Safari 2022 Day Four

2022 Okavango Safari     May 20th    Day Four

At some point through the night, I was awakened by the sounds of a hyena near the tent. The hyena being one of my favourite animals, its other worldly calls out there in the darkness brought a smile to my face. But other than that pleasant interruption, I slept soundly through to 05:00am.

Today was Transfer Day – the day we say goodbye to the Khwai area and move to a camp in the huge Moremi Game Reserve. All our kit had to be packed and loaded onto the vehicles and after a quick breakfast, we were on the road to Moremi by 06:00am


Before departure Malcolm and I did well to remember to collect our Trail Cameras. The only thing mine had picked up was the local baboons drifting by behind our tent.

Trail Camera image of a Baboon sat on a log behind my tent

As soon as we set off, the camp crew started the work of striking camp and transporting everything to our new site. As we would enjoy a leisurely day viewing the wildlife, the camp crew would be working flat out against the clock to have everything set up prior to our arrival.

We exited the serpentine track through the mopane woodland for the final time and turned left onto the dusty highway towards the three loosely connected villages that make up Khwai. It looked pretty much like a ghost town as we drove through. Once again, it was bitterly cold, and at 06:20am most sensible people were only starting to think about waking up, never mind getting up.

One group that were up and about, searching for breakfast, was a family of four Southern Ground Hornbills. They were rummaging around under a tree looking for tasty worms, insects, or small animals. These birds are endangered for a number of reasons. The most significant reason is damage and loss of habitat. But they also have a very slow rate of reproduction which doesn’t help. A breeding pair cannot raise young without the assistance of at least two, but more likely, four other hornbills. Youngsters must train as assistants for the first six years of their lives before they are able to go on and breed themselves and recruit their own assistants. In many parts of Africa these large black hornbills are considered to be harbingers of death and ill fortune. Although these beliefs can lead to the birds being persecuted and killed, in other areas they are thought to be so unlucky that people will go nowhere near them.

Southern Ground Hornbill            Image by Hans Veth

From a near by tree, the progress of the hornbills was being monitored by a large Chacma baboon who didn’t seem to have much enthusiasm for being up this early… a bit like myself.

Chacma Baboon contemplating the day ahead

We stopped to watch a male giraffe browsing and had time to look closely at the wonderful patterns of his coat. From a distance it looks like a random collection of dark splodges against a much lighter background. But each of those splodges is unique from all the others. They do not have regular shapes and nor do they have smooth edges. Some are shaped like leaves that have been nibbled at by caterpillars, some are geometric shapes that have frayed edges or have been cut by pinking shears. It was good to take time to absorb the complexity of the patterns.

Giraffe Hide

As we approached the gate that marked the entry into the Moremi Game Reserve, we had to cross a bridge known as Third Bridge. On previous occasions I have been driven over, and also walked over this amazing wooden structure. It is about 50m in length and is made entirely from thousands of wooden poles. On this occasion there was very little water under the bridge. But at different times of the year, depending on the annual floods, the bridge itself can be under water. Running parallel are remnants of previous wooden bridges that have not stood the test of time. They are an example of why metal or concrete bridges are not used. Nature will always win out in the end and these wooden structures will decompose naturally without causing pollution.

Third Bridge

The bridge’s rickety appearance is enough to make any sensible driver to slow down. As you cross it, the whole bridge flexes as you bump across the surface of wooden poles. Even so, a sign advises, “SLOW DOWN ON TOP OF THE BRIDGE”.

Having navigated this bone shaker of a crossing, you enter the game reserve gate. Interesting artifacts greet you under the huge entrance gate canopy. A collection of giant sun-bleached white bones, massive horns and skulls, are all decoratively arranged. There are elephant femurs standing upright, black spiralling kudu horns over a metre in length, and enormous buffalo and elephant skulls staring blindly at you as you approach.

Elephant bones

We followed the meandering track into the reserve and one of our first encounters was with a troop of Chacma baboons lazily picking their way through the woodland to our left. On our right-hand side, there was a large wide-open expanse of grassland and a breeding herd of around twenty elephants grazing around the periphery of an area of water. The grass was high and obscured many of the baby elephants from our view. But as we watched them in the distance, the herd slowly but surely started to move. We were hopeful of better views as the elephants looked as if they would cross our track ahead of us. We crept forward and positioned ourselves in the best position to watch.

Breeding Herd of Elephants

They were certainly in no great rush, but then again, neither were we. To our left baboons still foraged and explored their way through the trees, some sitting quietly watching the humans watching the elephants. Then one by one, led by the matriarch, the elephants, including several youngsters, crossed in front of us and entered the domain of the baboons.

About thirty metres or so into the trees, in a spot where the bushes obscured all but the backs of the elephants, the matriarch stopped. She paused for a minute or so, and using her trunk, gave herself a dust bath before moving on. Her trunk would rise, and great clouds of grey dust would shower down over her body. The next elephant in the queue repeated the process as did most of the herd. It reminded me of a line of cars waiting for their turn to go through a carwash, except in this case it was for the application of dirt rather than the removal of it.

