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Predator Biologist Trip Report: Madikwe & Botswana

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It's take a little while to get started but here is the 1st installment for my trip report March 1 - March 17.

The Basics

This trip was for 14 nights including 3 in Joburg, 4 on safari in Madikwe and 7 in Botswana. Originally we had 5 nights in Cape Town and Wine Country scheduled but I had a personal conflict that forced us to drop that part of the trip. I had made my bookings with the help of fellow fodorite Selwyn, and was really excited to experience the township of Kayamandi with him. I include this only to say that when I had to cancel Selwyn was a true champion and I was fortunate to recover virtually all of my deposits, more than I was actually entitled to. I wish I could echo many former travelers on what an excellent experience they had with Selwyn but I can say in both planning and cancellation his help was superb!

We departed 1:20 am on March 1st from Denver. No need for lots of details as most everyone knows the flight over is the one misery of making an Africa trip. We arrived Atlanta around 5:30 a.m. then waited for our 10:30 a.m. to Joburg. We made Joburg on time 10:30ish a.m. the next day. With 2 missed nights of sleep, and not being good plane sleepers I prefer to take the first day to just crash and not start a safari. We checked into the D’Oreale Grande at Emperor’s Palace – formerly Ceasars. This is a great option if you need to be by the airport, we were flying out to Madikwe the next morning so I wanted to stay near the airport. They have a free shuttle that runs to and from the airport every 20 minutes. Our room was very nice and comfortable. When in the hotel you have no idea that it is attached to a casino a short walk away. There are numerous restaurants and shops with late night hours, which is great in case jet lag has you up at strange times. There is a big pool, spa, and workout facilities as well. I would definitely recommend this as a stopover hotel near the airport. There are also two other hotels in the complex that offer different pricing options. I was too tired to try my hand at gambling but the casino is 24 hours. They even have a little indoor roller coaster, fresco painted ceilings, etc. It’s like one Vegas hotel dropped in by itself. After catching up on our sleep deprivation Mrs. Predator Biologist and myself caught a flight to Madikwe. Originally I was going to drive it but we were meeting friends on March 7th (Mrs. PB’s birthday) in Joburg so I wanted to get in our full game drive and be back at a good hour to meet them so we decided to fly.

Madikwe Game Reserve

I was very interested in checking out the Madikwe Game Reserve for a number of reasons. For those that don’t know Madikwe is a unique project where a large reserve was created in 1991 on ranch lands that had been severely overgrazed leading to them losing value for cattle grazing. At 76,000 hectares it is the 4th largest game reserve in South Africa and during Operation Phoenix over 8,000 mammals of 27 species were relocated to the reserve. This was all supposed to aid in wildlife conservation but also in economic development of local communities in this impoverished region.

I believe this type of restoration is the key to future conservation in Africa where land can be rehabilitated to create corridors connecting the existing parks and wilderness areas. Thus I wanted to see first hand how this effort was working. Also I am leading group trips that are designed for those interested in a conservation focus and I thought this could provide a very interesting educational component to trip itineraries. There are so many interesting topics including land restoration and management, species research, wildlife management, etc. For example, I learned that the buffalo were purchased from a zoo program in Czechoslovakia because they have the only disease free breeding stock in the world. However, because you pay $2,500 per buffalo they also consciously stocked their lion from Etosha because they come from a lion culture that does not eat buffalo but rather focus on wildebeest and zebra which are cheaper and easy to establish and stock. There are many of these interesting considerations that take you well beyond simply spotting animals. The area is also a reservoir for rare species and is an excellent place to see African wild dog and both white and black rhino which were compelling reasons for me to visit as I knew they would be hard to see in Botswana at this time of year. Normally the more wild an area and the less people the more appealing to me, but for these educational reasons I chose to visit this fenced reserve project.

Madikwe Hills

Our first stop was the ultra luxurious Madikwe Hills. This was over the top luxury in the true South African style. Lots of glass windows, air-conditioned, fridge/bar, soaking tub, fireplace, multiple rooms, and my favorite -- the private plunge pool. I am definitely one who comes for the wildlife and does not need the luxury, however, I certainly do love it when I have it – especially when I can grab a cold drink from my fridge and enjoy my own pool! Main lodging was beautiful incorporating boulders right into decks and the bar. There was a t.v. in the lounge area that was only on the first afternoon as there was a big cricket match going on – not something I want at my lodges but I did not really notice it being there. I guess it would depend on the crowd. There was also a small spa and work out facility that were out of the way and only found if you went looking.

One thing true for our whole trip was huge rains have fallen this year. There were rumors that some Sabi Sand lodges were being evacuated from a huge rain that came just before our arrival. In Madikwe it left many roads impassable so all the lodges were left using the ½ of the roads available adding to increased vehicle sightings. On the worst day I would guess we saw about 12 other vehicles. This was usually just in passing and sightings are restricted to 3 vehicles I believe while guides “Q” up over the radio for opportunities to get a turn at a sighting so it wasn't bad, it just wasn't Botswana. Our guide was fairly new to the reserve and he had one of those earpiece jaw line type phones listening to constant guide chatter. I think that had him a little distracted from interpreting the sights. Our tracker Victor knew the area well and took a test to become a guide while we were there. He was more out going than the average tracker and was quite a character. In a little challenge with an Australian visitor he ate an impala pellet – there wasn’t even cash involved, just shock value. Then when I was watering the African landscape he heaved a rock into the bushes behind me in an effort to frighten me – fortunately I am very comfortable in the bush having spent nights alone walking in the Western forests of the U.S. doing owl surveys so I didn’t generate the reaction he was hoping for. The next morning he gave another guest a pretty good scare. Our first drive here was not too productive although we did see a mother and baby white rhino just after dark on our way back. I was happy to be in Africa and hoped the sightings would improve.

Shooting Springbok

Our first dinner was a social event as we were joined by 3 Aussie pilots who were hilarious and an outgoing couple from the U.K. The food at the camp was very good and so were the drinks. Somehow after consuming quite a bit of wine from the Cape we got introduced to the Springbok – a tasty little shooter consisting of Amarula and Crème de Menthe which added a nice green color approximating the South African Springboks rugby team colors. Well as we all showed up a little green for our first morning game drive I recounted the story to our guide (who had retired after the first round of springbok) that a whole herd of Springbok came by and we knocked them all down.

Our morning drive was a pleasant one and we saw some giraffe, an elephant, white rhino, lots of nice birds, hippo etc. We were starting to get in the groove. On the afternoon drive we found a lioness consuming the remains of a wildebeest – her partner already stuffed and sleeping off to the side. More white rhino too.

Wild dogs of my dreams

Our second night I had scheduled a private dinner to celebrate Mrs. PB’s birthday while we were still traveling alone. It ended up raining this night and we got a little wet and chilly on our way back from viewing. When we entered our chalet there was a lovely table set for two in our living room. Throughout the bathroom was a scattering of burning candles and flower petals on the floor. Our soaking tub was filled with a hot bubble bath with flower petals and the bath mat had I Love U spelled out in petals. It was a very romantic scene.

