Chobe River: Buffalo, Crocs, and Hippo

On our Botswana safari, after driving along the Chobe River in the morning, we took a river cruise in the afternoon. From the water we saw more animals than from land, and we were able to approach closer. Here are some larger animals from our cruise.

This cape buffalo wading in the river seemed calmer than ones we encountered on land.

cape buffalo in river
cape buffalo wading in the Chobe River

The Nile crocodile can grow to 6 meters. This crocodile was lounging on the river bank, posing for tourists in the passing boats.

Nile crocodile
Nile crocodile

This crocodile also let our boat approach. This photo was taken with a 400 mm lens, without cropping. The head nearly filled the frame.

Nile crocodile head
Nile crocodile head shot

This crocodile showed us its teeth.

crocodile showing us its teeth
crocodile showing us its teeth

This hippo lounged in the river, providing a resting spot for storks.

storks on hippo
storks on hippo

Serondella – Drive Along the Chobe River

On our Botswana safari, we drove along the Chobe River on our first morning in Serondella area of the Chobe National Park. In April we saw a lot of wildlife along the river. Later in the dry season, the animals increase near the river as the surrounding land dries up and the game migrates to the waters of the Chobe River.

In the first light of dawn, these hippos have sunlight reflecting from their ears.

hippo ears in the Chobe River
hippo ears in the Chobe River

Seeking wildlife, we drove on a dirt road covered by the river. See the crocodiles in the river waiting for thirsty animals to drink in the morning.

crocodiles in river
crocodiles in river

And, of course, the obligatory African fish eagle and a lilac-breasted roller.

African fish eagle
African fish eagle
lilac-breasted roller
lilac-breasted roller

Giraffes are vulnerable when they bend over to lick salt or drink.

giraffe licking salt
giraffe licking salt

A large pod of hippos in the Chobe River.

hippos in the Chobe River
hippos in the Chobe River

Okavango, Day One – Hippo Pool

After our game walk, we took a boat ride to the hippo pool. A crocodile we saw in the morning had moved to a higher spot on the bank. This photo with people from the other boat shows the size of the crocodile. The boat is much closer to me than the crocodile, so compared to the crocodile, the people appear larger than they actually are.

Nile crocodile on the bank
Nile crocodile on the bank

An African fish eagle in flight over the papyrus. The African fish eagle reminds us of the American bald eagle. Both eagles have dark brown bodies and white heads.

African fish eagle in flight
African fish eagle in flight

We saw dozens of hippos. Some hippos eyed us suspiciously.

hippos eying us
hippos looking back at us

Hippos are aggressive animals. These hippos exhibited a threat behavior. The prominent lower teeth can be up to 50 cm (1.6 feet) long, and they are quite sharp.

hippo threat behavior
hippo threat behavior
hippo threat behavior
hippo threat behavior

Okavango, Day One – Game Walk

On our first morning in the Okavango Delta on our Botswana safari, we took a boat ride for a game walk on an island. Papyrus lines the banks of the channel.

papyrus at dawn
papyrus at dawn

We walked through tall grass on our game walk. Our guides were unarmed — Botswana don’t allow guns on game walks. In Tanzania, two of our guides carried big rifles on game walks, and both had shot and killed a charging hippo on safari.

game walk
game walk

Elephant dung, which is quite large, contains partially digested grass and marula berries beloved by elephants. Our guide is picking up some dung to show us the partially digested grass and marula berries.

elephant dung
elephant dung

We crossed this hippo trail — two tracks with a space between the tracks. Hippos clearly visit this island, but we and our unarmed guides encountered no charging hippos that day.

hippo trail
hippo trail

In contrast, elephants trample a wider trail with only one track. Note that we walked on an elephant trail. Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal. Our guide told us that animals use their only their own trail and not trails made by other animals.

elephant trail
elephant trail
day-blooming lily
day-blooming lily

When we returned to the lodge, our toothy friend greeted us at the boat landing, in case a guest misses a step climbing out of the boat.

crococile at Xugana Lodge
crocodile at Xugana Lodge

Flight to the Okavango Delta

On our last morning in the Kalahari we would fly to the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sunrise painted clouds stretching out to the horizon.

last Kalahari sunrise
last Kalahari sunrise

On the drive to the airstrip, we saw this lion pride and their kill. More on the lions in a separate post.

lion pride and their kill
lion pride and their kill

From our plane, the Okavango Delta stretches into the distance, a flat area with islands, channels, and pools, stretching to the horizon.

Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta from the air

Having seen the BBC video with animals running through the waters of the Okavango Delta, I had hoped to see more animals from the air. This elephant below was the only animal I saw from the air. The lines are the various trails made by animals.

Okavango elephant from the air
Okavango elephant from the air

After the plane landed, we took a boat to our lodge, where this crocodile was sunning himself next to the boat dock. We had read about hippos and crocodiles in the Okavango Delta.

basking crocodile at the lodge boat dock
basking crocodile at the lodge boat dock

In the afternoon we took a ride in a mokoro, traditionally dug out from a log, but now fiberglass. Too many trees were being chopped down to make mekoro (the plural form). The water is shallow; the person standing in back is poling our mokoro, like a Venetian gondolier.

mokoro ride
mokoro ride

The mokoro ride is quiet, calm, and relaxing — movement without sound, like skiing or sailing, When researching our lodge on TripAdvisor, reviewers wrote about their mokoro ride, saying they were told there are no hippos or crocodiles here. But all the waterways are connected, and we saw a crocodile earlier. But on our relaxing mokoro ride, we forgot to ask about crocodiles and hippos, and we didn’t see any.

The setting sun colored the grass golden.

mokoro rides low
mokoro rides low in the water

Day 3 at Serengeti camp – wildebeests and cheetahs

Near our camp in the Maswa Game Reserve, this group of wildebeests walked along the alkaline lake in the early morning. Our guides had told us that with the recent rain, the grass would grow quickly and the herds would return. On our drive the day before, we had seen columns of wildebeests migrating toward camp.

wildebeests returning after the rains
wildebeests returning after the rains

This group has six adults and one baby. I expected more babies — by late February, the calving was complete. Our guide said that about 80% of the newborn wildebeests don’t survive the first year: approximately a quarter die in the first few months, a quarter die crossing the rivers west of the Serengeti, and a quarter die in the Masai Mara. The west and Masai Mara both have rivers with crocodiles. The western Serengeti rivers have the first crocodiles encountered by the young wildebeests, and wildebeests aren’t prepared for the river crossing. The crocodiles get much of their annual food from the migration, so they gather and wait.

We noticed there were a lot more flies than before. Had a thousand flies hitched a ride with every new wildebeest that migrated here? Our guide explained that flies lay eggs in the dung. When the eggs are moistened by rain, baby flies emerge. So the wildebeests migrating into the area didn’t cause more flies.  The recent rain triggered both the new grass (causing wildebeests to migrate into the area) and newborn flies hatching.

Driving on the savanna, we saw three cheetahs: a mother and two 1-year-old cheetahs.

cheetah mother of two
cheetah mother of two
two one-year-old cheetahs
two one-year-old cheetahs

We waited to see if they would hunt the nearby wildebeests and gazelles.  But they only hid in the tall grass, so we drove on. In the photo below, there’s a cheetah head sticking up on each side of the photo.

two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass
two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass

At noon we found a cheetah mother and four cubs with a gazelle kill. It was the same cheetah family we had seen two days earlier. Our guide compared the two cheetah families.  One family has four month-old cubs ; the second family has the two year-old cheetahs.  The family with the older children has fewer children. Is this normal? Some cubs will not survive their first year, despite the best care of the mother. Yes, half the cheetah cubs surviving their first year is normal. 😦

Back at camp we saw this marabou stork.  They’re large (up to 1.5 m tall) and not pretty.

marabou stork at camp
marabou stork at camp

On the evening game drive we saw a mother and baby striped hyena.

striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena baby nursing
striped hyena baby nursing