Safari 2022 ~ Day Six

Day Six – May 22nd

I had not had the best night’s sleep, but not as bad as Malcolm who had been awake since 1:30am. The pain in his damaged ribs had worsened and he just couldn’t get warm.

Even so, our wake-up call came at 05:30am and we rose for the day ahead. After a quick breakfast, we loaded our kit onto the vehicle, and we rolled out of camp at 06:15am. Malcolm and I, both feeling a wee bit under the weather, were unaware that this would prove to be one of the best wildlife viewing days of our trip.

We were heading for an area called ‘Black Pools’ and we would be away for most of the day. It was another cold morning but mercifully, without the icy winds of yesterday. Non the less, there was a frost, and our breath hung in clouds in the morning air.

Okay, this was Africa, but it was so much colder than anyone had expected. Some members of our group were wearing six layers of clothing to fend off the chill. Some were wearing pyjamas under their clothes. Malcolm even took a woollen blanket from his bed to try and keep warm.


As we left the area of the camp, the sun ventured above the horizon with golden light. It was to be a long journey to Black Pools, and I hoped that there would be lots of giraffes when we got there. The collective noun for a group of giraffes on the move is a ‘Journey of Giraffes’. But the term for a stationary group is a ‘Tower of Giraffes’. My hope was that I would see a Tower at Black Pools.

The big aim of the day was to find a cheetah in the wide open areas surrounding Black Pools, but it was not to be. As we passed through a wooded area, we encountered a breeding herd of elephants crossing the track ahead of us. Then we got our first sighting of a small herd of buffalo. They were about 50 metres away amongst the trees and the undergrowth. Most carried on munching the vegetation, but one or two watched us intently, giving us the evil eye. Up above in one of the trees a tawny eagle did its best to pass itself off as a branch.

Tawny Eagle

We drove all around the area but there were no cheetahs to be found. Then we arrived at a waterhole with a host of birds and animals. On the side of the waterhole nearest to us there were wildebeest, warthogs, tsessebe, and the Tower of Giraffes I had hoped for. A crocodile had pulled itself out of the water in an attempt to draw some heat from the morning sun into its cold body. I could relate to that entirely.

Wildebeest in the company of giraffes

Beyond the waterhole, a group of twenty or so zebras stood nervously. One female committed to walk down the slope towards the water’s edge to drink. The others seemed unconvinced about the wisdom of such a move and made no attempt to join her.  They watched from a safe distance as the brave one slaked her thirst. Red billed oxpeckers scrambled over her hide causing obvious annoyance.

Having drunk her fill, she turned to climb back up the slope towards the rest of the watching herd. It was then that we saw it. A horrific wound to the zebra’s right rear leg. A large chunk had been bitten out of her thigh and the gaping wound was attracting the oxpeckers who were trying to feed on the raw flesh and blood. A smaller chunk was missing from her left thigh and a long narrow slash ran down her left flank.

Wounded Zebra (still from video clip)

With a combination of stagger, limp, and jumping the beast hobbled away in extreme pain. It was horrible to watch this beautiful animal in such obvious distress. The rest of the zebra kept their distance. Wounded animals attract predators. She slowly made her way out into an open area away from the herd and just stood there alone. Wild animals have remarkable powers of recovery and given time she might survive. But if any of the Okavango’s predators found her, she would not be able to run or defend herself.

It was impossible to say what had caused the injury. If it was one of the delta’s big cats, she had put up one hell of a fight to escape.

Content that the wounded animal had distanced herself, the other zebras came tentatively down to the water’s edge to drink.

The amorous warthog

Elsewhere around the waterhole a large warthog boar was taking a great deal of interest in a lady warthog. She was seemingly ignoring the fact that, like a dog on a lead, he was following her every move. She just kept on snuffling around for edible roots as if he wasn’t there. But every now and then she would take a ninety degree turn, left or right, glancing behind to see if he was still there, just to make sure his interest was genuine.

The Tower of giraffes seemed content just to watch the morning’s activities around the waterhole. A pair of black backed jackals looked to have teamed up with four wildebeest and a couple of cattle egrets, all of them apparently intent on not doing a lot, even when the two-piece convoy of warthogs wandered past.