Dust Bath

Once the herd had crossed, we moved along the track and around to the other side of the trees to see if they would emerge there. As we parked up, another safari vehicle joined us and pulled up alongside. The driver spoke to Partner and handed something to him. It was my head torch! At some point, bouncing along in the back of the vehicle, it had fallen out of my pocket onto the track. Come nightfall, your head torch is your most important bit of kit, so I was incredibly lucky to get it back.

Our mid-morning break was at a beautiful location called Hippo Pools. As the name might suggest, there were hippos aplenty along with herons, storks, geese and ducks. A yellow billed stork was searching for food in an area of shallow water covered by not green algae, but red algae. It’s half open bill sweeping back and forth in the water whilst its feet did a sort of tap dance to disturb whatever creatures were lurking under the red growth.

Yellow Billed Stork in red algae

We spent the best part of an hour parked up here taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Crocodiles lay basking in the sun soaking up the heat. Hippos grunted and snorted from different areas of the pool and occasionally, one would get out for a walk about, or one would be forced out by a bigger hippo.

Hippo Pools

Lunch was a picnic of large sausages and potato salad. Then it was back on the road, and this was another long straight road. It was a single sandy vehicle track which cut through an extensive area of mopane forest. It seemed to go on and on and on…

It was bouncing along this road that my irritation levels started to increase. I was becoming increasingly irritated by the constant stopping to check out tiny birds. Whilst I like birds, I am not interested to the degree that I need to know if a bird is the ‘long toed’ variety of a species, or if it has white eyebrows, or if it is No 273 on some list that was deficient of a tick.

This trip was supposed to be a tour focusing on mammals. But some of my fellow travellers were only interested in birds – to what seemed to my eye, an obsessive level. We would drive past a herd of impala snorting and fighting in a mass brawl, but stop to identify a bird and debate if its legs were pink or red.

It was, as I have said, a long, long drive. The state of the track meant that for prolonged periods of time we were being bounced continuously up and down in the back seat of the Toyota Landcruiser. Weariness and frustration at the birders badgering the guide to stop at every hint of a bird, even if it was tiny and a hundred metres away, saw my blood pressure rising. The fact that there is a version of this safari which focuses on birds seemed to make it even more annoying. What were these twitchers doing on my mammal tour?

Looking back, I now know there was a major factor at play here that I was unaware of at the time. I didn’t know it then, but I was starting to fall ill with Covid 19. The fit and well version of me is a happy good-natured person who is interested and fascinated in all forms of wildlife, including birds. Although my health was going to deteriorate over the rest of the trip, it wouldn’t be until I returned home that I would get confirmation that I had contracted Covid. My suspicion is that the young woman with the toilet brush eye lashes who sat next to me on the flight to Johannesburg and refused to wear a mask was the generous donor of the virus.

My flu-like symptoms would increase each day, whereas my tent mate Malcolm who also caught the virus  remained asymptomatic. He would develop health issues of his own by busting his ribs in an argument with a Toyota Landcruiser. These vehicles verge on being indestructible which was not the case with Malcolm’s ribs. It should be said that Malcolm does not carry a lot of extraneous weight, so when he missed his step disembarking from the vehicle and slammed into the metal bars at the side – it hurt. I on the other hand, carrying a bit more in the way of bodily padding would simply have bounced off uninjured.  The Scottish contingent of this trip were destined to end up a sorry diseased and injured pair.

But I digress. We did eventually arrive at our new campsite. It was very different from our riverside location in Khwai. A main track ran between the side of a large open area of savannah on one side and woodland on the other. Our camp was off this track tucked into a small clearing about 50 metres into the trees. The meal tent was set up in the centre and all the guests tents formed a rough circle around it.

Darkness soon fell but the sunset left an amazing deep red sky with the dark shapes of the trees above us standing out against the crimson afterglow.

Dinner started with a wonderful, curried apple soup. It was a soup I had never heard of before and was curious to try. It was one of the best things I tasted on the whole trip. The main course was buffalo stew which was also wonderful. I am so glad that the gathering symptoms of Covid did not affect my sense of taste. Although, if we were to come across any more elephant carcasses, I would have quite happily given up my sense of smell.

After a beer sitting by the campfire I retired to my tent and fell into an exhausted sleep unaware of the hyena lurking in the bushes a few metres away.

11:36pm –  A hyena strolls past the remnants of the camp fire next to the dining tent.

A YouTube video showing some of todays wildlife can be seen at: Okavango Safari Day Four

One thought on “Safari 2022 Day Four

  1. Steve Ingleby

    Thanks for your blog and videos yet again, Duncan. It is like reliving our trip to Botswana for a second time! Sadly Kate and I both had Covid on our return to the UK and we knew who to blaming – Ha! only joking! Fortunately our symptoms weren’t too serious and it was a good excuse to stay inside and process the thousands of photos taken.

    Don’t know if you want to see even more photos of our trip? I shared a few with friends in 5 separate posts on Facebook (one was even a short video!). I will send you a Friend request – you can always accept the request, look at the photos and then “Unfriend” me – don’t worry, I’ve got a thick skin 🙂


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