Saturday, February 27, 2016

Khwai Community Campsite, Botswana: February 23-26, 2016

The Khwai Community owns and manages a huge parcel of land between Moremi and Chobe National Parks. It is really just across the river from Moremi, but it took seven hours by road to arrive at the Khwai Community Campsite.

On the drive, we had some rain, but when the rain stopped we had a much more comfortable day with less humidity. We saw a large water monitor lizard and one of the many animals of my nightmares--a huge crocodile. This 12-feet long croc was sunning him/herself under a tree next to the river. It had its mouth open to expel heat from his/her body.

In the late afternoon, we saw a young elephant (dark gray from recently taking a bath) that kept annoying other herd members. He went from one to another pestering each one to fight or play with him. Eventually, the matriarch stepped in and gave him a shove. He squealed like a spoiled child and ran away to pout at a some distance from the herd.

Our camp is once again very secluded with a large grassy expanse behind the tents. Because this is a privately held concession, we can do night drives with spotlights to locate nocturnal animals. With the aid of the spotlight, we saw a Serval (the largest of the African Wildcats), a huge python, a giant eagle owl, a Spring Hare (a rodent that looks like a small kangaroo), and an African Wildcat which looked very much like a domestic cat with rings on its tail.

Our first night at the Khwai campsite just as we were getting into bed, we heard a small stampede behind the tent because a male lion was chasing a hyena. The hyena escaped and the lion sat in the middle of the grassy field behind our tents and roared his displeasure for about two hours. Eventually, he was joined by another male lion and they both sauntered away. If that wasn't enough to ruin my sleep, a few hours later I was awakened by repeated shrieking that I couldn't identify. Turns out it was hyenas shrieking around our campsite cooking area. That event was followed by elephants grazing around our tent. I was the only one who had a sleepless night.

The hyena-lion event was the second in a series of recent lion-hyena encounters. The day we arrived in Khwai, a group of hyenas had neutralized a male lion that had been skulking around their den area. The hyenas had had enough of the lion bothering them, and as a group, they attacked and killed him. Last night's lion-hyena incident was the lions' unsuccessful attempt at revenge. A couple of days later we happened across the dead lion still laying next to the hyena den complex. The lion's corpse was still intact. Even the vultures had not begun to feed on him. It was as if the hyenas had left the lion there as a warning like a trophy head on a pole.

In the daytime while searching for large predators we were lucky enough to spot several Steenbok. Steenboks are about 20 inches/50cm tall and 24 pounds/11kg at maturity. They look like they were created by Disney with beautiful, long eyelashes, large eyes, a cute nose. Steenboks are monogamous. To escape from predators, they can disguise themselves by curling their bodies into a rounded rock shape. In this rock disguise, one ear will wave back and forth mimicking a leaf. To avoid a chasing predator, it will jump into a small hole to escape. Like a cat, Steenboks cover their excrement to hide their presence. 

One afternoon, we sat and watched a huge group of female impalas running, running, running in circles. At the height of their leap, they do a dive-like move with their little white tails held high like flags as they return to the ground. This move is called "stouting," and they look like they are doing it for the joy of moving.

Each day we have been searching for predators: wild dogs, leopards, lions. We hear their calls at night, but haven't had much luck during the day searches until Moses spotted two female lions lying under a bush in the shade. They were so camouflaged, it is amazing that he was able to spot them. They were more interested in napping so about 4pm we returned to the area to look again for them. 

We did find them. First we saw one female walking across our path. She was muddy and had some blood around her mouth. Then, we found the other female happily feeding upon a freshly killed male warthog. Moses said the two lionesses had probably captured the warthog in a nearby pool of water and held it under to drown it. We watched the second lioness languorously remove and consume the intestines and other internal organs. She concentrated on her dinner and ignored our presence. We were less of a bother to her than the flies circling around her.

