Botswana Photography Tours & Safaris – March and April 2015: (Two safaris included)
My recent Botswana photography tours were some of the best wildlife viewing/photography events of my 20 years visiting this amazing country! The combination of lodges/concessions provide the perfect mix of wildlife, habitat, and lodging.
Our first location is situated on the far south eastern edge of the famed Okavango Delta. With a large percentage of the concession having higher ground, which provides drier habitat for larger trees to grow, this is our “Leopard Spot”! In fact, our first day in Chitabe provided us with a large pack of Wild Hunting Dogs, Lions, and the elusive Leopard. And, all this was before lunch — needless to say, a very nice way to start out our Botswana photo tour and safaris trip!
Back to Leopards — we had a multitude of different Leopards in our time here, including Leopards in trees, mating Leopards, mother with large cubs at a kill, and possibly my favorite sighting, a huge male leopard feeding on a Zebra. One rarely sees this combination of spots and stripes together because the large powerful Zebra rarely falls prey to the solitary Leopard. This was a case where the Zebra actually died while giving birth and the Leopard was purely in the right spot, and the right time. Other large cats kept us busy at Chitabe as well, including the resident pride of Lions and a single Cheetah.
Several of our drives were spent watching and following the always interesting Wild Hunting Dogs. These wide ranging endangered carnivores are to me some of the most exciting animals to watch on a hunt. After rising from their mid-day nap and performing their highly energetic social greetings, the entire pack trots off through the vegetation in search of anything small enough for them to take down. Their main prey tends to be Impala or young Kudu — Trying to stay one step ahead of the dogs on a hunt is what separates a great guide/driver from the ordinary! — Some of my most exciting experiences in Africa have been following these “painted wolves.” On one of our “dog” drives, the pack of 18 Wild Hunting Dogs wandered onto the bush airstrip where a small plane was parked. The dogs had obviously not seen that many parked airplanes by the way they cautiously approached this strange beast! At one point, one of the pups from last season (10 months old), crept up to the plane and pulled a red flag from the wing; puppies will always be puppies! Another Canid that we spent time with was the larger and more powerful Hyena. Often despised for their scavenging lifestyle, these capable hunters are also wonderful parents. We were fortunate to see the softer side of this carnivore when a mother with three pups trotted out from their den and proceed to nurse right in front of us! This was really special. I always love it when my clients get to see the “whole picture” when it comes to animals and wildlife. All animals have a purpose and a reason for being; why does our affection only go to the cute or majestic? Go Wild Dogs and Hyena!
Of course, we also spent a great deal of time with wonderful Elephants, Giraffe, Zebra, Warthogs, and a variety of Antelopes. Birds — what about birds? If people are not really “into” birds when they come on our Toft Photo Botswana photography tours and safaris, by the end of the trip they can easily point out the spectacular Lilac breasted Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Saddle-billed Stork, Wattled Crane, African Fish Eagle, Ostrich, several Bee-eaters, and the list continues. It’s hard not to get excited for African birds! Snake lovers? I was able to play with a nice big Rock Python and this always makes me very happy!
This concession in situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The experience here at Vumbura is classic “Delta” with water covering a good chunk of the concession. You might be thinking that the water would hamper our game viewing, — ohhhhh — on the contrary! Our formidable “Land Rovers” turn into very capable “Water Rovers.” It is truly amazing what these vehicles can traverse. The scenery here is completely different than Chitabe, being dominated by large flood planes with grasses and islands of dry ground with larger trees. Here we see our first groups of the water adapted antelope, called Red Lechwa.
The large resident pride of Lions keep our shutters active throughout many of our outings. The antics of the ever playful youngsters provided hours of watching enjoyment. This pride of lions has two very impressive dominate males as their overlords. Also with this pride is a 4-5 year old male, who is determined to never leave and make a life for himself, much to the dismay of the two dominate males. When the two dominate males were with the pride, this younger male would be forced to keep his distance for fear of being attacked and possibly killed by the older males. But when the two males were off patrolling their large territory and separated from the pride, then the younger male was back with his mother, aunts, and young brothers and sisters — living the good life! These species dynamics and individual stories add so much color/texture to all of our photo safari experiences while in Africa. Our knowledgeable guides have been watching and following these cast of characters in this drama for years upon years. One of my favorite images from this entire trip came from this pride as one of the lions moved to the water to quench her thirst, just as the sun was setting! Yes — thank you photo gods!
Other notable sighting here include another large pack of Wild Hunting Dogs, Leopard, Elephants, Hippos, Zebras, Giraffe, and birds galore! Many of us also spent an amazing hour photographing this area from the air in a helicopter!
This concession is located north of the Okavango Delta in the Linyanti. Another change in habitat with Mopane woodlands and Riparian (Riverfront) dominating. This is a great area for large herds of Elephants and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Images of Wild Dogs and Lions also filled our hard drives from our daily drives along the river and further afield. One morning a contact call, from a Wild Hunting Dog, was heard by our guide deep in the Mopane forest. When we went to investigate, we found a group of seven Hyena who had displaced a pack of 14 Dogs from their recent kill. The Hyena were just finishing the kill and the Dogs were trying to regroup as a pair of large male Lions came into the mix to see if they could get breakfast as well! This was very exciting! When the Lions arrived, all the Hyenas started to disperse and the Dogs looked on. Seeing three of Africa’s top predators together in one spot is something to behold!
We had another exciting predator interaction here which started off as a quick sighting of a lone Hyena running away from the trail into the Mopane. This made us think, “what is he running to/or from?” We made a plan to circle around and head into the Mopane and try and see what was causing the excitement. As we made our way through the thick Mopane woodland, we heard the alarm call of an Impala about 100 meters from our location. Changing direction and heading toward the alarm call, we roll up to the Impala and following his gaze, we see a lone leopard smelling the blood soaked ground just as a Hyena runs away with an entire Impala hanging from his mouth! Yes, this is the drama of Africa!
Do you want to hear more? Of course you do! So, we follow the Leopard as he trails the Hyena who has just stolen his fresh Impala kill. We lose sight of both the Hyena and Leopard as we navigate through the thick stunted trees of the Mopane. After 10 minute without a visual, we round a corner and see the Hyena and the Leopard pulling on both sides of the kill! The Leopard wins the brief interaction and runs off with the Impala to the closest tree and climbs it (Impala in mouth). Not 30 seconds after the Leopard has secured his prize in the 15 foot tall Mopane tree, we see three more Hyena come running into the area with salivating mouths and tails curled up with excitement! It just doesn’t get better than this! The Hyena actually try and climb the tree, without success, and decide to just camp at the base of the tree as the Leopard with prize sit patiently above. This was one of those moments where getting an “image” that conveyed this drama was impossible. It can’t always be about getting the image. We all have this drama captured in the best hard drive — our brain.
I must write something about our wonderful lodges/food/guides/service. Our three lodges are simply the best that Botswana, Africa can offer! Pure rustic elegance in the middle of paradise. We are treated to the best food and service that you could find anywhere in the world! I’m serious…anywhere in the world!! Our guides in Botswana are some of the very best, they are extremely knowledgeable and they truly care about this place they call “their office.” Did I mention the wines… the great South African wines?!March 2016 Botswana Photo Safaris Tours to be back in this wildlife rich gem of Africa!!!