Red Billed Francolin or Spurfowl

Then just to add to the menagerie, three impalas ran through the scene. Impala don’t trot or gallop but travel at speed somewhere between the two… perhaps ‘trolloping’.

Black backed jackal

We watched and enjoyed the events of the morning unfold around the waterhole for about forty minutes before heading off for 10:00am coffee. Banda parked up by some trees, jumped out of the vehicle and wandered into the bush clapping his hands. A few moments later he returned and announced it was safe for us to disembark and find somewhere to mark our territory. Tea, coffee, and biscuits followed.

A giraffe apparently pleased at our departure

It is worth noting at this point that my normal practice would be to write up my journal of the day’s events when we returned to camp. I did just that, however my entries stop as I wrote about this particular coffee break. As the day came to an end, still unaware that I had Covid 19, my energies ran out and I never wrote any more. So, from here on in, my recollections are based on 100’s of photographs, videos, and a rather unreliable memory.

Anyhow, back to the story.

Having had my coffee and possibly an extra biscuit or two, I headed into the trees for a pee. It was slightly disconcerting to find the skull of a buffalo looking up at me from the base of a tree. Fortunately, it was not fresh and looked like it had been laying there for a long time. Even so, despite Banda’s clapping to scare off predators, I kept a watchful eye on the surrounding bushes.

Back on the move we were becoming aware of the smell of smoke. We had seen that column of smoke from a new bushfire the previous day and it was becoming apparent that the fire was growing. It was still a considerable distance from us, but there was a smoky haze spreading low across the southwestern sky.

Smoke haze

Over the next hour and a half we meandered through the landscape and saw more black backed jackals, tsessebe and impala, various birds, but no cheetahs. Then we emerged from some woodland and before us lay a large open expanse. The edge of the treeline gave way to a strip of short green grass and then, running parallel to the treeline, a river. On the far bank of the river was swamp with tall grasses and reeds and the occasional tree. On one such tree perched an African fish eagle and amongst the reeds a bull elephant grazed peacefully and a male lechwe kept an eye on three females.

We drove along the grassy strip where a large herd of impala had gathered. A few hippos surfaced one by one in the river and watched us suspiciously. An African darter perched on a dead branch drying its wings in the midday sunshine.

Banda turned the Landcruiser around and we followed the grassy strip in the opposite direction. A group of fifteen hippos were gathered on the far bank of the river. There are several collective nouns for a group of hippos including, herd, pod, a crash, bloat, or dale. These were big hippos, so I’ll say there was a bloat of them.

One hippo, carrying a solitary red billed oxpecker on its back, slipped into the water leaving the oxpecker looking for a new perch. It looked as if the hippo was not expecting the river to be as deep as it was. Its slow, deliberate entry into the water was concluded by a rapid plunge beneath the surface, as the hippo vanished from sight.

The rest of the bloat stood or lay on the bank unperturbed by the sudden disappearance of one of its members. A youngster kept close to its mother’s side, wary of the box of humans photographing them from the other side of the river. Cattle egrets, oxpeckers, jacanas, and sacred ibis congregated around and on the bloat. One egret was right in front of a hippo’s nose. It looked as if the egret would disappear up the hippo’s nostril if the huge beast suddenly inhaled.

Mother and child

Eventually, another hippo decided to head for the water, and that triggered a similar response from the rest of the bloat. The ones that were lying down rose to their feet and slowly, like a solid grey landslide, they slipped on mass into the water. The birds that had been perched on the hippo’s backs, congregated in the area of reeds that the bloat had just vacated, searching for insects.

Once again, we turned and drove along the grassy strip passing a herd of male impalas arguing with themselves. We parked up for a spot of lunch in the shade of the trees. The smoke away to the southwest was becoming more apparent and its smell was ever present now. It was obviously becoming a significant fire.

Three headed giraffe

After lunch we began the journey back towards camp. We passed a couple of warthogs who were more concerned about running away than the amorous intentions of the pair we had seen by the waterhole. A couple of saddle billed storks explored a small area of water and then we encountered the buffalo herd we passed in the early part of the day. This time they were much closer to the track, and we enjoyed a far better sighting.

Ever vigilant buffalo

Then it was time for that lilac breasted roller moment again. It was perched on the side of a termite mound. We parked up, aimed our cameras, and waited. When it did eventually take off Banda, who in fairness had done this thousands of times over the years, was the only one who got a really good photograph of the moment. Mine was out of focus and partly out of frame – but you get the general idea.

