Day 2 in Botswana – August 11, 2017

Today, we began to explore the Xakanaxa area of Moremi Game Reserve in the famous Okavango Delta, in the northwest area of Botswana. The Xakanaxa Lagoon is where the desert meets the delta, where waterways are surrounded by dense mopane forest and make for an excellent birding location.

Mopane (pronounced Mo-pa-ni), is the dominant tree in the wooded areas, in dense stands that provides a safe refuge for rare, timid, large antelopes, especially Greater Kudu. We encountered every type of mopane habitat – the towering cathedral woodlands called Xakanaxa (pronounced Ka-kana-ka), the classic climax mopane woodland and, in the drier and harsher habitats, extensive stretches of scrub mopane. Rainfall from the Angola highlands surges 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) into the Okavango Delta, creating a unique wetland that supports and sustains a huge diversity of wildlife.

Moremi lies on the eastern extremity of the Okavango Delta and has many types of habitats, including wide-open floodplains, marshes, ox-bow lakes, riverine forest, lagoons, papyrus-fringed channels, vast reed-beds of Miscanthus and Phragmites, woodlands, and savannah. The variety of habitats of the Okavango makes it a truly wonderful area, and all the major habitats and ecotones of the Okavango are preserved here. As a result of the extreme variation of habitats, the diversity of both mammals and birds is excellent. Moremi is among the best game reserves in Africa for viewing the endangered African Wild Dog, especially around Xakanaxa, which is also home to a large herds of African (Cape) Buffalo. The African Wild Dog’s range covers the territories of at least four prides of Lion, which we may see flanking the ever-moving herd of buffalo. Breeding herds of African Elephant move between their browsing areas in the mopane forests and the fresh water of the Okavango. Red Lechwe, one of the more unusual antelope species, is commonly found here.

On safari in Botswana, the best action and beautiful light is early in the morning and late in the afternoon until dusk. After morning game drives, we enjoyed camp-cooked lunch followed by a break. Then we went on an afternoon game drive to be in the field for the best light, as well as for the magic hour of dusk to dark when nocturnal animals become active.

One of the animals we saw was a herd of Kudu, a species of spiral-horned antelope. The kudu is one of the stateliest animals in Africa and in particular the male with its long spiral horns. Kudu can weigh as much as 420 to 600 pounds, and be as tall as 55″ at the shoulder.  See the photograph below.

2017_August _0224.jpgWe also saw a herd of Steenbok, a common antelope found in southern and western Africa. Steenbok are petite antelope. See the photograph below.

2017_August _0447.jpgAnd, at dusk, we saw a hippopotamus grazing on land. The common hippopotamus, or hippo, is a large, mostly herbivorous, semiaquatic mammal. The hippopotamus is considered to be very aggressive and has frequently been reported as charging and attacking boats. See the photograph below.

2017_August _0543.jpgElephants are commonly encountered in Botswana and Zambia. Botswana banned commercial game hunting in 2013. However, one of the long-term impacts of elephant poaching has been elephants being born tukless. In some areas 98% of female elephants now have no tusks, compared to between 2% to 6% born tuskless on average in the past. A photograph of an elephant we saw on this day is presented below.

2017_August _0644.jpgWe also saw zebras. In Botswana only the Burchell’s zebra occurs. The zebra is the national animal of Botswana. Zebra are generally migratory animals and in Botswana there are two annual migrations. The zebra of Botswana have a shadow brown stripe in the white stripe. This distinguishes them from the zebra of east Africa that do not have the shadow stripe. See the photograph below.

2017_August _9660.jpgAnd then we saw wildebeests, also called gnus. Wildebeest often in graze in mixed herds with zebras, which gives heightened awareness of potential predators. We observed a wildebeest grazing with a herd of zebras. There was a time when 500,000 wildebeest moved across the sands of the Kalahari in Botswana to graze on the nutritious grasses in the valleys of the Central Kalahari. This migration was second in sheer numbers only to the Great Migration of the Serengeti Ecosystem in East Africa. However, the wildebeest population of Botswana has dropped by more than 90% in the past twenty years. This results from an agreement with the European Union to buy Botswana’s beef on condition that the country controlled the movement of wildlife into the domestic herds’ ranges in an attempt to stem foot and mouth disease. What the government did was to erect a series of fences across Botswana. These were generally done without thought for the wildlife, such as the wildebeest. The fences have prevented the migration between the wetlands of the north and the dry central Kalahari after good rains when the Kalahari was lush and watered. A photograph of a wildebeests are presented below.

