Moses, owner of Unlimited Safaris, guide, tracker, spotter extraordinaire picked us up and drove us to Nxai Pan National Park. This park is on the migration route but due to the drought its waterholes are drying up. The park does maintain an artificial waterhole, but as we arrived at the first park gate, park service employees had no water.
Moses and his safari vehicle will be with us the rest of our time in Botswana. As soon as we got into the park, we saw giraffes, elephants, zebras. In the safari vehicle we had a completely different relationship with the animals. Back in Okavango Delta, Demara told us that his community only does walking game drives and that vehicle game drives are not allowed. He explained that when the animals are habituated to vehicles, walkers are seen as prey. Being in this vehicle, I now understand the rationale. We are not allowed to stand or get out of the vehicle if animals are nearby so that the shape of the vehicle does not change, and there is no separation between vehicle and occupants. Sitting in the vehicle, we were invisible.
The elephants that migrate to Nxai Pan become “white” elephants because of the mineral content of the mud. Elephants cover themselves with mud as a sunscreen and also a way to stay cooler. The zebras always look a little disgusted when the elephants show up to muddy the water.
Just before sunset, we came upon our first lions. We saw a lioness with two cubs about eight months old. At a little distance a male lion napped in the shade. It was nap time for all so since they were not in the mood to be active, we moved on to discover 9 more lions. This time they were all sub-adults maybe 16 or so months old. They were lying in the shade that stretched across the road. It felt so strange to be within six feet of all these lions relaxing and ignoring us.
Arriving at the new campsite we were impressed by our accommodations. Our tent was nestled in the trees and it had a very large ground cloth leading up to the tent opening. A mirror was hanging on each of the two poles that held up the rain/sun flap awning, and there was a canvas basin of warm water for freshening up. Inside we had actual beds with mattresses made up with sheets and comforters. Exiting the rear flap we found a toilet and a shower within a canvas-walled area at the rear of the tent. No more walking through bushes to get to the toilet in the middle of the night; however, I did sweep the area with my flashlight before I stepped out of the tent.
The next morning we went in search of the lions. There are 19 lions in the pride that currently resides in Nxai Pan. First we found the mother and the two young cubs (a male and a female) relaxing with a new lioness. The cubs played a little but the two lionesses were as lazy as my house cat.
Moving on to one of the waterholes, we found huge numbers of zebras coming in for a morning drink. One of the baby zebras had a nasty slash on its right rear haunch from a close encounter with the lion pride. Despite evidence of the night’s mayhem, many of the zebras were frisking around chasing each other and playing. They were probably relieved to see the sunrise and still be alive. Moses says the nighttime belongs to the predators and the daytime to the herbivores.
A little later Moses caught sight of ten black-backed jackals that led us to two male lions who were devouring a zebra that hadn’t been so lucky during the night. Tiring of circling the lions waiting for them to leave the kill, one of the jackals looking very much like a domesticated dog, laid down in the shade of a termite mound right next to our safari vehicle.
Late morning, Moses took us to see the Baines Baobabs (named after a 19th century artist who painted them) located about an hour away from Nxai Pan. Along the way, the landscape changed and became more of a grassland. The places where there should have been water were bone dry and white with salt and other minerals. Along the way we passed a group of 30 or so giraffes walking along the dry pan. At the baobabs we crossed another large, but dry pan covered with tire tracks and animal prints from when it still had moisture. We saw an oryx, ostriches, and a few elephants along the way.
The age of the baobabs is unknown but estimated to be at least 3,000 years old. There are seven trees and they are huge. I took a photo of Dan standing in front of one of them; he is ant-sized in comparison. The baobab trunk looks like the feet of elephants where it touches the ground.
Clouds crowded the horizon, but no rain came our way.
Back in Nxai Pan for a late afternoon game drive, we found four sub-adult lions at one of the small waterholes. It was obvious from their bloated stomachs that they had eaten well. They were alternately panting, resting, drinking and keeping the zebras away from their drink.
All the zebras except one stayed a safe distance away. This brave scout got as far as the road's edge and stopped to assess the danger. One of the lions crept toward the zebra and the road’s edge. After some hesitation on the zebra’s part, it turned and ran back to his herd. Eventually the lions left stopping every few feet to pant and rest. The zebras never did cross the road to get to the waterhole.
Watching the lion-zebra standoff and the dithering giraffes, time got away from us. In the National Parks, everyone must be out of the park by 7:00 pm. We were barely going to make that deadline, but stopped anyway to take a photo of the sun as it set behind a baobab tree.
Our last morning in Nxai Pan Moses once again found lions. We saw these lions on prior days, but in total we managed to see all 19 individuals in this pride.
We watched the elephants cover themselves with mud and pollute the waterhole driving the zebras out.
Our next stop is Moremi Game Reserve National Park a several hours drive west and north.