Botswana safari plus, day four
04.07.2018 - 04.07.2018
Sunrise over the Chobe River
We slept very well in our cosy bed, enjoying the silence around us after the traffic noise in Nairobi. Our wake-up call at five came all too soon, but we awoke to the news that England had beaten Columbia in a penalty shootout - amazing!
Before going out on our game drive we enjoyed a warming cup of coffee and hot bran muffins. Soon it was 6.00 and time to head to the departure point outside the lodge.
Morning game drive
As all the lodge guests gathered at the departure point we were allocated to a guide and vehicle. We were with a family of four, including an enthusiastic and very well-behaved young lad, plus a solo American guy - so just seven of us in a vehicle that could seat twelve, and thus room to spread out. Our guide introduced herself as Vivian, and handed out blankets. It was still dark and pretty chilly, especially as it was a windy day.
At first we could see very little as we drove away from the lodge, apart from the shadowy figures of impala among the bushes. Vivian paused when the sun rose so we could get some photos.
Once it was light of course we started to see more of the life around us. There was a large herd of impala, beautifully lit by the early morning sun. Indeed the light was lovely throughout the drive.
We saw lots of birds, including beautiful Greater Blue-eared Starlings near the impala:
Greater Blue-eared Starling
A group of White-backed Vultures on a termite mound:
A female Black Bellied Bustard, also known as a Black Bellied Korhaan (Vivian had to use the bird book to identify that one for me! Apparently it is not common):
Black Bellied Bustard
A Grey Go Away Bird, sporting a Mohican hair-do - another new one for me!
Grey Go Away Bird
Several Red Billed Hornbills (I always think they look rather grumpy!)
Red Billed Hornbill
We also came across a troop of baboons in the trees by the river, some of them babies. They wouldn't keep still for photos, and the low light made it difficult too, but I got a couple of reasonable shots, although none of the babies.
We caught a sight of a young male lion, but disappointingly too hidden by bushes to photograph. But then Vivian got a call from another guide telling her that there were two lions further along the track we were on. She headed over there and we got a great view of the two lionesses who seemed to be resting together. Certainly they were taking little interest in a nearby herd of impala, nor in a warthog that wandered by.
Lionesses, Chobe National Park
That was the highlight of the morning but there was more to see on the way back to the lodge, including a Lilac Breasted Roller, a Kori Bustard, a herd of buffalo, and two Black-backed jackals and some vultures picking over the last takings on a giraffe carcass.
Lilac Breasted Roller
Jackal with giraffe carcass
Time to unwind
We were scheduled to do another river cruise at 11.00, and an evening game drive, but because of the wind Vivian suggested we might see more on land than on the river and proposed a long afternoon drive, leaving at 2.00. We decided to take her up on the suggestion, not least because it would give us a little time to relax and enjoy the lodge, and the rest of our group did the same.
We had a good cooked breakfast in the restaurant, then went for a stroll on the riverside boardwalk.
Panoramic view from the boardwalk
But the wind made that a chilly place to linger, so instead we sat for a while on our own sheltered terrace and also for a while in our room, catching up on messages and sorting photos from the earlier drive.
Afternoon game drive
After lunch we met up again with Vivian and the others for our long drive. And what a fabulous experience it was to be! We drove at first through an area of teak trees, where some giraffes were grazing on the caper bushes.
We passed a herd of elephants with some babies:
Elephants in the teak forest
Vivian speculated that they were coming away from a man-made waterhole a little ahead of us. When we reached that point we found ourselves amongst a variety of different animals. Ahead of us were sable and zebra, grazing peacefully together. They too had probably been just recently at the waterhole.
Zebra and sable herds
Zebra and sable
On our left was the waterhole, and it was surrounded by elephants. For the most part they were drinking amicably, although squabbles broke out from time to time as we watched, which we did for some time. There were quite a few calves, including one young enough to still be nursing.
Elephants at the waterhole
Elephants in close-up
Elephant and calf
When a troop of baboons arrived to join the elephants, one of the latter took exception to having to share and tried repeatedly to drive them away, albeit in a rather half-hearted fashion - a lot of trumpeting but little else. Most of the time the elephants drank peacefully and it was a very tranquil scene.
Eventually we left them to it. As we drove away we passed a beautiful Little Bee Eater. There were more giraffes by the path, and further on I managed to get another good photo of one of my favourite African birds, the Lilac Breasted Roller.
Little Bee Eater, and giraffe
Lilac Breasted Roller
We then drove down to the river, where we witnessed a bit of a stand-off between two young bull elephants. One was apparently spoiling for a fight, but the other, crossing the river towards him, just wanted to be allowed to pass peacefully. When it became obvious that he was not going to be allowed to do so, he backed off and ran splashing through the shallows. The aggressor pursued him briefly, then let him leave, having won the fight by default.
Crossing the river
Face to face
Turning away from confrontation
Driving on we got a close look at another Fish Eagle and came to another group of giraffes.
Giraffe on the alert
Vivian spotted that some of the giraffes seemed very alert and were looking some distance away, ahead of us. Then we saw why - six lions were approaching through the grass, on the other side of an inlet of water.
The approaching lions
They paused on the far side - a lioness and five older cubs. We watched for a long while to see if they might try to take a giraffe, or maybe one of the buffalo that were grazing in the distance. The giraffes were nearer; the buffalo would be easier. The mother stood for some time in the long grass, surveying the scene.
The cubs hung back for a while, then joined her.
The young lions
After some time it seemed that the buffalo were the preferred option and she led them away in that direction, where we couldn’t easily follow. But we didn’t mind, as we had enjoyed so much quality time with them.
Besides, a bathroom break was long overdue! There are basic facilities provided out in the park so we stopped near one of these. Then it was time for sundowner refreshments - white wine or soft drinks, and some nibbles. As we stood around enjoying these another large troop of baboons arrived, heading for the nearby river. We followed them there and were able to take photos in the lovely evening light. It was nice to be able to do so on foot too, down at their level. They clearly had no fear of us and almost seemed to be posing.
Baboons at sundown
We were driving away from the rest area when the young boy in our group called out to Vivian to stop, saying that he had seen a hippo. It seemed unlikely up on this dry ground a little distance from the river, and as she reversed the vehicle I think we all expected to find that he had mistaken a rock for a hippo, but a hippo it indeed was. And a mighty bull too, gleaming in the later afternoon sun. Vivian reckoned he had either been in a fight and had come here to recuperate, although he looked well enough, or was simply fed up with all the females and had come away to get some peace and quiet! Maybe this bush was his man cave?
By now the sun had just about set and the light was fading. But our final encounter was to be one of the most interesting of the drive, if somewhat sad. We came back to the giraffe carcass we had seen in the morning, again being picked over by jackals. Nearby stood five giraffes (four young males and a female) and they seemed truly to understand that here was one of their own and to be mourning for him.
The giraffes standing around the carcass
Consoling each other?
It is well known that elephants do this, but Vivian had never seen such behaviour in giraffes and was as fascinated as we were. I have since done a Google search for examples of similar behaviour, and it does indeed seem to be rare. This article, https://www.care2.com/causes/4-animals-who-mourn-their-dead.html (published last year but originally written in 2012), cites just three known examples:
‘In 2010 in Kenya’s Soysambu Conservancy, a female giraffe was observed spending four days beside the body of her one-month-old calf. Seventeen other female giraffes also surrounded the body over the four days.
In 2011, a female giraffe in Zambia spent two hours beside a stillborn calf. She splayed her legs to bend down — something giraffes rarely do, except to eat or drink — and licked the calf for several hours. This behavior was repeated for the entire two hours — all the more notable, as giraffes rarely spend time alone.
Also in 2011, a herd of giraffes in Namibia was observed investigating the corpse of a young female giraffe that had died three weeks before. Some of the male giraffes splayed their legs and sniffed the ground.’
There are a few other examples to be found if you search, but it is clearly quite rare behaviour, and most of those I found relate to a giraffe ‘mourning’ her own calf.
This was our final sighting as it was starting to get dark and Vivian had to drive a little faster to get back to the lodge. We had about 30 minutes to get changed and ready for dinner before heading to the restaurant. The food is consistently good here, including this evening’s citrus salad starter, gemsbok in a delicious port sauce, and ‘Eat n Mess’ - which in addition to being oddly named (a misunderstanding rather than an intended pun, I suspect) was also different in containing a sharp berry compote rather than the usual strawberries - but again delicious.
Then it was back to our room to relax a little before another, necessary, early night. Tomorrow morning we would be trying something a little different.