Our dinner was then served by a wonderful young man appropriately named Charity. He was kept up a little late the night previous herding together the Springbok and now he personally delivered each dinner course to our chalet. The dinner was devine with a terrific crawfish salad with citrus vinegarette, impala steaks, polenta, and pancotta.

The night before we arrived the Aussies had actually had a couple of wild dogs on their back deck. Their chalet was down on the edge of a clearing so it was in the right spot – most are built around rocky areas up the hill. This night I was awoken by the roaring of lions, makes me so ecstatic to be awoken by that sound. Then as I fell into a deep sleep I dreamt of our guide Gary coming around the corner of the chalet with 3 wild dogs in his arms. He crouched down and released each one of them onto our deck and I saw them run by our glass doors.

We awoke to dreary rains but I just knew there was a reward in store for us if we toughed it out (considering a canopy on the vehicle this would be nothing compared to toughing out our Botswana activities to come later). After about an hour and a half the rains ended and the sun broke through. We were rumbling down a road and there just off the road ahead was a magnificent black rhino! He was reddened from wallowing in the mud and was unusually out in the open. The black rhino (more accurately the hooked-lipped rhino) is a browser that is usually in the bushes and somewhat shy. Rhino’s have terrible eye sight making them dangerous because if they know something is there but can’t determine what it is by smell the charge is on. This rhino had trouble sniffing us and continued to approach providing an excellent observational sighting. Eventually he came close enough and determined he was not in danger and went off into the bush. We were very excited by this sighting! We then picked up lion tracks and followed the trail for a good while. They eventually led to the fence line – our first encounter seeing the fence. That was not my favorite thing to see but it quickly changed as we looked up the fence line and there was a pack of African wild dogs!! We counted 12 – one with a radio-collar. A few of the species here are very well studied but the researches do not utilize the technology to share sightings, they have to be earned like any other reserve. The dogs looked like they may go hunt as they trotted off in front of us. The behavior was fascinating to watch as some dogs would stop and bond with another by begging and possibly regurgitating some food. At one point 7 or 8 dogs were surrounding each other and appearing to eat. I pointed out this behavior and our guide said they are probably catching mice and frogs, etc. along the way – I know that was not the case. This bonding ritual is key to getting everyone excited and working as a team. We followed for a while and then the dog turned around as if they may be sensing something. A couple of dogs were right next to me where I possibly could have petted them they were so close. I heard a bird make an alarm call and the dogs all took a jump in that direction. They then trotted about 20 yards from us and were staring out into deeper vegetation. Another vehicle had arrived and was on the other side of them. I told my wife that I though the lions we were tracking were in there. Sure enough the other guide radioed over that he believed the lions were in there too. I believe the dogs figured out where they were and then moved on safely in the other direction at which time we let another vehicle take our place at the sighting. It was tremendous that we were the ones who found them so we had a nice ½ hour with them mostly by ourselves.

On just our second morning the Madikwe visit had been a big success. We had seen my favorite species to observe – the wild dog, had excellent viewing of both rhino species and I was enjoying learning more about the creation of a wildlife park. Our next lodge was also in Madikwe on the far western side of the reserve about an hour and a half drive away. I chose to visit two lodges because I wanted to see the high end luxury but I also wanted to stay at the first local community owned property in South Africa.

Next up … Buffalo Ridge, Madikwe Game Reserve.

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    Thanks so much for posting your report. I'm thoroughly enjoying it and looking forward to reading more.
    Madikwe does sound like the kind of place that I could have a love/hate relationship with - love the dogs ((&)) hate the fences. Although I should wait to hear about Buffalo Ridge before jumping the gun.
    Appreciate your making time to post;

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    PB, thanks for the fascinating look into Madikwe.

    We are going there for the first time in late May at both Madikwe Hills and CCA's Safari Lodge.

    Look forward to hearing about Buffalo Ridge.

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    Glad you could recover most of your deposits and sorry about whatever happened to upset your original plans. Coming to the rescue when things don't go as planned and providing a fix is truly the mark of a good operator.

    Consuming impala pellets for the heck of it is pretty hard core.

    The birthday dinner must have been wonderful. Petals in the bathmate. Very romantic.

    I got to the dream about the wild dogs.

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    After retiring to my own dreams, I read the rest of your great report. Your comments on animal behavior and the conservation aspects of the parks are interesting. The lion-buffalo predator-prey facts are fascinating.

    That's nice you had such a good wild dog encounter as well as the rhino.

    I'll be interested in the game viewing at Madikwe Hills vs. Buffalo Ridge.

    You've set a high bar for future Mrs. Predator birthdays.

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    Thanks for the comments everyone and the B-day wishes for Mrs. PB.

    Sorry to lose the momentum but I had to go out in the field and couldn't get to the next segment. Here we go:

    Buffalo Ridge, Madikwe Game Reserve

    We chose to stay at Buffalo Ridge because it is the first 100% community owned lodge in South Africa. The government provided the Lekgophung village with a concession within Madikwe as reparation for losing much of their land during the apartheid times. It took the community a long time to raise the funds and obtain the loans needed to build their lodge and they opened in November 2004. One of our favorite previous safari camps was Damaraland Camp in Namibia which is also a community based project. For lasting conservation I believe it is critical to provide economic benefits to local people who will then value the wild place that leads to their livelihood. Most lodges provide some benefit with jobs but when the community actually gets the profits and the higher paying management job opportunities it is the ideal situation in my mind.

    We arrived to a warm welcome and the camp immediately had a different feel, much like Damaraland Camp did. You just feel like you are a step closer to the community maybe than a typical camp. After our greeting we were shown to our chalet. The chalet was beautiful, much simpler and smaller than Madikwe Hills but yet very finely built with one spacious room with a high ceiling, a separate bathroom area and a large shower. Perched on the ridge there is a nice little porch to sit out and enjoy the view across Madikwe. One feature we really liked was the glass doors could slide open but there was a separate screen door allowing the sounds, smells, and fresh African air in but keeping the bugs out. At Madikwe Hills it was open all up or keep it closed and I don’t like to muffle the sounds in particular. Another unique touch was the chalets feature black and white photos of people in the village doing their daily activities. It was a nice way to tie in the community and gives the chalets a modern chic kind of décor. The main lodge is incredible, built in multiple tiers on the ridge giving it a tree house kind of feel – very open, scenic and well blended to the environment. The top tier has a good sized pool, the biggest of any camp I have been to. Food was exceptional, some of the best we have had in any camps.

    Game drives had a very different feel from Madikwe Hills. I think the difference came from a couple of factors – more roads had become available as the rains dried some, the west area is thicker in vegetation, and our guide had a different style. Our guide Moremi was extremely knowledgeable and had worked in the reserve for about 8 years at other camps before Buffalo Ridge opened. He listened and shared information with other guides very little preferring to pursue his own sightings. We typically saw 1 or 2 vehicles at the most on our 4 drives here. We saw many elephants and giraffes over here, much more than the east side but we had less rhino sightings. We found dog tracks but no dogs -- had we not seen them already I think Moremi would have listned for reports and driven to where ever they were found. We saw our only spotted hyena and leopard tortoise over here and saw lions on 3 out of 4 drives. The best highlights were all after dark. We observed our first brown hyena, a very secretive species. When driving back to the lodge we came around a corner and an elephant in the road decided to charge us immediately, luckily we were not too close and a quick reverse move maintained some distance but the elephant ran down the road after us for a good 30 seconds before deciding he had won and wondering off the road allowing us to make a quick pass. And the best highlight sitting in the dark with 4 male lions (2 mature and 2 immature) roaring from 10 feet away so powerfully that the sound reverberated through us – at this moment Madikwe felt every bit as wild as any reserve can. At this point we were the only two guests for the night and we were treated to another highlight, our own dinner in the very intimate boma which is only used for 4 people or less. The food was glorious and we really enjoyed the romantic experience as well as the individual attention we received.

