?

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 28th, 2005, 09:53 AM
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You have given an excellent trip report and what an amazing trip you had! I look forward to seeing the pictures. I've seen a young elephant killed by lions on a television program and it was heartbreaking to watch. I cannot even imagine being there. Thanks for sharing your trip.

Your trip next year sounds like a dream!

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Jul 28th, 2005, 11:41 AM
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Jasher

Next years trip is a special put together by our agents who are also friends, they have brought together some of their best clients for a very special trip.

Sundowner

I'm just glad I couldn't see the Elephant's face. It's fascinating but heartbreaking at the same time.
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Jul 28th, 2005, 12:42 PM
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I should mention that the last Bad Air Day was arriving at JNB on Friday evening to find our flight to LHR was cancelled. We evenetually got home 24 hours late and many $ poorer via Lufthansa. Oh well, it had to happen some time, and better at the end of the trip, than the beginning.
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Jul 28th, 2005, 01:34 PM
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Napamatt, how do we get on their list of special friends? Seriously, this trip sounds great so I can't even imagine what that next one will be like!!!
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