Next time…

The air was really starting to fill with smoke now. A solitary hippo ambled along through an area of open grassland with an escort of three cattle egrets. Spoonbills and Egyptian geese searched through shallow water for tasty titbits. Some lechwe watched us from a distance with towering palm trees in the smoky air behind them. From above the bushes the occasional giraffe’s neck and head would make an appearance in the gloom.

Smoke becoming worse as the day progressed

The terrain became familiar as we neared camp and I was relieved to disembark and relax in the sunshine at the front of my tent. It was at this point I started to write up my journal, but I was making heavy weather of it. We planned to head out again about 4:15pm and it confused me that I just had no enthusiasm for another game drive. But hey, I was in the Okavango Delta, possibly for the last time, and so like it or not, I was going to go.

Laughing dove

I am so glad that I made the effort, and sad that, due to his busted ribs, Malcolm chose not to. He would miss out on what was a stunning sighting.

We knew that there were lions in the area, we had heard them roaring close to the camp during the night. So, we set off to find them. Within twenty minutes, Banda spotted them. Not so much a pride of lions, but a heap of lions. The remnants of an old termite mound that had grassed over with the passage of time stood out from the flat ground around it. On, and around, this mound was a heap of lions bathed in the warm, golden light of the late afternoon sun. It was a mix of lionesses, sub adults and cubs. It made for a spectacular sight. Then we spotted a couple of lions laying in the long grass to the left. Then another lioness approached from the right.

We were parked up just twenty or so yards away from this wonderful family of lions feeling so privileged to be there. Then, along a tree line about two hundred metres beyond the mound, a zebra appeared. It looked quite relaxed as it walked slowly along. Almost immediately, one of the sub adult lions spotted it and sat up. Simultaneously, the zebra froze. One of the lionesses looked around at what had caught the youngster’s eye. A quick, experienced glance told mum that it was too far away to bother about, and she put her head back down and chilled out with the others.

Attentive lion cub

The zebra, by this time had worked out that there were better and safer places to be, turned and fled.

Peace returned to the mound. But not for long. Along the same track the zebra had been on came a giraffe. Once again, the youngsters were interested but the adults simply ignored it. Unlike the zebra, the giraffe kept going, but kept a wary eye on the lions as it passed through.

Mother and cub

After a while one of the lionesses got to her feet, stretched and yawned, and them ambled off in the direction of the track the giraffe had been on. Over a period of around five minutes, one by one the lions rose and moved off in the same direction. Banda started up the Landcruiser and took a wide sweeping route past the lions and parked up with them coming towards us.

They seemed to be walking without purpose, unsure of where they were going or why. A mother and younger cub emerged out of the long grass a few metres away followed by a sub adult. They stopped and looked around and listened.

A few moments later a deep grunting roar sounded from behind a line of trees. The response was instant. All the lions, young and old, responded with calls of their own and trotted off towards the trees.

Banda fired up the engine and drove as quickly as he could to a gap in the treeline. As we parked up the lioness that made the first call met up with the rest of the pride charging through the trees. The affection with which this cat was met was astonishing to see. The pride was all making the most amazing noises, a cross between purring, moaning and gentle growling. They all snuzzled into one another in a display of utter excitement, delight, and affection. It was a magical moment to witness.

The pride moved off and we left them in peace. We turned and started to make our way back to camp. It was 5:40pm and the sun was slowly sinking into a layer of smoke which hung low in the sky.

We stopped to grab a few photos of sunset before racing back to camp. In the fading light of dusk, we encountered a breeding herd of female elephants and calves wandering across the track in front of us. We let most of them pass and then nipped through a gap in the herd. As Banda pointed out, the rule is that we have to be back in camp before dark. We made it… sort of.

Smoky sunset

It had been an amazing day of wildlife experiences, and for me it was the best day of the whole safari.

We all gathered around the campfire before dinner for a drink and to chat about all we had seen.

What would tomorrow bring? As the smoke climbed from the fire into the night sky, and as I sipped on a red wine, I was blissfully unaware of what waited for me the next morning.


A video of the events in the above blog can be viewed on YouTube via the link below.

Okavango Safari Day Six

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