    Currently a management company is helping the community grow into the management of the lodge. Our guide Moremi is on the Board of Directors for the community and will be one of the people taking over the management in the next few months. They are working on putting together a quality visit to the village to add a valuable cultural experience in addition to game activities. Overall I was very impressed with the quality of this lodge that costs significantly less than the high luxury lodges in Madikwe – other than no private plunge pool I think the lodge is just as wonderful as Madikwe Hills was and in some ways preferred it. I would urge people to consider community owned lodges where they exist and try it for your self.

    To wrap up Madikwe we sighted 21 species of mammals despite it being lush and thick after all the rains. I am sure dry season sightings are even much better. We had a great experience in Madikwe with good sightings and wonderful lodging. While I would not normally choose this area vs. the wide open spaces of Botswana I recommend Madikwe as a fantastic complimentary destination for those that really want to see wild dogs and rhinos and may very well miss them on a Botswana safari. It is also a perfect destination for those who have a special interest in Game Reserve management or land rehabilitation. Madikwe would be great too for those who only have a couple of days to go on safari in South Africa or those who do not want to take malaria precautions and want a ‘softer’ safari experience but still see most of the major animals.

    As we waited for our flight out two planes passed overhead then we heard one land but he was only 1/3rd of the way down the runway and not driving to the pick up spot. We went to investigate and found that before our plane could land the owner of a different camp had just landed and his tire blew out so he could not clear the runway and our plane diverted back to the east landing strip (over an hour drive away). This guy was flying in to emergency evacuate a guest that had malaria – contracted from Kruger area before coming to Madikwe. Moremi had to put a tow rope around the front wheel of the plane and drive at a snails pace while our tracker (Franco) and my wife and I had to push up on the wing of the plane to take the weight off of the flat wheel and walk it forward. This became an excruciating exercise as we probably had to cover 100 yards and of course I hadn’t done any activity in days other than push the button on my camera or lift a beverage. Eventually we cleared the runway and our plane was able to return and take us out as well as the chap suffering from malaria who looked quite miserable.

    Next Up: Joburg – Emergency iPod replacement and the Unisex bathroom

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    Brown hyenas! Wow! Do you know about their population and how they are faring at Madikwe?

    The roaring lions must have been awesome.

    Quite a tale from the runway. Looking forward ipods and loos.

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    atravelynn: Brown hyenas are one of the specialties in Madikwe so I beleive they are doing well. Our guide pointed out their sign posts a couple of times. They deposit a white mucussy substance on grass that marks their patrol area.

    It was very cool to see one -- I always love finding something that I haven't seen before, especially since it doesn't happen too often anymore.

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    Joburg – Emergency iPod replacement and the Unisex bathroom

    We were returning to Joburg for a night because a couple that we had met previously in Namibia were flying in from France to join us for the Botswana portion of our safari. They were due to arrive in the a.m. and our flight was supposed to get us in mid-afternoon. I had booked us all into Ten Bompas after reading about it on this board. The restaurant was very highly rated and we wanted to enjoy a great welcome dinner together. Well by the time we had done our runway plane removal at Madikwe and had our plane return we were at least an 1 ½ hours late landing us into big rush hour traffic from the airport to the suburb of Rosebank. Arriving around 5 would not have been a big deal but I had photo storage issues to resolve before our 7 pm dinner reservation. I had purchased a 60 GB video iPod to store my photos on. I had tried it at home and all was good but on my first download at Madikwe it crapped out on me, wouldn’t transfer the pictues and would not even play music anymore. Luckily I had just enough card space to get through Madikwe but if I didn’t get this resolved in Joburg I would be out of luck for Botswana. We checked in and greeted our friends at which point I felt terrible to say I have got to run to a photo shop. It actually proved pretty easy as I jetted to the Sandton Mall which had a couple of camera shops. After the fiasco with Apple I had decided I would grab the Epson P2000 that I should have bought in the first place – I went iPod because I wanted to get the Bose docking station and use it as a stereo as well as a plug in for my jeep but now I was too focused on photography to worry about that stuff. Problem is electronic prices in S.A. were much higher than in the U.S. They didn’t have the Epson P2000 but only an Epson P4000 which was going to be about $900 – I couldn’t do that. So I had to buy a 30 GB iPod which cost me $100 more than my 60GB cost at home. Fortunately it worked and I was able to shoot away for the rest of the trip. The sales clerk told me it had 16 hours of battery life but everytime I downloaded a card it nearly ran out (30-45 minutes). Needless to say I am very disappointed in this product and warn others don’t buy it! After getting home I heard about 2 others who have had theirs crap out in the first couple weeks. To compound matters by the time I got home it had been 40 days since my purchase and Best Buy refused to give me a store credit choosing to loose my business instead! They would send it to Apple for repair but of course I already have a very expensive replacement and I sure don’t want two of these.

    With the iPod problem solved I finally got to start catching up with our friends who had trusted to book on with me for their safari. The Ten Bompas was a funky boutique hotel. They had selected 10 well known interior designers and let each one do a room. Our room had a mural of the Joburg skyline and some funky colors, not our favorite but it was a very comfortable and well set up suite. Our friends had a wonderful wild Africa theme in theirs. Champagne was delivered to our suites and your in-room bar was complimentary – our kind of place! We went to our dinner reservation at Sides, the restaurant at the hotel which is very highly rated. Two of us loved our food (me being one) and the two ladies were not so hot on the special that they ordered which was mediocre. But the real talk centered around the Unisex bathroom which was supposed to cause some sort of shock value. You could hear people at other tables discussing it whenever someone returned and the staff would kind of look for a reaction out of the corner of their eye. I thought it a little odd that I could hear music blaring from behind a closed door when we were checking in. Ends up it was from one of the t.v.s that sit in the floor under glass in the Unisex playing music videos. It was not quite as risqué as it may sound – there are 3 stalls and they go from floor to ceiling making them as private as the loo in your house. The 3rd stall was interesting though as it was a urinal into a small ground trough with a large frosted glass wall behind it. There was a sensor beam that would activate water down the glass wall when your feet entered the beam. Of all the things people imagine you will encounter in Africa this was certainly the most bizarre and unexpected.

    Next up … Deception Valley Lodge, Kalahari Desert, Botswana

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    Thanks, great report. I am really looking forward to your next installment (Deception Valley) -- I am visiting the Kalahari (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) in June.


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    Fortunately the photo storage issue was resolved for you without loss. You are right about others having Ipod troubles, some reporting it on this Forum.

    Dumb question, but why must you download your photos to an Ipod? Why not just have an extra memory card or two? Or is the downloading to save the cost of the extra memory card(s)?

    While loos (or lack thereof) have been an issue discussed on this forum before, nothing like your post crosses my memory.

    Brown hyena at Madikwe moves it up a notch in my mental list. Of course the wild dogs are a plus.

    Looking forward to Deception Valley with great interest.

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    Hi PB,

    Sorry to hear that you had iPod problems -- I used mine without a hitch throughout my three-week trip last year, so you may have gotten a dud.

    Lynn -- for me buying a storage device rather than more cards is matter of economics. A 1GB Extreme CF card costs about $100 and only holds about 80 photos from my 20D. Given the amount that I shoot on my trips, buying a storage device for a few hundred dollars and re-using the cards makes sense. Dealing with lots of cards is also fiddly and annoying, at least for me. Super-high capacity cards can solve this problem...but have a greater tendency to become corrupted, and that's the last thing you want when a huge number of your precious photos are on them. Hence the storage device.


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    Lynn: just as Julian explains I would have needed about 7 or 8 GB in memory cards and I really didn't know for sure what I would need. Rather than guess and be limited I brought 2 memory cards and then for less than the price of just over 3 1GB cards I bought the iPod for storage that could handle 60GB which would be enough if I ever get to take a much longer trip in the future. The other nice benefit is instead of having 6 or 7 cards laying around until my next trip I can listen to music and get more use for my $.

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    My biggest trip mistake was not buying the epson. We ended up using 6.5 g of high speed cards - very costly and scary if corrupted - problem is after buying 3.5g, you feel like there's no turning back.
    Can't wait for botswana. Still enjoying!

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    I'm really enjoying your report, PB. I would love to hear the lions. I have seen quite a few but haven't heard that many.

    Too bad about the ipod. That really stinks. I am glad you found a solution (costly as it was at least you found one).

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    Now that you bring that up Bat I can envision myself putting my shoes close enough to activate the falling water -- I would prefer to remember marking my territory in the bush.

    Matt: a portable hard drive should work as well. The nice thing with the Epson and iPod devices is you can see your pictures which makes you feel safe to delete your cards.

    I'm just in from checking some raptor nests and have to write it up but hopefully I can get to the start of Botswana soon.

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    Thanks PB, for a great look into Madikwe.

    Buffalo Ridge sounds fascinating. Does anyone know of other community owned camps in Southern Africa?

    Also wondering if there are any materials on the history of safari camps and lodges, how they are set up, any as non-profits, or eco-lodges?

    BTW, we've had good experiences with iPods. Think they're amazing.

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    Sorry for the delay - it is taking me a lot of time to write once I do get to it.

    Deception Valley Lodge, Kalahari Desert, Botswana

    After flying into Maun we boarded a small plane and onto Deception Valley Lodge in the Kalahari. I was very curious to see this camp as it gets very little mention but looked wonderful to me. I love seeing a diversity of places and I am fascinated by desert ecosystems. The biggest draw though was I wanted to walk with the bushmen and learn more about this disappearing way of life.

    The big surprise was that rains had been so prevalent that there was pretty thick greenery and the huge contrast of desert wasn’t nearly as evident as I had expected. However, the feeling of being very isolated and living under the huge desert sky were very apparent. Deception Valley Lodge is on a private concession that borders the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with the famous ‘Deception Valley’ visible in the distance from the edge of the concession. There are fences surrounding the concession but there is plenty of wildlife and no other lodges and we only saw the fence once as we took in the immense view of the adjacent game reserve.

    We were fortunate to have this camp almost to ourselves. On our arrival there was only a very nice and fun loving German couple at camp and they blended well with our group of 4. My grandfather had immigrated from Germany coming over on a boat to the U.S. when he was 2 years old so I enjoyed exploring the roots of my origin a little. We bonded well and I honored the request for a farewell breakfast beer (of course this was following a 4 hour game drive so it wasn’t the start of the day). Following their departure the 4 of us had the camp to ourselves for our 2nd night.

    Lodging is in wonderful peaked roof chalets with African chic décor. The chalets are well spaced providing privacy and are very comfortable with a living room, mini-refrigerator, bedroom, clawfoot bathtub and outdoor shower. As we were being taken to our chalets I was very excited to see lion tracks all over the sand next to the plank walkway. We were told that the local lion pride (1 male, 2 females and 3 6 month old cubs) had spent the night immediately next to our chalet keeping everyone in camp awake with their tremendous roaring. Sure enough the tracks lead to our chalet and were concentrated 3 feet from our door right against our porch.

    Our hosts were Adriaan & Wanda. Adriaan was also our guide, he had been a ranger at Sabi Sabi for a number of years before they came to Deception Valley (about a year ago I believe). While I believe I am easy to guide for because I am laid back and don’t tend to make any demands I am probably much harder to impress since I am a professional wildlife biologist and with my knowledge and spotting skills it takes a very good guide to really wow me. Adriaan was exceptional, the best guide I have ever had. He had the knowledge of flora and fauna, but not just how to identify it but had the greater knowledge of the subjects and how to interpret it. He knew the birds, the sounds, and quite frankly the ways of the bushmen. He had a great respect and passion for the bushmen and for the Kalahari. Finally, he was very invested in delivering a great experience for his guests and was very concerned that the first afternoon we saw very little – the greening of the area definitely complicated viewing in this area and made it hard to track leopard. Adriaan has a great passion for leopards and surprisingly to me there are at least 5 different leopards in the concession that he knows and he is keeping records to figure out their home ranges. He told me that he feels obligated to try and show each guest either the lions or a leopard (remember this is the Kalahari, not Mombo camp) and he is very disappointed if that doesn’t happen. The wildcard here is that in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve there is tremendous cheetah viewing but even though they share a border it is currently necessary to take a long drive (couple of hours) around to access the Game Reserve. This is doable by taking a full day trip with a picnic lunch in the reserve. However, you really need a 3 night stay to be able to do this unless you don’t walk with the bushmen which would be criminal! I really wish I would have had a 3rd night to do this, however, they are trying to work with the government to put in a gate along their fence. If this happens in the future there will be direct access and it will only take like ½ an hour to be in the reserve and probably less than an hour to be in Deception Valley. If that happens this will be a great chance to see lion, leopard, and cheetah all in the desert environment.

    As we gathered for tea and our first afternoon game drive we had mini-Kudu burgers, these were outstanding! This was the first of consistently amazing food. Wanda and her kitchen turned out simply the best food I have had on safari. I have been to a couple of other camps where one or two meals are at this level but only here and at Duba Plains (Julie who was cooking there is now gone) have I so enjoyed every meal including the pre-drive food. The fact that this lodge is so isolated makes it even more impressive. They do use lots of game meats which I know some people are bothered by but to me in the land of the bushmen what could make more sense. As alluded to above our first drive was a little on the low viewing side. We did have an almost pearl-spotted owl – Adriaan heard it and saw it go after some birds but it continued on before we could locate it. There were lots of birds though on every drive, including lots of raptors which I am passionate about. Pale chanting goshawks and Gabar goshawks were common. Lilac-breasted rollers and little bee eaters were other fantastic sights. Red hartebeest, kudu, warthog and a porcupine were the mammals. Again Adriaan was very apologetic that we didn’t see more unlike some other guides that I have had in areas flush with game who act like if you saw impala the drive was great. We were an educated group and came for the Kalahari experience so our game viewing expectations were appropriate and we were not disappointed at all, very much enjoying the environment and the wonderful birds. It was great to know we had a guide that really cared though. The next morning was beautiful and we came across a dead baby warthog. It appeared perhaps a leopard had gotten a hold of it but it somehow escaped but died from injuries. I would guess that a parent may have interrupted the attack allowing the youngster to get away but it could not survive the wounds. We had tea with a wonderful view of a herd of oryx in a meadow of yellow flowers. I do not do coffee or tea and just drank water but mentioned that I like to get my caffeine from coke – the next morning without request Adriaan brought me cokes. Just another sign of what kind of guide he was, I had mentioned the same thing at Madikwe Hills and it wasn’t picked up on. I don’t fault a guide who doesn’t pick up on it as I could request they bring a coke but at camps where they don’t ask ahead of time I don’t usually remember. We then proceeded and had excellent oryx (gemsbok) viewing, the quintessential Kalahari species. They were rutting and it was interesting to see a bull herding around a female and mating with her and chasing away other males.

    We had a great leisurely afternoon at the pool with the camp now all ours. We even had a visit from a slender mongoose and a Little Sparrowhawk. This afternoon we had our walk with the bushmen. Our tracker was a bushmen named Rouse, he was very nice but quiet. For the walk he was joined by Cassie and in their traditional clothes Rouse was like an entirely different person – his personality bubbled over, he was outgoing and so enthusiastic. When booking I was concerned that the experience may be sort of contrived. I don’t like it when I go to camps where it appears the staff is made to sing welcome songs or other recreation kind of shows. This experience was phenomenal! Adriaan had told us that the bushmen working he were very proud of their culture and excited to share it. Only about 200 bushmen still try to live the lifestyle so the oldest human culture on earth may disappear in the next 15 years or so. At this camp they want to teach younger people and keep the knowledge alive even if the lifestyle is going to die. These bushmen can come and go as they please and they only work if they want to, I think about 8 guys were living at the camp and they rotate tracking and walking as they feel like it. The owner of the camp grew up somehow with the bushmen and when he first opened the camp it was all bushmen on staff and one morning they had all just left. Understanding this nomadic lifestyle these guys are only there when they choose to be. On the walk they take very slow steps that seem to take no energy, clearly conducive to long distance travel in the desert. The two of them would talk almost constantly in their click-based language. They would just stop and show you whatever they found interesting to share. We were shown lots of plants that had different uses such as the source of poison for their arrows, how to make a needle and thread, a bush that they use the berries from to make a beer. There were a couple of standard things pre-hidden so that they could easily share important secrets such as a plant that is lifted out of the ground so the root which is a bulb can be shaved and squeezed to obtain water. They showed us how they store water underground in an ostrich egg. They built a bird trap that was very effective. At the end they showed us how to make fire with sticks. Along the way we had an exciting moment when a puff adder came slithering across our path – the bushmen wanted nothing to do with it but Adriaan pinned it gently with a walking stick so we were able to see it well. After making fire we got to try out the bow and arrow. We learned many more things that I am not mentioning. Being on the ground with the direct descendants of the first humans showing us what we have forgotten over the thousands of years since we left Africa was humbling and remarkable. One of the best experiences I have ever had and I am thankful that these remaining bushmen are enthusiastic to share.

    With one drive left on our last morning it was clear that Adriaan really wanted to deliver some cats before our departure. We had heard roaring during our dinner but it was a little ways off. In the morning the spoor was there and the lions had actually crossed through camp but quietly this time. Adriaan went into tracking mode, checking each sandy road and frequently exiting the vehicle as the tracks often went in both directions. Unfortunately as we got on a good trail they were heading to a fence that they can cross under and on to another concession. As we were getting close to the boundary Mrs. PB says "stop and back up I saw a lion." We back up and there framed by tall grass is a small face of a 6 month old cub, an amazing spot by my wife. All three cubs had been stashed here in the thickets while the adults continued to hunt. This was a great way to end our time here.

    In summary this camp is a real gem – very good lodging, exceptional guiding, exceptional food, and the amazing bushmen experience all in the solitude and wilderness of the Kalahari. If they are able to get a gate right into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve the game viewing will become exceptional as well. Until that time a 3 night stay is necessary to allow for a day trip into the Reserve to maximize the experience.

    Next up...Kwando Kwara

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    PB, thanks for the great look at Deception Valley Lodge and the Kalahari!

    We enjoyed your photos so much that it is nice to now get the story behind them – your walk with the San especially. I must admit that from the photos alone I was concerned it might be a kind of tourist show, though from reading your previous posts it wouldn't be your style. Appreciated such a well written glimpse into the lives of the Rouse and Cassie of your pictures.

    We'll be in Botswana for the first time in late May and wish we could add this lodge to our plans. Perhaps next time.

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    Hello Predator,
    Many thanks for your last post. I know it's time consumming to get these reports out and appreciate such valuable info.

    I'm happy to hear that you appreciate all that Africa has to offer. It saddens me that so many go to only see the most popular wildlife and never get to see the cultural and off the beaten path offerings, as well as the smaller creatures.

    It's kind of ironic that I just started reading Cry of the Kalahari and of course, was thinking of checking the desert out if possible on my next trip. Great book btw - talk about roughing it.

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    Everyone thanks for the great comments, I really appreciate the feedback. I'm glad that I could share the magic of the Kalahari and the bushmen experience. As Sherry points out I definitely appreciate the entire Africa experience. Even though wildlife is my huge passion in life there is so much more to discover and savor in Africa.

    Matt: I did see one melanistic Gabar goshawk while in the Kalahari. I only saw it briefly perched and than it dashed. Striking bird though. Have you seen one yet?

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    Finally, back to the report...

    Kwando Kwara

    We arrived at Kwara with much anticipation. Knowing the Kwando reputation for predators I was very excited to experience their camps and this was a return for us to the Delta after our first ever safari staying at Wilderness Safari camps in January 2003. Almost every day since that trip I have thought of Botswana and that experience. I was also thrilled to introduce our friends to the heart of Botswana for the first time.

    Our tents were simple canvas, just roomy enough to be comfortable. Perched on the edge of a big wetland area the view was great and hearing hippos really made me happy. We settled in and went to the ‘hide’ – really just a big raised platform with a roof but the view was fantastic and listening to hippos and kingfishers with a gin & tonic was a great way to settle in before our first drive. We were ecstatic that with camp not full our party of 4 would have its own vehicle. For those that don’t know the Kwando vehicles only have 2 rows of 3 seats and thus when they guarantee 6 to a vehicle it is different than 6 at most other camps where there are 3 rows and thus all the middle seats are open. On my way out of Lebala at the end of the trip we actually rode with the guy in charge of training guides (Simon) and I asked him about the vehicles as I think it is the one big draw back of Kwando. He told me they like having 2 rows so everyone can hear the guide, he also said they are considering limiting the vehicles to 4 passengers which would be perfect but of course they have to figure out the cost difference and will likely adjust rates for 2007 if they go that route.

    We headed out with our guide Mdomo and tracker Duenda (I doubt these are spelled correctly) and almost immediately they picked up some cheetah tracks and said one had been spotted near the airstrip in the morning. Instant excitement as cheetah was the one major species that I had not ever seen and was what I hoped to see the most on this trip. We actively followed the trail for a while pausing to see a bull elephant along the way. Then Mdomo must have seen a leopard track crossing the road because he looked to the right and in a thick island of trees about 50 yards away he says there’s a leopard – probably the best spot I have ever seen made. We proceeded off road over to the trees and laying on a big branch is a beautiful male leopard. He is very relaxed and we are able to move to the best viewing position and have him all to ourselves for about 15 minutes before another vehicle arrives. After another 15 minutes or so the 3rd vehicle was arriving at which point the leopard turned around on the branch and came down the trunk and then slowly struted into the thick bush and we took off. The rest of the drive was general game and then after dark we found a genet that we were able to see very well and then as we neared camp we had a wonderful giant eagle owl that was perched on a low branch just off the road.

    Dinner was solid, all the meals here were good but nothing really memorable. There is a terrific fire pit surrounded by a circle of chairs to gather for drinks after dinner before retiring. With 4 in our group we always had our own table joined by our guide and one of the camp managers. We wanted to take advantage of the water experiences so we planned a schedule of activities that would include a boat trip and a mekoro outing.

    On our morning drive we had a very interesting tracking situation. We followed fresh lion spoor until we came upon an ‘invisible’ kill site. The smell of a carcass was potent and we found soil that appeared to be blood soaked but nowhere could we actually find the source. Then it got more interesting, crocodile tracks with no water in sight. The crocodile tracks and lion tracks moving together along the same path. Eventually after about ½ a mile we found a big waterhole filled from the rains and the tracks ended. The croc must have dragged this kill all the way back to the water. Following this excitement not much happened other than our first vehicle breakdown of the trip. We had to get out and push the vehicle to give it a rolling start to pop the clutch and then we were fine.

    Surviving the River of Danger

    For our afternoon activity we had a boat ride. I had seen on the website that the boat goes out on the river to a heron rookery and bee-eater colony that I was looking forward to seeing. Once we arrive there is a small boat on a small channel of water. Only then do I find out that the double-decker boat they usually do their trips on is out of commission because a hippo sunk it by putting 4 puncture holes in it a couple weeks previous. The sky had turned ominous and it appears we will be heading into the storm! The channel is fairly narrow but it is enjoyable to see the water lilies and the wetland grasses. Eventually we come around a bend where the channel widens out and there is a pod of hippos. The bull immediately comes charging at us as Mdomo guns the engine. We speed by with room to spare but there is no doubt the bull was after us. We take a break for our sundowner and the rain just starts falling, thunder and lightening near by. On go the ponchos and we start back knowing we will have to run by the hippos again. This time I know the guide will be ready so I’m not too worried but I think one of our friends was pretty nervous. I can’t help but smile as I can barely see in front of myself in the driving rain. Sure enough we fly past the hippos this time so fast there is no time to rush us, as we safely round the next bend I shout out “Gororo ka pula” (not sure of the first word anymore but I knew it at the time) which is a Tswana welcome greeting that means I arrive with the rain – this of course brought great laughter from my wife and friends who had no idea that I knew any Tswana and Mdomo and Duenda were very surprised much to their delight. We then had a pretty long drive back in the rain. I had a lot of fun with the adventure although it certainly wasn’t the boat experience that I had expected. When we arrived back at camp it was a major bummer to learn that everyone else had seen 3 cheetah brothers and had a very relaxed viewing of them and had missed the rain in doing so. At dinner I mentioned something about the mekoro ride in the morning that we had scheduled on our first night at camp. Our guide says that we are no longer going to do the mekoro because another group is doing it and that our boat ride was the equivalent anyway. This is not good – for one of our friends the mekoro ride was a key element of her wanting to come to Botswana. We also wanted to go on the mekoro since we had never tried it either, of course having missed the cheetah I could stand missing the mekoro for more of a drive. I didn’t want to make an issue of this in front of our friends who were also clients for me on this trip but knew I had to make this right. So after we returned to our tents I broke the rules and proceeded back to the main lodge area by myself. 3 impala almost walked into me but other than that no issues. The manager, Cornelius was still working the bar with a group of 6. I asked if I could pull him aside and explained that we had planned for a mekoro experience and that would have been our choice over the boat if we needed pick but we had been set up with both scheduled. I explained this was a big deal for one of my guests. He assured me we would be able to get a good quality mekoro experience and that he would straighten it out with the guides in the morning. At this point the large group from the bar was ready to retire, heading in the opposite direction from me. I assured Cornelius as a trained wildlife biologist I would be fine walking myself back and of course the group claimed they would be fine due to their large group. Wisely he decided to escort them and then said to me “I’ll see you just now” I had heard this before and was pretty sure it meant I’ll see you later as opposed to an American interpretation of “I’ll be right back to see you”. I made my way back and about 2 minutes later a hyena started whooping from very close by. The next morning I found out that Cornelius dropped those folks and was star gazing when the hyena came down the path toward him – must have passed just after I went in. He said he was very surprised and had trouble getting his light on, not that there is any worry with a hyena but I’m not sure he would have been much help with a lion. I guess there’s always the theory that I don’t have to out run the lion, just the other person, but then again I will never run with a predator around. The next morning we woke up to a strong rain – this made the mekoro issue go away because the other group did not want to go anymore. We were able to go for a couple hours of driving and then come back for an hour mekoro right out in front of the camp. We were driving when we were called for a lion sighting. On our way we spotted two lionesses before arriving for a male that had entered thick bush for a nap. The other 2 vehicles left on their way while we sat 5 feet from these bushes and could barely make out the lion in there. Of course the vehicle would not start again, but this time we could not get out as the lion was probably 8 feet away. Another vehicle had to come back and push us to give us our rolling start. This racket sent the male out of the bushes but he was very skittish. It sounds like he was trying to gain acceptance from the females and took some harassing earlier in the day. He kept moving to other bush areas not willing to be observed so we proceeded on. We headed back for the mekoro because now we could not cut the engine off. As we neared camp there was a red lechwe mother and baby. The baby quickly darted into high grass by a log and curled up motionless while the mother scattered. The guide positioned the vehicle next to the baby so we could see it laying in the grass which separated it from the mother who looked agitated. He repositioned the vehicle trying to make sure we could see the baby. Our friends in their very polite London ways were saying they don’t like this at all, upsetting the mum. The guide then was starting to do a distress whistle to call the mother at which point I had to just call him by name and tell him to move on now – which he did. The mekoro was a cool experience to really get a different view of the environment. We could hear and sometimes see hippos but we definitely kept our distance. I was glad we were able to try it out and I think it really adds to the Delta experience. I don’t think I would want to go for hours though or miss my game drives. We then had to hustle to pack up and get ready for our flight to Kwando Lebala.

    One side note: the new Kwara Island camp is being built very close to Kwara Camp. Basically just across the wetland, you could hear construction going on during the day - a 5 to 10 minute drive I would say. Thus, there will be more vehicles departing from the same general area now. The original Kwara Island site was far away -- passed it on our boat ride but the government would not give them a permit because it was too close to the National Park.

    Next up …Kwando Lebala

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    Thank you for the interesting report on Kwara.

    I was very pleased with the management and the guides at Lebala/Kwara when I was there in December 2005. The guides were just outstanding (Joe at Kwara and Steve at Lebala).

    Until now I had only mixed up feelings about Khwai river lodge and Chief's camp (last visit in June 2005).

    I am always sitting next to the driver (because of the better angle) so luckily for me the number of seats in the Kwando vehicles are not an issue for me.



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    As you all know camps change managers and guides frequently. Overall I really enjoyed our Kwara experience and I have no problem recommending it on its wildlife value and scenic location.

    Our guide was relatively new to the area and clearly the mekoro scheduling conflict was frustrating but beyond that he was a good guide, very nice man with lots of experience and good knowledge of flora and fauna. He did get a little over zealous with the baby lechwe -- unfortunately I think many guests like the in your face experience and encourage it but don't consider the stress on wildlife.

    We were very fortunate to have the vehicle to ourselves (4 people) at both Kwando camps so I didn't have any issue there but I wanted to make others aware of the situation because I think it would be horrible to pack 6 in as we saw in some other vehicles. Also, I wanted to pass along that Kwando is aware of that and considering a new approach. Vehicles limited to 4 would change this from a disadvantage to an advantage in my view. Breakdowns happen in all camps but I was a little surprised to have the same issue 2 days in a row. I think having to drive through high waters was a contributing factor.

    The camp managers were new coming from a horse back safari lodge. They were personable and I was pleased that my mekoro issue was addressed and rectified.

    I try and post the positives and negatives to give an accurate picture but I also urge that everyone remember the fluctuation in people's experiences. Kwara camp was a good experience and I would not hesitate to return but I think coming on the heels of my review of Deception Valley Lodge (one of the best experiences I have had) Kwara seems more average.

    The worst experience that I have ever had at a camp was by far and away Mombo camp so you just never know how it will shake out for sure since there is a lot of flux at these camps.

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    No I have not, but Brian at Kings Pool says they are seen relatively frequently in the Linyanti so I am hopeful.

    Agreed on Kwando vehicles.

    Sounds like your experience was similar to mine in Kwando, hmm.

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    About Kwara.......we were there in first week of December. We had relief managers Mel and Grant who were very good......they free-lance and i do know that the week after our visit they left for a short relief visit to Chitabe. So, i guess Pred had some other temp managers. The original managers for Kwara were away on an extented break.....they should have been back by now, i presume. However, for their new Little Kwara camp Mel is going to be there full time........

    Usually, Kwando's guides are mostly very good......however, there are the odd slip-ups from what i read here. Kwara itself, the tents are very average.....

    Let's all wait to hear what Pred has to say about Lebala........


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    Next up …Kwando Lebala

    Wow – sorry for the huge delay in finishing this report. Field season has begun and my free time has become very scarce.

    I had anticipated that Lebala would be the highlight of the trip so we had 3 nights for the big finale. We were greeted at the air strip by our guide Thabo (had been at Kwara until recently) and our tracker Mowetti. We had the relief team in as camp managers, 2 very friendly women, Lebo and Thepo (who typically works in the home office in Maun). The Lebala tent was much larger than Kwara’s and more luxuriously appointed as well.

    Camp was almost filled up but we were very fortunate to still get a vehicle for just the 4 of us while the other two camp vehicles were stuffed with 6 guests each. Unfortunately rain would have a large impact here as we would spend as at least half our time in rain ponchos over our 6 drives. The highlight of the first drive was our quick spotting of dung beetles deconstructing elephant droppings. It was fascinating to see over one hundred dung beetles attacking these mounds and escaping to trot off with their ever growing balls of dung. Definitely worth stopping and getting out for. We saw some typical plains game but did not have a very fruitful drive. In the dark on the way back we did have a tremendous highlight. All of a sudden Mowetti shined the light over our shoulders behind the vehicle and I turned to discover a pearl-spotted owl only about 5 feet behind us on a low perch. The sighting was brief and would be the best highlight that was not captured by camera. I have done work with an owl in the United States (northern pygmy owl) that is in the same family and is virtually a clone to the pearl-spotted so I really enjoyed it. We also spotted the nightly hyena who would be found near our arrival to camp each evening.

    The next morning began the water torture, no big deal at first but would become quite tiresome. We woke up to a steady rain. Following coffee we hit the road and were soon notified of male lions near Lagoon Camp. We drove on for a little more than an hour, raining all the way, to reach the 2 male lions in vicinity of Lagoon Camp. These two were sacked out in tall grass just off the road. These chaps were also very not pleased with the rain and with the wet grass it was clear that they did not want to move at all. Our presence was barely acknowledged as we parked on one side of them. After 10 minutes or so we repositioned to the other side of them. Then something unusual happened. Supposedly the lions always know where you are even when they seem to be dead asleep – well this was not the case this time. After another 10 or 15 minutes it appeared that no action would be seen today, all of a sudden one big boy raised his head and when he saw me staring at him from 5 feet away his eyes grew to the size of dinner plates and he sprung to his feet, turned instantaneously and quickly was joined by his shocked brother as they ran like their lives depended on it. I could see the look of surprise and fear in this startled king and I imagine I looked quite shocked as well. It was truly a fight or flight moment and I’m glad these boys realized they had space to escape in the other direction rather than spring at the danger hovering just above them. Our guide and tracker admitted they had never seen such a response. As they distanced themselves it became clear that one of the lions had a pronounced limp with an injury to a hind leg. They likely endured quite a battle during the night and through injury and exhaustion were not as aware as they typically would be and were certainly not relaxed as one would expect sleeping lions to be. I took it as a great reminder that even when you think you know a species or even know individuals that just like us they can be under stresses that cause changes in moods and behaviors from what you have come to expect. We watched from a greater distance as they licked each others wounds and decided to move on and give them the space they needed to cement their bond and overcome whatever hardships had occurred. We were on the long drive back in the rain when Mowetti tapped the hood with his hand and pointed to turn around and head into the grass. He tracked the spoor of lionesses through the grass and then moved to the front seat. About 3 minutes later we found 6 lionesses traveling through the grass. This was going to have to last us because our next 2 drives would include more soaking rains and little excitement on the wildlife front.

