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eyelaser Oct 14th, 2007 05:17 AM

Trip report Sept/Oct 2007 Botswana
A year waiting, waiting, waiting. Looking endlessly at old safari trip photos and videos...reading trip reports, buying and practicing with new photo equipment, packing, unpacking and finally packing again. It was finally time! A relatively short 9 nights in Botswana had arrived. Everything seemed to have gone flawlessly from the booking and flights to securing the private vehicles...I can hardly sleep in the days before the flight to S.Africa.
In the past we have flown from NYC's Kennedy airport on South African Airways through Isla Del Sol or Dakar to Jo'Burg and if lucky were able to get business seats. More times than not we couldn't get them and flew coach despite trying to book a year in advance. This time however Delta was flying their own planes from Atlanta so we were able to buy a coach seat and use miles to upgrade to business-elite. It was well worth it but their business-elite cabin has a much smaller number of seats. There are 5 rows of 3 groups of two across seat for a total of 30 I think. Anyway we changed our flight to Atlanta from Newark to an earlier time as the original flight which was changed by Delta now gave us only 45 minutes to connect. I really felt uncomfortable that our luggage wouldn't make it even if we somehow managed to get through security in record time and there were no weather delays. Fortunately Delta understood the issue and changed the flight without any problem.
We arrived at Newark to check in without an e-ticket but with a confirmation number. We were about an hour early not the two that is recommended but as the Atlanta shuttle runs so frequently I didn't think there would be a problem. When the agent tried to check us in he found that Delta hadn't taken the miles from our accounts and he had to do that. Unfortunately there were a number of blocks in the computer system so we waited and waited while I kept looking at my watch thinking OMG I'm going to miss my flight, my connection. I am pacing getting a bit frustrated as the problem was obviously Delta's and not ours. The agent said as much but also said he couldn't let us on the plane and certainly they wouldn't let us board the plane to S. Africa. Well finally about 15 minutes from take off the printer spit out our tickets. We ran to security, got escorted to the front of the queue and then had the security personnel remove and swipe every piece of camera equipment I had (two still cameras with 5 lenses including a 300mm 2.8 and 500 f4, video camera, batteries, tapes, binoculars and more). They did the same for my son who had almost as much. He got done a few minutes before I did and he ran to the gate (fortunately he is a marathon runner). I got a shuttle ride down there on a cart. Our names were being called on the PA system and they were literally holding the plane for us.
Well, finally and breathlessly we boarded. Normally I don't drink at 11am but that morning I made an exception..a glass of champagne to calm the nerves. The rest of the flight, transfer and trans-Atlantic flight was uneventful.
Is it just me or does everyone who makes these trips hold their breath until a least one bag comes out of the baggage claim carousel. Everything was there and although we were 45 minutes EARLY our ride was waiting for us and off we went for the Grace in Rosebank. I love this little boutique hotel. From the reception at the front door to the cakes and tea being served I was relaxed and in a great mood. My son and I quickly went upstairs with our bags and then quickly to the attached mall to get our Biltong fix (ostrich, kudu, mixed game and eland). Yum!
We had an 8pm reservation at Moyo's in Melrose Arch so we quickly showered, changed and headed off in the hotel's courtesy car. We were seated on the music level just as we had requested but in the corner. Unfortunately only one of us could see the musician while the other had a perfect view of the back wall. There were no other tables for two so I resigned myself to facing the back. The wait staff then split a table for 6 into a 4 and 2 so I asked to move and we had the best table. I particularly like the food as it is so different from what one can get in NYC and with good jazz to boot. We shared kudu, ostrich, and springbok, a bottle of nice cabernet and cheesecake for dessert. The music was good not great but I hate it when the diners never acknowledge the performer. My son got his face painted but I chose not to. We were the only ones to applaud and he appreciated it as when we left and I mouthed "thank you" he smiled and said "thank YOU" back. Our ride back came just as I paid the bill and we returned to the hotel.
I checked and rechecked that I had the tickets to Maun. The weather had turned and it was cloudy with some thunder in the distance. What would the morning bring.
Well, it was raining, thundering and overall miserable. I can't believe it, just what we needed and good reason for Air Botswana not to fly or delay us so our Sefofane connection is missed. Miraculously, the skies cleared and after a bit of duty free (I bought a black belt or so I thought...when I looked closely after we boarded the flight I realized it was navy...oh well it will be fine with jeans).
We left right on time which I understand from other Fodorites is a rarity and arrived in a much drier but still a bit overcast Maun. Met our pilot and the other 2 people who were to fly with us, them to Selinda and us to Savuti (Chobe air strip). After a briefing and geography lesson we took off for the 45min flight to Selinda (more like an hour with the head winds). The other couple was from Seattle I think and he saw my luggage tag and realized we were in the same profession. Anyway we then arrived at Savuti and were met by Jonah, our privated guide, for our stay there. I had expected Thuso but he apparently came down with a nasty case of malaria and had to go to hospital with a fever of 104F or so. We found out that Jonah normally is at Kings Pool but was brought over for us and the next guests after we left. I was a bit concerned about the "new guy" but my concerns were to be allayed very quickly.
Now I know that owls are bad omens in Botswana but I love them and when we saw a white-faced scopps owl on the way to the camp in an otherwise desolate, dry burnt out mopane forest I just knew good things were in store.
We arrived at camp and the manager, Roger, looked at us and said "I know you guys!' He had been the manager at The River Club when we were there in 2004. He remembered we were 5 at that time.
We were shown to room 5 which we were told was the best room or at least the one adjacent to the elephant highway. Indeed it was as all the elephants would walk just a few meters to the side of our tent on their way to the water hole in front of the camp. It was amazing how quiet they can be as a 5, 6, 7 would come right next to me as I was videoing the ones at the water hole and I wouldn't even hear them.
Well that's all for now except to say that most of my prior trips had a predator theme, the last one in E.Africa, lions of course, cheetahs at Djuma but this one was obvious...Leopards...10 different leopards in 9 days with I think 15 different sightings.
But a special treat on the first drive...
More tomorrow

