Chobe: Afternoon Game Drive

On our Botswana safari, after the Chobe River cruise, we left the town of Kasane and headed back to Chobe National Park. As we turned on to the highway back to Chobe, this elephant was eating grass next to the road, acting as an advertisement for the park entrance 4 km away. Where does the 8,000 pound elephant eat? Where ever she wants to!

elephant at A33 highway to Chobe
elephant at A33 highway to Chobe

This elephant roaming the highway outside the park reminds me of a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, complaining that the deer are crossing the road where no deer crossing signs are posted, endangering drivers.

Back in the park, a tree of roosting storks next to the Chobe River.

roosting storks
roosting storks

We saw a double rainbow, formed by sunlight reflecting twice through raindrops.

double rainbow
double rainbow

And a rainbow over this impala herd.

male impala, harem, and rainbow
male impala, harem, and rainbow

A pair of red lechwe,

red lechwe
red lechwe

While we were enjoying the antics of dung beetles, the driver of our other truck radioed to tell us about lions. We sped off. We found a pride of contented lions.

lion pride by Chobe River
lion pride by Chobe River
lioness licking cub
lioness licking cub
lioness yawning
lioness yawning

Folks in the other truck have photos of lion cubs with red around their mouths, but we arrived too late to see this.

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Savuti Channel, Day One

On the first morning at Savuti Channel on our Botswana safari, we found a pride of lions with their zebra kill.

lioness and zebra kill
lioness and zebra kill
lion feeding
lion feeding

Less than a mile away, this zebra was bloody but walking without a limp. Perhaps a lion bit the tip of the zebra’s tail, and the zebra managed to escape. The zebra’s legs and rump are bloody where the zebra’s tail would touch when the zebra wags its tail.

wounded zebra
wounded zebra

A lone elephant in the distance, across untrampled grass. This is Africa.

lone elephant
lone elephant

As we pulled up to a water hole, this elephant ran out from behind a bush.

elephant came out from behind a bush
elephant running out from behind a bush

Elephants came to the waterhole to drink.

One of our favorite birds, a lilac-breasted roller.

lilac-breasted roller
lilac-breasted roller

We visited the lion pride, and they were still at it.

We visited the Savuti Channel and found a pod of hippos.

hippo in the Savuti Channel
hippo in the Savuti Channel

In the afternoon we encountered this elephant in musth, where the male elephant’s testosterone levels are increased and they are more aggressive than normal. This elephant charged our land cruiser, and our guide had to drive fast in reverse to escape. Besides being aggressive, an elephant in musth has urine dripping from his penis (which we saw) and a secretion running down from behind the eye.

elephant in musth
elephant in musth (click to enlarge)

The other land cruiser followed us through the water to get to the elephant in musth.

As we headed back to camp at dusk, a leopard crossed the road in front of us. It stopped beside the road as we stopped. It was six feet away, looking at me. I tried to take a picture, but the camera did nothing when I pressed the shutter button. It was too dark for the camera settings. My camera was set for daytime (100-400 mm lens, aperture value of f/6.3, auto ISO), and it was dark.

By the time I changed the camera settings, the leopard was walking down the road.

leopard at dusk
leopard at dusk

A couple joined us for dinner. Friends of our guide, they’re filming lions. They were sleeping in their truck near the zebra kill, and they heard the kill in the middle of the night. They’ve made films for the BBC and National Geographic, including underwater shots of crocodiles in the Okavango Delta. Very impressive.

After dinner, I talked about the leopard sighting with our guide, and he said that where we saw the leopard is only a quarter mile from camp, as the crow flies. We drove on the road, which winds around. Closer to home, last month a mountain lion wandered through a nearby school and the park where I play tennis.

The Lions and the Gemsbok

Driving to a Kalahari air strip to fly to the Okavango Delta, we discovered this pride of lions and their kill. The male lion presides over the kill, with three lionesses behind him. Note male’s black mane — this is a black-maned lion of the Kalahari.

lion pride and their kill
lion pride and their kill

There were several cubs.

lioness and cub
lioness and cub

From the black and white marking on the face, the kill is a gemsbok, a large antelope adapted to the Kalahari.

lion cub and gemsbok
lion cub getting ready to dine on the gemsbok

The male lion hauled away the remains of the gemsbok. Note the straight horns of the gemsbok below.

male lion hauls away the remains of the gemsbok
male lion hauls away the remains of the gemsbok

See how the male limps as he hauls off the gemsbok.

Two lionesses fight over the stomach left at the kill site.

lionesses fight over the gemsbok stomach
lionesses fight over the gemsbok stomach

And the victor trots off with the spoils.

lioness trots off with stomach
lioness trots off with gemsbok stomach

The male lion hauled the gemsbok to the shade of a tree, where four cubs joined him and the kill would be hidden from circling vultures.

male lion, four cubs, and gemsbok
male lion, four cubs, and gemsbok

Having finally seen the black-maned lions of the Kalahari just as we were leaving, we were very pleased as we raced off to a rendezvous with our plane to the Okavango Delta.

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

Kalahari, Day Two – Deception Pan and Lion in the Camp

At night we heard lions calling loudly. I tried recording the lion roar using our iPhone, but both Voice Memo recordings were silent.

To start our morning game drive we drove nearby, but our guide only spotted fresh lion tracks on the road. In the morning, cheetahs lay in wait for a springbok to wander close enough to give chase, but the springboks kept their distance. As it warmed up, the cheetahs gave up and walked to shade.

springbok looking at cheetahs
springbok looking at cheetahs

Jackals usually keep their distance, but this black-backed jackals paused briefly to pose for us.

black-backed jackal
black-backed jackal

Yet another pretty bird. Birds with such long tails need to be careful where they land, so that their tail doesn’t get caught in the thorns or leaves.

shaft-tailed whydah
shaft-tailed whydah

The steenbok is a small antelope.

steenbok
steenbok

In the afternoon we saw Deception Pan. It looks like a lake with water, but it’s actually dry. The vegetation helps sell the notion of a lake: a band of red vegetation near us, a band of green vegetation, and the dark patch that looks like water.

Deception Pan
Deception Pan

Below, a closer view looks less like a lake.

lanner falcon and gemsboks at Deception Pan
lanner falcon and gemsboks at Deception Pan

We watched a giraffe bend over carefully to graze on grass. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGe_4MkAkKs

At dusk, after we returned to camp and were cleaning up, we heard “Lion in the camp! Stay in your tents!”. I looked outside but didn’t see a lion.

Stanley, one of our guides, was cleaning his vehicle when he saw a lion walking next to the land cruiser. The lion had walked past the dining tent next to the vehicle, and one of our safari members was having a smoke in the dining tent.

lion walked past Stanley on this road
lion walked past our guide here

“Get in the truck!” said Stanley, and Elise climbed into the truck. Stanley yelled out the warning for the rest of the camp. As you can see, the road isn’t very wide. Our tents are within 50 m of the truck and dining tent. Eating dinner in the dining tent that night was more exciting. We still hadn’t see the black-maned lions of the Kalahari, and we would leave the Kalahari in the morning.

Day 2 at Serengeti camp – the great migration, at last

During our safari in late February, the great migration is normally in the southern Serengeti. But so far there has been little rain so the wildebeests and zebras came, ate the grass, and moved to the north, where there was more rain and grass. We had seen few wildebeests and no herds of wildebeests.

On our second day at Serengeti camp, we woke early for a long drive north to see herds of wildebeest and zebra. We would enter the Serengeti National Park, where we would have to stay on roads.

Early in the morning this giraffe was eating its favorite food, acacia leaves.  Acacias have long thorns.  We see how giraffes use their long, dexterous tongue to grab the leaves while avoiding the thorns. The giraffe’s tongue is wrapped around the branch to strip the leaves.

giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves
giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves

Here’s a closeup with more detail.  See the long thorns to the left and right of the giraffe tongue. The thorns are a lighter green than the leaves and branches. At 7:18 am, the light was dim.  Like the night before, the ISO was maxed out and the lens wide open, and there still wasn’t enough light. Learning my lesson, I increased the exposure from 1/400 to 1/250 second, while shooting at 400 mm. The rule of thumb is that the exposure time is less than or equal to the inverse of the focal length, or 1/400 second for a 400 mm focal length. The photo looks clear enough despite the longer exposure. See the giraffe’s eyelashes?

closeup of giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves
closeup of giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves

A half hour later we stopped to see this jackal.  We were far away — these photos were taken at 400 mm.

common jackal
common jackal

A couple minutes later we learned why our guide stopped and waited.

jackal eating a bird
jackal eating a bird

Here’s a closeup.  It looks like the jackal’s eating a bird with long black feathers, perhaps a secretary bird.  Breakfast before 8:00 am.

