Epic Botswana Safari
Our friend Annemarie, Stephanie and I just got back from an amazing road trip and safari through Etosha National Park, the Caprivi part of Namibia and Chobe National Park in Botswana. We spent about 12 days on the road and covered almost 3000km by the end of the trip. While the majority of the trip was met with some amazing wildlife sightings the last day of the safari was by far the best sighting of the trip.
While in Etosha we saw tons of elephant, giraffe, all sorts of antelope and even a leopard and a couple rhinos. In the Caprivi region we saw many hippos, crocodiles, lots of nice birds and of course elephants and interesting antelopes. It was only in Botswana in Chobe National Park that we really started to see some special sightings.
On our 10th straight day of safari we had seen a lot of really nice wildlife, however, the heat of Savuti which is deep in the heart of Chobe NP was starting to get to us. Up until we reached Savuti we had camped and stayed in lodges that were in nice scenic areas or right along the river. Savuti, normally a marshy area fed from the Savuti Channel, was completely dry and was surrounded by deep hot sand. The drive into Savuti from North Botswana was about 2 hours of 4x4 deep sand driving mostly in 2nd gear. The sand was hot and the car was working hard so was also hot. Once we reached the camp it was midday and not a cloud was in the sky. Our campsite was a deep sand pit under a tree and it must have been 100+°F in the shade.
Because the channel was dry there were only two manmade water points in the area to visit. Each waterhole had just enough water to supply the animals, but not enough water to fill the waterhole. It was a strange sight to see elephants crowded around the small hole in the middle of the waterhole drinking the water as fast as the pump could get water through the pipe.
After 2 hot days of driving safari we had a few nice sightings of single spotted hyenas, loads of male elephants and plenty of wildebeest, tsessebe antelope and interesting raptors. We even had a nice sighting of a Marshal Eagle feasting on a recently killed Guinea Fowl in a tree.
Lion Wakeup Call
On our final day we woke around 5am to the sound of Lions calling each other. The sounds gave us some good motivation to get up, pack up and start the search for the nearby lions. Just as we left the camp we noticed that there were two sets of Lion tracks walking along the sand road next to our camp nearly 20 feet next to our tents. Motivated even more by the close sighting we set off in the direction of the lion's call.
Only about 1-2km from camp we found our single male lion resting under a bush. We could still hear the call of the other male lion maybe 2-3km from us, but we elected to stay with this lion for a while and enjoy the nice sighting.
Energized by the sighting that morning we safaried around for the morning and returned to camp before lunch when it was too unbearably hot to be out anymore.
Finding Wild Dogs
After spending the hot part of the day at camp we packed up and set off around 4pm for our last safari drive of the trip. As we stopped by the sightings board at the park gate we noticed a single green pin the southeastern part of the park. Green meant Wild Dogs were spotted that morning. Stephanie hastily grilled the park ranger on duty when they were spotted and exactly where. They had been spotted early that morning at Rhino Vlei - a dried up waterhole about 10km away.
We set off immediately at quite a clip. If the dogs had been spotted in the morning there was only a small chance they would stay in the same area for the duration of the day as they are quite nomadic. However, because of the heat there was still a chance they could decide to only move at the cooler dusk and dawn. We drove probably a little too fast for the park, but it was still hot so almost no animals were on the roads.
We arrived at Rhino Vlei about an hour later and started the search. After only about 30 minutes we drove down a side road near the former waterhole and passed a huge tree that grew like a shrub with tons of shade underneath it's canopy. As soon as Stephanie and I finished verbally agreeing that the tree looked like a nice shade spot we spotted a wild dog nearly 10 feet in front of the truck just aside the tree and next to the road. We found them!
We switched off the truck immediately, but the dog didn't care about us at all and just lied there. After repositioning the truck for a better viewing spot we settled in to watching as five adult Wild Dogs slowly emerged from the tree and then three additional pups.
The shock of actually finding the dogs still hasn't worn off. Since first coming to Namibia almost two years ago this animal has been at the top of the animal sighting wish list. We ended up spending about an hour and half with the dogs as they rested in the shade. The pups played here and there which was amazing to witness. It was only when the sun was just touching the horizon when the dogs all spring up into action. Being such a social animal all the dogs started nuzzling, licking, playfully biting and rubbing against each other along with communicating with their trademark squeaks.
Savuti challenged us mentally, but the rewards far surpassed all the challenges and in the end made the trip. It was an epic ending to an epic trip as the Wild Dogs and then us drove off into the sunset.