sundowner Oct 14th, 2007 05:45 AM

Looks like you had a few 'getting there' scares but you made it! Great beginning and I look forward to hearing more.

HariS Oct 14th, 2007 05:46 AM

Hi Eric,

Read your post on the other thread .... Hope you got plenty of good pictures!!!


atravelynn Oct 15th, 2007 07:02 PM

A tense beginning, but not as bad as Tuppy1, who lost her passport. 15 leopard sightings in 9 days of 10 leopards? Makes me wonder if that "bottle of nice cabernet" was enjoyed in the jazz club or if it consumed daily on safari.

Hope you took some good notes to keep all those leopards straight!

eyelaser Oct 16th, 2007 04:13 PM

No sooner had we arrived than Roger said "Drop your stuff and get ready, we have a special sighting for you!" I had heard a rumor that some dogs had made a kudu kill early in the morning so I had an inkling at what we were going to see. So, on the first drive of the first day we see the dogs...4 males and 1 female. So much food made for a lazy afternoon and while we saw them move about a bit they certainly weren't in the mood to hunt again. Having seen dogs on my first drive in 2001 and not since in 6 different trips I realized how special this was and made sure to really enjoy whatever interaction the dogs had with each other. We spent about 45 minutes with them and then left them to sleep. We then saw some general game, jackals and at night a bushbaby. We arrived at a camp fire where a night time bush brai was set up. Wonderful food, drinks and conversation and a game in which everyone had to do their best animal impression. I can do a passable pearl spotted owl whistle and a really good giraffe (if you know what I mean). Anyway we all had a good time and by the time we got back to camp it was late and the bed was calling. The rooms at Savuti had just been renovated and they are really nice, not over the top nice, but very comfortable and spacious. Roger did us a favor an installed a power strip in our room. While the rooms had been wired they had not had a chance to put the strips in but when we said we had so much stuff to charge he said he would do our room first and by the time we got back from dinner it was done. It turned out to be a life saver as the next day my son and I each shot about 30gigs of photos (raw) and we needed to download to our Mac, upload to external hard drives and format cards for the next day. Well, I for one didn't sleep too well...much too excited...I probably got about 2-3 hours sleep waiting for our 5am wake up. After a quick breakfast at 5:30 we were on the vehicle by 5:45 or so. We see the usual suspects, impala, zebra, giraffes, eles until Jonah sees a leopard by a termite mound. Of course it takes my eyes a bit longer to process but finally I see her. A real beauty, and out in the open just sitting next to the mound. We were watching her for a minute or so when Jonah noticed a small herd of impala all looking in one direction...but not at our fact there was a second leopard crossing about 200 meters away in the low scrub.
What do we do now, we have two leopards, one mobile one not. Jonah thought the mobile one was the mother of the newly independent cub we were sitting with. So we radioed other vehicles and gave them the info of the cub and we set out after the mother. She made it really tough going through some thick bush but eventually she settled down and we got some nice shots of her. When she decided she had enough of us and made her self scarce we headed back to the youngster and she gave us some nice supermodel leopard poses. What a morning! We headed back to camp all jacked up. I really didn't want to eat, I just wanted to keep going. But the food was wonderful and the water hole at the camp provided endless elephant viewing. I kept wanting to take a shower and every time I put my camera down another 5-10 elephants would walk right past our room, interact with elephants going in the opposite direction and provide great entertainment so I would grab my camera for just "a few more shots". Finally at about 2:30 I jumped in the shower, quickly got dressed and off we headed for 3pm tea.
We had to bring what we need for the night as this was to be our night out at the hide. I was looking forward to it but didn't really know what to expect.
The afternoon drive started out innocently enough with a great sighting of a secretary bird, beautiful ground hornbills, and ostriches. As night fell we caught a glimpse of a selous mongoose which is apparently not to common. Anyway Jonah said he had not seen one before and was quite excited to see his first.
Our plan was to meet Rodger at the hide at 7:30 for dinner and to see the rising harvest moon...the best laid plans of...
on our way back we ran into our new best friend, the young leopard from the morning. She was just sitting in the open and we just happened to pick her up in the spotlight. We followed her for a while and realized she was hunting. Jonah suspected she had only recently become independent and so any success would be really terrific. We had picked up numerous scrub hares and well as spring hares as we drove along. Then we saw some impalas and hoped she might have a go at them despite her youth. We turned off the light and just listened...we briefly flashed the spotlight and saw she had quickly made up ground near both the impalas and a spring hare. We parked the vehicle and waited and then we heard and saw her take off and run down a spring hare. The hare tried to evade her, tripped, got up and tried to get away and not 10-20 feet right in front of us she got! To actually seethe chase and hear the footfalls was incredible. She moved off with the hare in her mouth. And I was truly surprised at the size of the hare, stretched out it was about half her body length (not including tail). This was a perfect size kill. Then Jonah whispered, hyena, hyena...the thief in the night appeared ready to steal...but she was too quick and darted up a tree. She was safe but felt to exposed as this tree and large bare branches and no cover. She then leaped to a neighboring tree with small branches and settled down for what I am sure was a lovely dinner...and as for us it was now 9pm (talking about showing up fashionably late) and we arrived at the hide for a wonderful meal and evening awaiting the sights and sounds of the night. It turned out to be very odd that the two best nights of sleep I had on the whole trip were at the Savuti and Chitabe hides. I got about 5 hours sleep and as my son tells it the only noises to be heard we Rodger and my snoring.
What an incredible first day (Dennis if you are counting that's 2 leopards, 3 sightings, 3 cabernets).
There was more to come day two.

eyelaser Oct 16th, 2007 04:22 PM

My apologies to Lynn, I meant to direct the leopard sighting count to you but having just read and looked at Dennis' post and photos my brain didn't process properly.

atravelynn Oct 16th, 2007 04:45 PM

That's ok, on Fodors we all look alike. And we can all count along together.

Dogs and a leopard kill! Not to mention the rare mongoose!

napamatt Oct 17th, 2007 07:05 AM

Great report - Savuti is calling me....

