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Botswana Trip Report...Surviving Lions!

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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.

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