closeup of jackal eating a bird
closeup of jackal eating a bird

When we entered the Serengeti National Park, we stopped to file papers.  This superb starling was in the parking lot. The iridescent top feathers and orange breast are very pretty.

superb starling
superb starling

At noon we finally found herds of zebras and wildebeests. Not the million animals that we had read about, but many herds of animals.

zebras
zebras
zebra and wattled starlings
zebra and wattled starlings

We saw a leopard and its kill, shown in my post.

leopard in tree
leopard in tree

We were happy.  Our safari was nearing the end, and we had not seen a leopard.  The leopard completed our seeing the big five animals.  As it turned out, this was the only leopard we saw.  It was almost 2:00, and we headed for a late lunch.

But of course we had to stop to see these baboons on the side of the road.

baby baboon playing
baby baboon playing
baboons grooming
baboons grooming

After lunch we drove along a river and saw hippos. There was much more water here than at the Alamana hippo pool, so these hippos were more comfortable.

hippo approaching
hippo approaching
hippos humping
hippos humping
hippo yawning
hippo yawning

Here’s a closeup of the hippo jaws.  Note the hippo’s enormous mouth and sharp, ivory canine teeth.  Hippo teeth are sharpened during use, and the canines can reach 20″.

hippos jaws
hippos jaws

We saw lions mating.  See my post.

We started the long drive back to camp. We had started early, and we were all tired.

Our guide saw some vultures landing and taking off in the grass so he stopped to look where the vultures were landing.  No other vehicles were stopped.  We didn’t see anything where the vultures landed.  Finally he told us to look to the left, far away.  We finally saw some brown spots in the grass.  Still in the National Park, we couldn’t drive off-road to get closer.  The following photos are with a telephoto lens at 400 mm. Here’s the initial photo.

brown spots in the distance
brown spots in the distance

Soon there was some movement.

lion moving the kill
lion moving the kill
lion with wildebeest hoof and head
lion with wildebeest hoof and head

And a closeup of the lion.

closeup of lion with wildebeest hoof and head
closeup of lion with wildebeest hoof and head

Looks like a wildebeest.  Our guide told us that the lions had probably killed the wildebeest and dragged it away.  The vultures were landing at the spot of the kill. Our guide is amazing at finding animals.

At dusk we saw these storks roosting in a tree.

storks roosting
storks roosting

Back at camp, we heard a loud elephant trumpet as we got out of the vehicle.  A large elephant was walking between two tents, about a hundred meters away from us.  The elephant was taller than our tents.  The guide said to climb back in.  After the guides said it was clear, they drove us back to our tents.

We later learned that this adult elephant is a frequent visitor to the camp.  Our lead guide saw it and shined a flashlight into its eyes. The light in elephant’s eyes ruins its night vision, so it moved away.

Mating lions

On safari in Serengeti National Park, our guide had heard that two lions had been mating since the day before. Some background from wikipedia: “during a mating bout, which could last several days, the couple copulates twenty to forty times a day and are likely to forgo eating”.  “As with other cats, the male lion’s penis has spines which point backwards. Upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female’s vagina, which may cause ovulation.”

When we arrived, the lions were lying on the road.

lions on the road
lions on the road

The female got up and walked away.  The male followed.

female walks away
female walks away
male follows
male follows

Of course, all the vehicles followed the couple. This vehicle was too close and not from our safari.

land cruiser invading the lions' space
land cruiser invading the lions’ space

The lions continued walking and stopped again.  The land cruisers followed.

female waits and male yawns
female waits and male yawns

The female got up and walked off, with the male close behind.  Our guide said that the time is right.

male lion following closely
male lion following closely

The land cruisers tried to follow. The male mounted the female.  After our vehicle stopped, I had time for only a single photo.

climax
climax

It seemed like it was over in an instant. Reviewing photo capture times, 20 seconds elapsed between the male following photo and the climax photo.

See the female reaching her head back and snarling.  Evidently it hurts a lot when the male withdraws his penis and the backward-facing spines rake her vagina. I’ve read on another blog that the male makes a quick exit because the female might hurt him while in pain. Thirty seconds later, the female is resting.

male lion looking at female
male lion looking at female

Twenty-five minutes had elapsed since we first saw the lions on the road; the next cycle would probably take at least that long.  It was 5:40 pm; we started the long drive back to camp.