2017_August _9811.jpg And then we saw a herd of impalas. For predators, impalas are the McDonalds of the Serengeti – everybody eats there. In fact, on the previous day, we saw a partially eaten impala in a tree. The impala is the most widespread antelope in northern Botswana and, due to its abundance, this elegantly beautiful antelope is generally overlooked by visitors on safari – except when it is hanging in a tree or being eaten or chased.A photograph of the herd is presented below.

2017_August _9941.jpgAnd finally, the roads in Botswana are, in some instance, not meant for the faint of heart. Few of the roads (25%) are paved. You will need a 4 x 4 to travel in the national parks. The roads can be little more than soft sand, and without a suitable vehicle, that’s where you’ll stay. The photograph below indicates some of the problems we encountered in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

2017_August _9995.jpg

Day 1 in Botswana – August 2017

I left for my trip to Botswana (and Zambia) on August 6, 2017 and did not arrive at the mobile tented camp in More, Botswana until August 10, 2017. I flew from Seattle to Amsterdam, Holland; Amsterdam to Johannesburg, South Africa; Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana; and Maun to the the Xakanaxa airstrip (a dirt airstrip) in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.  I had overnight stays at Amsterdam and at Johannesburg.

Moremi Game Reserve is located in northern Botswana. The reserve was the first in Botswana to be declared as a reserve by a local tribe, in this case the BaTawana tribe. In 1963, the widow of Chief Moremi III set this land aside.  The area was later enlarged to encompass a greater portion of the Okavango Delta.  The Reserve occupies around 1,850 square miles. The habitats within the Reserve range from semi-arid mopane scrub (a locally abundant tree species), and wetter areas with mixed woodland, tall mopane woodland (also known as cathedral mopane), mixed woodland, riparian woodland and large grassland areas. The Reserve includes a dry peninsula; however, 70% consists of the Okavango Delta.

In the first three nights at the Moremi Game Reserve, I stayed at a mobile tented camp – Camp Moremi. Camp Moremi was a  rustic,  mobile tented camp (nothing permanent), with each tent providing an “en-suite bathroom” (no ceiling and open to the sky), cots, and a shower that consisted of an overhead bucket. In the morning and the afternoon, went on game drives conducted in open 4×4 safari vehicles.

After I arrived at Camp Moremi in the afternoon of August 10, we immediately left for a game drive in the Moremi Game Reserve. On our first game drive, we saw baboons, red lechwe (a medium-sized antelope), giraffes (the world’s tallest mammal), hippopotamuses, a leopard, wild dogs, and lions.  On this first game drive, I took 1,883 photographs.

One of the more interesting observations was a leopard, resting after an impala kill, at the bottom of a tree, after consuming some of the impala. The impala itself was resting on a branch in a tree besides the leopard. You can see the photograph of the leopard below. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 320, f11, and 1/60 second. The leopard did not move for a long period of time.

2017_August _6751.jpg

After we left the leopard, we encountered a pack of wild dogs that were on the hunt. You can see the photograph of part of the pack below. The wild dog on the right was wearing a tracking collar. Wild dogs have been identified as an endangered species, with the current population  estimated at roughly 6,600 adults. The African wild dog has strong social bonds, stronger than those of lions and hyenas. The African wild dog lives in permanent packs consisting of 2 to 27 adults and yearling pups. The average pack size in  in Moremi Game Reserve contains an average of 8 to 9. The species differs from most others in that males remain in the natal pack, while females disperse. The African wild dog approaches prey silently then chases the prey in a pursuit clocking at up to 41 mph for 10 to 60 minutes. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f11, and 1/500 second.

2017_August _7530.jpg

We then encountered a group of female waterbucks. The waterbuck was described by Earnest Hemingway as ‘no more ruggedly handsome animal in all of Africa‘, and with its long forward-sweeping horns and large size (in males). These waterbucks were alert for carnivores, probably the wild dogs. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 160, f5.6, and 1/125 second.

2017_August _7126.jpg

We then drove to the rural airstrip, and encountered lions mating on the airstrip. The lions were oblivious to us and to a plane that attempted to land. The plan had to abort the landing, circle around, “buzz” the lions on approach, and then circle around and land. Within a pride of lions, the territorial males are the fathers of all the cubs. When a lioness is in heat, a male will join her, staying with her constantly. The pair usually mates for less than a minute, but it does so about every 15 to 30 minutes over a period of four to five days. Lionesses have a gestation period of three and a half months. Lions live up to about 18 years old in the wild. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f11, and 1/400 second.

2017_August _7806.jpg

I took this second photograph of the lions with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f11, and 1/250 second.

2017_August _7937

I took this third photograph of the lions with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f14, and 1/3200 second.

2017_August _8533And that was the afternoon.