Safari 2022 ~ Day Three

19th May              Day 3

Today was ‘Mokoro Day’.

Those of us who were going down the river on a mokoro were permitted the luxury of a long lie in bed until 07:00am. The four who did not fancy the mokoro, they were up at 05:00am to go on a game drive.

Craig, two tents away, was one of the ones who had to rise at 05:00am. As he got himself organised, his head torch brought a false dawn. It had the power of a World War 2 anti-aircraft searchlight and lit up my tent every time he turned around. But soon he was gone, and I relaxed, laid back and closed my eyes.

As I was drifting gently into a deep slumber, a hyena, uncomfortably close to the tent, started to whoop. I lay there listening to it. A hyena’s whoop can be heard over several kilometres away. This one was about seven metres away. Having completed several whoops, it thankfully moved off into the bush.

As, once again, I was drifting gently into a deep slumber, a pair of hornbills started squabbling loudly in the tree next to the tent. Having resolved whatever dispute they were having, they eventually, and thankfully, shut up.

As, yet again, I was drifting gently into a deep slumber, a Southern Ground Hornbill, a bird the size of a turkey, started to greet the day with its distinctive deep bass  ‘boom, boom, boom, boom…’

Trying once more to drift gently into a deep slumber, my bladder woke up. Defeated, I accepted that my long lie was well and truly over.

I rose from my camp bed, dressed and headed along to the dining tent. I said ‘Good Morning’ to Alfred, the member of camp staff who waited on us with both food and drink. Across from the far side of the river, the monotonous ‘boom, boom, boom, boom’ carried through the still morning air.

“Do you hear that?” asked Alfred, “What animal do you think is making that boom, boom, boom noise?”

I replied, “I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I don’t think it is an animal. I think it might be a bird.”

“Okay.” said Alfred, “What bird do you think it is?”

“My suspicion is that it is a Southern Ground Hornbill, and that you were trying to con me by asking what ‘animal’ it was.”

A huge grin spread across Albert’s face, eventually erupting into a roar of high pitched laughter. He had learned that a Scotsman who has just emerged, bleary eyed from a tent, looking close to death, (I’m not naturally a morning person), is not that easily fooled. The still laughing Alfred dived into the meal tent and emerged with an apology in the form a hot cup of coffee me.

As long as he kept me supplied with coffee in the mornings, he would always be Alfred the Great to me.

At 07:45am we left camp for the Mokoro Station which was about a kilometre up stream. There were four mokoros for eight of us. Malcolm and I climbed into our craft and our mokoro captain turned out to be called ‘Octopus’.  Standing at the rear of the mokoro, he pushed us out into the stream with a long punting pole.

The Mokoro – The best form of transport in the Delta

I have been lucky enough to have done two previous mokoro trips. It is a wonderful way to travel, utterly relaxing and magnificent for your mental health. For those suffering from stress or depression, mokoro trips should be available on the N.H.S. Moving silently and gently you glide past water lilies, reeds with tiny frogs attached to them, malachite kingfishers and stunning small bee eaters abound. African fish eagles, open-billed storks and African darters perched high above on branches as Octopus propelled us along. Deep within the reeds, a saddle-billed stork searched for frogs and small fish, and a lilac breasted roller picked insects out of the air.

Malachite Kingfisher – Photo by Bob Brewer

As we moved down stream, we passed our camp. It gave us a whole new perspective of where we were living. We shouted across to the camp staff, ordering coffee on our return.

Our fleet of Mokoros passing by our camp site

We eventually pulled up onto the bank and went ashore for tea, coffee and rusks. Octopus entertained us with some of the riverside plants and their medicinal uses. One tree had velvety soft leaves. As he pointed out, there are no shops out in the delta, so these leaves were an idea substitute for toilet paper. Andrexia Veriegata

Then he showed us the toothbrush tree. He snapped off a twig and shaped one end to use as a toothpick. The other end of the twig, he frayed, and it became a highly effective toothbrush, as was evident by his ultra-white teeth. He then showed us how to prepare and eat the bulbs of the water lilies, a delicacy also enjoyed by the local elephants.

We walked a short distance along the bank of the river until we were overlooking a large pool. At a glance, it was possible to tell there were no hippos in this pool. However, where the river narrowed further downstream, five large grey boulders could be seen amongst the reeds. Octopus shouted and clapped his hands, and the boulders miraculously came to life.

Resident of the Hippo Pool

Hippos feel safest in water they can submerge in. The sudden noise of clapping was enough to make these hippos, a bull and four females, make their way towards us in search of the deeper waters. We gnawed on blocks of rusk and drank our coffee as the hippos grunted and snorted. Speaking to Octopus, I told him that I recognised the pool from previous visits. I told him about being here in 2019 to go on a mokoro trip and bumping into the guide I had in 2016 – a lovely man called Shadrack, but better known as Shadow.

Octopus smiled. “Shadrack, the ‘Shadow’, is my uncle.” It is a small world.

Refreshed, we left the hippos in peace and returned to our mokoros for the return journey up the river.  The mokoro captains picked water lilies from the river as we glided along. The ladies were presented with necklaces made from the flowers and the men were given Robin Hood style hats made from the round leaves of the plant.

Malcolm relaxing with his Water Lily Leaf hat             Photo by P. Gudgeon

We sailed past our camp on our way back to the mokoro station. There were good natured shouts of “Get the kettle on!” directed at the camp staff who laughed, waved, and no doubt muttered a few comments back to us.

View from the front seat of the Mokoro

Back in camp, our lunch of Beef Stroganoff and pasta awaited. It was here that we were reunited with the four who had risen at 05:00am for a game drive. It had been a difficult decision to choose between the mokoro trip or the game drive, and it seems that on this occasion, the mokoro might have been the wrong choice.