eyelaser Oct 17th, 2007 06:09 PM

Amazing, what a great night's sleep on a mattress on the floor covered with mosquito netting. I wake up at 4:50 as Rodger makes a fire to brew some coffee. I suspect we were visited in the night by some eles but I was sound asleep. One of the nice things about the hide sleep out is you don't have to deal with the early morning camp routine and once breakfast is over you are already out in the bush. About 5:45 Jonah came by to pick us up and we headed out. Not too long after we heard the roar of lions in the distance. Rodger radioed us to say there were to male lions coming to the water hole at the hide (can you hear "I could have slept in!"). We rushed back and got the update that Rodger had a visual of the 2 lions but they had avoided the water and were walking up the road. Quickly we found them and listened as the roared in unison walking with purpose. It became obvious what the roaring was about when we heard more roaring coming from a bit further away. Initially I thought it was a pride calling to reconnect but in fact it was the beginning of a turf battle. No sooner had the 2 males headed towards the sound of roaring then they reversed direction and started running at full speed in the opposite direction. Very soon it became obvious why. Four very large, very intimidating males were running towards them and roaring in response. What an incredible sound, all four roaring together. I could truly feel the sound go right through me, a truly visceral experience. As we drove along with the four the roaring continued on for some time. I was trying to video all this and had the realization that I never checked to make sure my external microphone was actually functioning. I quickly suggested to my son that he at least use our point and shoot on the movie feature just in case all I had was video and no sound. Not so easy to video at 40kph running through bush and trees but we managed to get some pretty compelling footage and luckily the mic was set up properly. The only downside was the continual chatter amongst the guides. Since we had located the lions first Jonah was continually trying to give location to some others which can be heard over the video. I finally asked him to turn off the radio so I could get some sustained audio of the lions rather than his conversation. I know he was trying to be a good guy but it was getting to be a bit much. Interestingly, Rodger mentioned to me later that he had been monitoring all the chatter and was really upset by how much there was and would speak to the guides to quiet it down. After about a 15 minute chase the 4 males got their point across as the 2 whose territory this had been were nowhere to be seen or heard. So after a long chase the 4 headed back to the water hole and created a magnificent picture. Three of the 4 crouching shoulder to shoulder drinking from the water hole with the 4th about 10meters away. We rushed to the far side of the water hole, not 10 meters from where we had slept the night before and got some very special photos. After a few minutes they got up walked for a minute or two, did some social bonding and then proceeded to do what lions do best...go to sleep...all in a mornings work.
It was only about 7:30 or so and I felt like I had had a full day already. This was really going to be a full day however as we scheduled an all day safari with lunch out and not returning till dinner. Once we left the lions we ran into another selous mongoose, bizarre, Jonah had never seen one and now 2 in 2 days. Then we encountered what Jonah said was an African Hawk Eagle but after looking at the photos I am not sure. It may have been a crowned or long crested eagle...I will have to take a better look. Being back lit on the photos is making the id a bit difficult. It was very skittish and flew off so we continued on parallel to the channel. Soon we came upon a yellow billed kite perched in a branch just above out heads having a meal. Very nice of him/her to pose but once done with the meal it was off, or maybe not. A quick fly over the channel and dive into it produced a nice juicy frog. The bird came back to its perch and had its grenouille and (the rest of the frog) just above us. Very cool...our second kill :) We tried to find the hawk eagle and thought we saw it just up ahead but it turned out to be a martial eagle. What a magnificent bird. We were able to get quite a few nice shots even though it was pretty high up.
