Friday, 5 September 2014

Southern Africa 3 - mainly about the big beasts

This is the third of 3 blogs about our Okavango Delta. After focusing on the top predators, the cats and the dogs, you start to look at the other wildlife around. As I have said, a lot of it was easy to see as the brush was all bare and dry. The game is pretty much there all year, with only small migrations going on. The birdlife though is very different between August, their Winter, and January (Summer). A lot of our migrants - swallows, warblers, arrive when the brush greens up. There is still a lot of stuff to see though. Over the holiday, we got a total of 38 different species of mammals and 217 of birds, which isn't bad for thee time we were there.
Botswana is famous for it's large herds of elephants. This is partly due to their robust attitude to poachers, which is basically shoot on sight. They use the army and helicopters to track down any suspected poachers and if found the shoot to kill policy is enforced. The only downside though is the herds of elephants are getting large and can be destructive to the habitat.
Two out of the 3 of our camps were "open". This means no fences at all separating you from the wildlife. The 3rd, Shinde, only stopped elephants. The consequence of this is your tent being shaken at 3 in the morning by elephants and seeing hippo, lino and hyena prints by your front door!!. What you get is shown below. We were up for our morning drive in Nxabega, about 6.45, when this massive bull elephant came into camp.

First of all it was after jackalberries. These are about the size of large grapes and you wouldn't have thought they would bother, but elephants love them. They shake the tree and hoover up the fruits.

   We suspect though that this wasn't the first time he had been in camp, as he quite soon wandered round the back of the tents to the kitchen. The guides insisted the cook didn't feed him but I reckon he knew what he was doing.
One other bit of behaviour we've seen on tele but not in real life came in Shinde. We were on a river trip and not really seeing very much when an elephant started coming towards us. It was initially a long way off but over 15 minutes or so came quite close. We pulled back away from it and ploughed on through the marsh, splashing water as it went.

Then quite unbelievably it kept on going into the river. We were on a small boat so we followed it as it went deeper and deeper in. At times it actually submerged under the water or was so deep it was using it trunk as a snorkel. I'd heard about this but never seen it. It finally reached the fat bank and kept on going. No idea what it was heading towards but it was very focused as we watched it out of sight into the distance.  

Hippos were also were widespread though not easy to see. They are mainly nocturnal, spending most of the day out of sight in reeds or in water. At night they come out to feed but by then we were safely tucked up in bed. You could hear them though, grunting and snorting, especially at Lagoon camp where our tent opened up straight onto the river
One our first night we went on a river cruise. We did this on all 3 camps and generally didn't see much as you tended to penned in by high reeds either side. On this one though we did get good bird life, such as this white-fronted bee-eater.

Being on the river though we did get good views of the hippos. Generally they disappeared as we approached but some did remain visible. 

As the sun went down they started to appear our of the water as well. This one showed well, although the photo doesn't show that it was nearly dark by now and only a combination of flash and lightroom has made it  decent.

You also got lots of the other "classic" African animals though not the large herds  like in Kenya. Zebras were often seen around, many times keeping out of the away among small groves of trees. It's amazing how cryptic their camouflage is.

The same is true of giraffes. They're really big but even if someone says "it's over here" you can still say "where exactly". In with trees they almost disappear. In the open though they can be quite comedic.

 Of course, you have to keep your eyes open, as often they have oxpeckers on them as this one does.

Finally, you have all the supporting cast of animals, from monkeys to deer. Added together you get an incredible variety on animals and always something to watch.
Baboons were omni-present, often sitting high up in trees to survey the surrounding area 
Impala are the commonest of the deers in the area, although they are quite shy and hard to get close to

Kudu are a alrge to medium-sized deer. Like most of their cousins they have large ears to help them detect approaching danger

Quite uncommon, reedbuck have one of thr smallest horns

This is one of the smallest deers, the steenbok. They are only the size of a small dog.

Tsessebe are one of the fastest deer. This is good for them as they are also a very popular prey species for lions.

Vervet monkeys were almost a pest. In Nxabega they would come down to your table and try to steal bread rolls!

Warthogs are often overlooked. We had trouble with one group who refused to move off the runway when a plane was landing and had to be herded off with our truck!

This genet was almost a pet in Shinde. This is actually only 20 feet behind where we were having our dinner. 

Red lechwe against against blue water make a beautiful contrast in colour

Warthogs are just comical!

In the last blog from Botswana i will deal with some of the birds we saw.