    Our next two drives brought very little in the way of mammals. With all the rain they were not to be found with the exception of one breeding herd of elephants we saw almost no mammals. I definitely took the time to notice every bird, which was great for developing my id skills but even the birds were reluctant to move around much in the rains. At this point virtually all of our clothes are wet or at least damp and nothing in the tent will dry including our towels. Laundry service is no help because they cannot wash and dry clothes either. The rain also lead to a miniature ant invasion, luckily they kept mostly to the edges of the tent due to spraying a boundary. A trip to the camp store to buy a fleece (I love calling it a jumper as my Londoner friends did) was a rejuvenating purchase as I had one clean, dry element of clothing to cling to. To be honest as a field biologist I am not a stranger to inclement weather and my wife use to lead canoe trips in Florida and also copes pretty well so despite the disappointment of reduced wildlife sightings we were managing fairly well. However, I was feeling terrible for our friends/clients who trusted me to lead them on this adventure. They had been to the Sabi Sands on their first safari where they saw the animals line up and report for sightings so I knew they had to be a little disappointed. True to the British stereotype they never complain or moan about anything, which is great but made it so I wouldn’t know if they were struggling at all. On top of it I had been vomiting for a day and half now – not sure why and I tried to conceal that I wasn’t feeling well but they knew as my beers had turned to ginger ales at least half the time. As we gathered for lunch which I did not eat the sun came out! Throwing around my knowledge I went out on the limb and ensured our party that we had seen absolutely nothing because all the animals had just shut down with the rains but now they were going to be very hungry and grumpy and there was going to be big action for the next 24 hours – our last 2 drives of the trip. Then I had to go be sick and try and take my first nap of the trip.

    A couple of hours later pre-drive tea time comes and the sun is still out. I make a change to bring us new karma – no Windhoek Lager for me, I crack open a cold Castle instead. Thabo notices the change and I let him know its game on now. Right away wildebeest then a large herd of giraffe. Clearly the animals are back out, now would I be right in my prediction of it being action time. We spot vultures soaring into an area, as we investigate in the distance there is a tree covered in vultures – a sure sign that a kill is nearby. We drive around a little and then my arm shoots out with a point to lionesses on a kill. We approach to find 4 lionesses devouring a recently killed wildebeest. We are the only rover at the kill for a good 30 minutes parked only about 20 feet away watching the feast. We observe the banquet until it is time to adjourn for our sundowners, the last of the trip. We have a beautiful spot by a pond with its resident hippo and the final sunset is brilliant. We are all ecstatic to have seen such a sight and to be free of rain ponchos.

    Dinner evolves into a birthday celebration for one of the guests in camp with a surprise serenade from the camp women. This is followed by more songs and dancing with all the staff getting involved. A true joy filled the dining area and carried over to the bar for a final night cap.

    There is no doubt as to the mission of our last drive. We want cheetah – I have yet to see one in the wild and it has moved to the number 1 position for all four of us. We had missed the 3 brothers seen by all at Kwara while we were boating so maybe it is just not meant to be. Thabo warns us that the cheetah move throughout a huge area and that they may not be anywhere near Lebala – he suggests that we return to the lion kill and see what’s going on there. Without hesitation we all agree that we have had great lion viewing already and that we would rather check the best habitat for cheetah and see if we can find them or not. I’m still feeling confident that there is a lot of action going on following the rain lock down and the lion kill can’t be the only show in town. We begin cruising excellent plains habitat in our cheetah quest. About an hour in we come across 3 hyenas moving deliberately in a loosely spaced single file line. They are clearly sniffing the air and seem to be moving toward a goal of their own. My instinct is to follow the hyena – if there is a kill to be found they probably will find it easier than we will. I am about to request that we follow them since I personally would be very interested in observing hyena plus I think they will lead to something else but I decide to leave it in the guides hands. After a brief observation we proceed on, clearly the plan is to cover as much of the lebala (open plains) as possible to maximize the opportunity to spot cheetah. We drive and drive covering a lot of ground – ostrich, waterbuck, impala, wildebeest, the plains are active but no cheetah. It seems it will not be as the morning is getting late and we have done a full circle around the habitat and we are starting to move into the wooded edge. Then to the left at the same time one of our friends and I both spy the slinky shape of a cat and can’t believe it that it is actually a cheetah! It walks into the grass and lays down with his brother. This is the surviving two Savuti brothers (for many years there were 3 of them) who patrol the large area through numerous concessions. I had seen many pictures of them when I stayed at Duma Tau on my first safari 3 years prior. We watched them as they decided to go for a stroll, bellies bursting it was clear that they had eaten recently. It was then that I realized the hyena we spotted had been heading in this direction and I surmised that they probably marched straight on to the cheetah kill. It had taken us too long to find them to see the feast and possibly interaction with hyenas but as these two strutted by a large waterhole with the blue shimmering behind them I felt like I had never seen more beautiful animals in my life. I had seen them at the zoo and in films and knew they were stunning but here in wild Botswana in my presence I felt completely awestruck by their incomprehensible beauty. Perhaps my long desire to see them added to the effect but as someone who lives in fascination of virtually all wildlife and has dedicated my career to wildlife I have been blessed with many more amazing sightings than most people will ever experience so I was quite surprised at how powerful the feeling was to see these magnificent cheetah. It was thrilling as we observed them stare down a wildebeest bull who stomped the ground repeatedly and snorted at them. They then proceeded to a dead tree where they have a scent post. To see them sniff at it learning all kinds of information that we cannot decipher and then mark it first with cheek glands and then with the cat spray one after the other was a huge highlight for me getting to observe these classic behaviors. They then proceeded to a small impression holding a deep puddle where they drank. As they moved on one of the other vehicles finally arrived (we had a long viewing all to ourselves) and our vehicle began to malfunction – it could only turn in one direction without stalling. We left the cheetah and returned to the road where we stopped to sort out our broken vehicle. It turns out we were only about a half mile back to camp and our vehicle managed to slug it out the rest of the way. This was the kind of big finish that left everyone smiling ear to ear and feeling satisfied enough to leave Botswana without totally tearing up.

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    Thanks to all of you for your kind words and for taking the time to follow my experience through the lengthy report. I kind of killed the momentum with the long delay but hope it will be a good resource for others, and of course it is delightful to share with those who understand the passion.

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    It was cool to look at your photos first then read your trip report. It was fantastic, thanks for a terrific report. You really had your work cut out for you pushing and pulling planes and broken down vehicles! I love the fact that Mrs PB spotted the lion cubs...way to go Mrs PB!

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    Thank you for posting details of your trip. I have really enjoyed reading about your adventures.

    I have been very lucky in that i have been able to visit a number of countries on safari but always return to the open spaces of Botswana and the feeling of wilderness!

    I was very interested in your review as I have previously been to Madikwe although i stayed at Mosetlha which is very basic (no luxury's here) but highly recommended and agree that the game viewing was well organised in that they restrict the numbers of vehicles but it did feel a bit like a safari park.

    I was especially interested as i will be visiting DVL and the three Kwando camps in a fortnight - very excited!!

    Does anyone know if DVL have managed to build a gate in the fence?

    I was also wondering if anyone knows which horse back camp the mangers refered to at Kwara came from and are they still there? As you called him Cornelieus could it be Corn`e?

    Thanks again i'm now really looking forward to our time with the San.

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    timsp: I'm glad you found and enjoyed the report.

    The last I know of (about 6 months ago) DVL had not received permission yet to put in an access gate but it would be great if you would ask when there and give an update.

    Walking with the bushmen remains at the top of my Africa travel experiences, I am sure you will be touched to rediscover the things forgotten since your ancestors left Africa.

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