Following the channel we continued to drive into an area that looked very different than the dry, dusty almost lifeless mopane and brush around Savuti camp. It was getting more lush as there was permanent water and lots of bird life. We got permission to use Duma Tau's hide for lunch but before we got there we found 2 giant eagle owls high up in a tree. I did my best contortionist impersonation to try to get some picture. One of the downsides of the vehicles with canvas tops is the difficulty shooting upwards. I figured I would need to visit my chiropractor once I got home. Finally we made it to the hide and had a great lunch overlooking the water with hippos and eles in the distance. We then continued down the Linyanti River and saw many fish eagles, 2 juvenile bataleurs, Jacanas, numerous different bee eater species, 3 or 4 one meter long water monitors and the occasional otter. Didn't get any photos of the otters as they would just come to the surface for a second or two and then disappear. Further down we came to numerous elephants bathing and then swimming to what I found out was Namibia. No visas or passport was necessary but Jonah said they often come back when they find out their anti-poaching protection is much better in Botswana. We had one ele come within about 10 feet of us as we stayed very quiet, gave it room between us and the water and allowed it to try to figure out just what we were. Very interesting, no threatening just curiously observing us. We probably passed another 50 elephants over the next half hour or so bathing, squirting water all over them selves and then dusting themselves off. Many, many black and grey giants. The ride back was relatively uneventful but it was beautiful and we got to enjoy giraffes, zebras, tsessebees and some even some lechwe. It wasn't till almost dark that we came back to the Savuti area and spoke with another guide who we think saw the same leopard we had seen make the spring hare kill the night before chase and finally catch and kill an African Wild Cat. It took us about 15 minutes to find her holed up under some fallen tree branches crunching away. My son thought it a bit disturbing, catabalism he called it. Just as the light was fading she emerged from the branches, climbed a low fallen fairly substantial horizontal tree branch and posed with her catch. Shooting at 1/20s and 1600 iso with the canon 1 D Mark III proved amazing. It wasn't till we got home that I realized how incredibly clear the image was and without flash it looked like late afternoon rather that well after sunset. About 5 minutes later no photos could be taken without flash and those gave an interesting feeling as the cat seemed to be floating on the branch. Soon we gave it its privacy and headed back very tired but elated after another very special day in the bush. Dinner was great chicken, rice, corn soup, vegetable gumbo salad, apple bread pudding and of course the requisite cabernet (2 leopards, 4 sightings, 4 cabernets or was it 5 oh well).
We finally headed back to the room to download...40gigs each. It wasn't till after 2am we finished downloading, uploading and formating cards for the next day. What the heck, who needs sleep. Let's see if I go to sleep now I can get 3 full hours! Almost not worth it but off to dream land we go. It's our last night at Savuti and tomorrow we would have one last drive and then off to Little Vumbura. To say the least I had had such an incredible time already that I really didn't want to leave. How could it get any better.
Does the phrase the "hits keep on coming" ring a bell.

HariS Oct 17th, 2007 06:45 PM

Well written report, Eric. I too relate to the "too excieted to sleep at night" reference of yours.


GeoffG Oct 18th, 2007 01:09 AM

Great report Eric.

Was the woodpile hide being used?

The four male lions ... had they come from Selinda?

Did the guides know who they were? The two males that ran are part of a co-alition of 4 as well.

Could be some interesting battles in the future.


Marija Oct 18th, 2007 04:25 AM

Very enjoyable! Thanks.

napamatt Oct 18th, 2007 04:47 AM

Don't you love radio Botswana!
You can request the top be removed, a must for serious photography and particularly video.

eyelaser Oct 18th, 2007 05:24 AM

Hari, thanks but I am a little geneology challenged when it comes to the identity of the various animals.
Geoff, I heard that two of the four males were Savuti 1 and Savuti 2 but the identities of the others were a mystery...I suspect Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior in costume. Seriously, this seemed to be a new coalition and whether it remained together I guess only time will tell. There was no speculation at the time as to whether they came from Selinda.
Marija, thank you for the kind words, I like writing about the experience while watching and listening to the video a little "Total Recall" like experience.
Matt, the chatter was outrageous for a while but to be honest the guides I had used the radio only on occassion, turned down the volume to a bear whisper and didn't call in sightings until we had completed all the photography and video we wanted. We had numerous private sightings which we just great. We had the top taken off at L. Vumbura but not at Savuti or Chitabe. As it turns out it was wise to keep the top on at Chitabe as we had rain, make that a ferocious thunder and lightning storm one day and we would have been unable to photograph let alone stay relatively dry without the canvas top.

napamatt Oct 18th, 2007 06:19 AM


Are you posting photos, I'm interested in the eagle.


HariS Oct 18th, 2007 06:32 AM

Hi Geoff,

I think right now, the dominant males in Selinda are the two big males (the one eyed fellow - they call him "Milky Eye" and his buddy). They are the ones who have sired the current litter of 8 cubs from the remaining 3 selinda lionesses. They also seem to be sharing their presence more between Selinda and Lebala.


DonTopaz Oct 18th, 2007 06:37 AM

Brilliant report, Eric ... I am drooling at the prospect of Savuti.

PredatorBiologist Oct 18th, 2007 07:29 AM

Wow Eric, a plethora of amazing experiences. I especially related to the lion roars reverberating through your body -- an experience that is never forgotten once you've had it. I hope you are able to post some of the video and I really want to see photos of the leopard with the African wild cat, sounds extraordinary.

Looking forward to the rest of the report.

atravelynn Oct 18th, 2007 07:56 AM

So that was 6 male lions total in the turf wars! An amazing day.

GeoffG Oct 18th, 2007 02:11 PM

Hi Hari,

I'm aware of 'milky eye & his buddy' but something is afoot in the Selinda - Savuti area.

1. I read where the Selinda pride was chased by two males (latest Duma Tau report on wilderness site)

2. Eric's report here of 4 unknown males.

3. P.L has just returned from another 4 days at Zib (as well as Kaingo, mara & samburu) and told me they could not find any lion at all in the Selinda concession. He was told the whole Selinda pride was north in the Kwando. ...also gameviewing in general was extremely poor.


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