Some of the more serene sights were:
Goliath Heron at Sunrise
Flame Lily
Banded Mongoose
Bath time for some Elephants
Family group of Waterbuck

Next stop is Savuti National Park.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Moremi Game Reserve National Park, Botswana: Feb 20-23, 2016

Almost as soon as we reached the park’s boundary, we began to see mud-covered elephants, giraffes, and a leopard. The leopard is one of the “big 5” game animals sought after by hunters and photographers. Now we've seen 4 of the 5: elephants, buffalo, lions, and a leopard. The leopard was under a bush right next to the road. He was hot and panting in the shade of the bush. Just above him, he had stored his recent kill of a male warthog. Leopards are built with short powerful legs that help pull up and stash their kill in trees to protect it from other predators. This leopard had a radio collar on its neck. Again, I am amazed that we could sit (in the safari truck) just six feet from this animal and be ignored.

Just a short distance from the leopard, elephants were covering themselves with mud and applying a powder of dirt for good measure.

So far, each park has been significantly different that the one before. While Nxai Pan is a dry, flat Kalahari landscape, Moremi has thick woods and grassy marshes.

Through the gate and further into the park we saw lots of buffalo. Buffalo have a fly entourage that follows along and lingers after the buffalo have passed. That is the one annoying discomfort of being in the presence of a herd of water buffalo. We were so close that I could take portraits of their unique faces and expressions.

And, we saw elephants—a female herd with lots of babies. In Nxai Pan we only saw single or groups of bulls.

February 21, 2016: At sunrise, we were already in the truck hunting animals.

Wildebeest (gnu)

Saddle-billed Stork
Wattled Crane (Endangered)
Moses spotted a couple of warthogs with tails in the air running through a grassy meadow. Then, he spotted the three lionesses hiding in the same grassy meadow.

These lionesses looked like they have had a very hard life. One was old and thin and their ears were torn from too many fights. The warthogs hid in the bushes and eventually made a safe escape.

A little more exploring and we came upon a magnificent mixed herd of 400-500 elephants that worked their way across our path.

In the afternoon, we saw more elephants and met the hippo's challenge.

We ended the day with a rarely-sighted caracal. He or she was laying in the road. It allowed us to quickly take a few photos and then it sauntered off the road and lay down in the nearby tall grass. Amazing luck!

February 22, 2016: A thunderstorm struck last night dumping lots of rain. After breakfast, we suited up with fleece lined rain ponchos and hit the road again. Hyenas were calling last night and as we left the campsite, a hyena loped across our path. Then we ran into two hyenas resting nearby. Hyenas usually look quite ugly, but one of these hyenas put up his head to take a look and then, looking quite cherub like, went back to resting.

It began to rain harder, but the animals didn't seem to mind the rain and we saw animals that we hadn't yet encountered.
Red Letchwe and also maybe Sitagunga
Female Reedbucks
Tsessebe and her baby
We watched a group of giraffes blocked by a family of warthogs. The warthogs stood their ground against the giraffes. Each giraffe slowly considered the warthogs and then quickly ran a wide arc around them. On the other side, the giraffes who had made it past the scary warthogs looked back at their remaining family member who never got up the courage to walk or run past the warthogs.

After dinner, we listened to all the voices of the night: hippo, elephant, hyenas, and leopard calls. Hearing a leopard call didn't help my sleep. We are camped at the second-bridge campsite which has a tree that Moses calls the second-bridge leopard tree for obvious reasons. It is a perfect leopard tree and we are camped next to it.

February 23, 2016: This morning we woke to the mellow sounds of the Ground Hornbill. Their song sounds like four or five notes created from plucking the strings of a cello. The Ground Hornbill is a threatened species.

We packed our stuff and began the 7-hour drive to Khwai Community Concession (another community managed game reserve). Along the way we saw Vervet monkeys sometimes called "blue" monkeys because of the color of their testicles.

Vervet Monkey 
Waterbucks with their circle of white on their butts. This is not a target but a "follow me" marking for the herd.
A young male Kudu

We had almost reached Moremi's North exit gate when we were stopped by two adorable young female warthogs snuggling in the middle of the road. They were so sweet to watch. How could a huge giraffe be afraid of these small creatures?