The four on the game drive had seen mating baboons, herds of zebra numbering in the hundreds moving into the area, and they found the leopard. But not only did they find the leopard, they witnessed it make a kill right in front of them.

The leopard had been walking past them when it realised there was something in the long grass. It instantly adopted the stalking pose, moved slowly towards its prey, and pounced. Right in front of the lucky four, the leopard caught and killed an African Wild Cat.

But hey, we might not have seen a leopard kill, but we had hats made out of lily pads.

Over the siesta period I sat and chatted with another member of our group, a retired Chief Superintendent of Police. It soon became quite apparent that his experience of police work was very far removed from mine. Even so it was interesting to hear about his progression through the ranks.

Siesta over, we piled into the vehicles and set off in search of the wild cat killing leopard, and hopefully her cub. We drove out through the mopane trees and onto the highway. After a short distance Partner stopped the Landcruiser, reversed a few metres, and turned into the scrub and bushes. Only a couple of vehicle lengths off the highway there were several lions, all flat out and sound asleep. It was quite obvious that these lions had no plans for moving anything other than their tails or ears in response to the activities of the flies that buzzed around them.

A lioness not in full hunting mode

So we left them snoozing and pushed on down the highway in search of leopards. Those who had been out on the morning game drive and had witnessed the kill, directed Partner to the general area. Deep within some bushes the leopardess lay stretched out in the shade panting in the heat. Less than a couple of metres away from her was her cub, munching on the body of the wild cat.

Leopard mum relaxing while junior feeds

We spent the next 30-40 minutes quietly watching the cub and its mum. It was hard to put an age on the cub but it was perhaps somewhere between 6 – 8 months old. It was learning the art of stripping all the fur of the carcass, separating the meat for eating. It would try, not always successfully, to spit out great chunks of fur.

Leopard cub enjoying its meal

Every now and then, the wild cat’s striped tail would stand up to attention as the leopard cub manoeuvred the body into a better position. It was a striking image to see this small spotted cat devouring a small striped one.

Spotted cat eats striped cat

Mum moved a couple of times just to keep herself in the shade as the sun moved around, but she always kept a watchful eye on how junior was doing. They were both completely unphased by our presence, almost as if we were completely invisible.

Inevitably, word had got out to other safari vehicles, so we withdrew and left the leopards to it, before others came to see them.

We cruised around for a short while seeing many different birds, including Africa’s heaviest flying bird, the Cory Bustard. Herds of impala were plentiful. Some were over thirty strong, mostly females with the occasional young male, being lorded over by a dominant adult male. He would snort and strut his stuff keeping his hareem in order and making sure they did not stray from his control.

Other herds were made up of bachelor males, or the ‘Loser’s Club’ as Banda called them. These were males who had been unsuccessful in gathering their own herd of females. Testosterone fuelled frustration resulted in dramatic outbursts of mock fighting and chasing by these males. One minute they would be browsing peacefully, and then, in an explosion of snorts and barks and dust, the herd would burst into life. Impalas went running in all directions and fighting any other male that got close to them. Then as suddenly as all the mayhem had kicked off, peace and quiet would return to the herd and grazing and browsing would resume.

Over the VHF radio we heard the news that the lions we had seen earlier were on the move and they were hunting giraffe. Partner spun the vehicle around and made haste to the area we had seen them. We hung onto our seats as the Landcruiser bounced speeding along the uneven tracks. There was no sign of the lions when we got there, and despite there being no track to follow, Partner drove off into the bush in search of the action.

Giraffe on lion alert

Up ahead we saw standing proud above the undergrowth, the necks of three very alert giraffes. They were all looking in one direction, and there, about 150 metres away, were the lions. However, they were most definitely not in hunting mode. It was hard to tell just how many lions there were. But it was certainly a big pride. They were stretched out in amongst the bushes and long grass and at a guess there were somewhere between 14 – 18 of them.

We parked up and watched them for a while, and as we did, the giraffes slipped quietly away into the bush and disappeared.

Navigating holes, bushes, logs and termite mounds, Partner carefully picked his way back to the highway and then on down to an area by the banks of the River Khwai. Once again, there was an abundance of birdlife and lots of elephants. Two big bull elephants had waded out into the river and stood belly deep feeding on the reeds and tall green grasses.

Inevitably, we drove past the elephant carcass which continued to mature beautifully. A male lion with a bulging abdomen lay a few metres away, seemingly oblivious to the horrific stench. Looking down on the scene from two tall trees, was the multitude of equally well fed vultures.

The smell meant we did not linger, and after a brief stop at the green algae pool, where the lone grumpy hippo had been joined by several others, we headed back to camp as darkness started to fall.

Last rays of sunlight

Driving along the highway track, Partner suddenly brought the vehicle to a halt. Slowly slithering off the track into the grass was a puff adder. This is the species of snake that accounts for more human deaths than any other throughout Africa. The symptoms resulting from a puff adder bite are all horrendous and are potentially fatal. But I assured myself that this snake was obviously the only one in the district. It was at least 500 metres from my tent and in the bitter cold of the night it would not be able to travel very far. That was my rational as I erased the sight of the deadly serpent from my mind.

The camera shy, but deadly, Puff Adder

A much more pleasant distraction was delicious squash soup, followed by curried chicken and rice, and a wee glass of Merlot, (or was it two?).

Bed and instant deep sleep and a plunge into serpent free dreams brought the day to a close.

A YouTube video of the events of this day can be viewed at: Okavango Safari Day Three



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *