Safari 2022 Day Two

18 May     Day Two

Chattering hornbills outside the tent woke me up a couple of times in the early hours of the morning. But apart from that I slept soundly. The camp staff woke us at 5:00am. There was a definite chill in the air and as I switched on my head-torch, I could see my breath in the air.

Yellow Billed Hornbill

It was still dark as I made my way along to the meal tent. The Bell Frogs were now silent, and it was birdlife that was starting to welcome the new day. Having dodged the elephant dung, or ‘elephant muffins’ as Banda called them, I settled down to a breakfast of Bran Flakes, strawberry yogurt, toast and honey, pancakes and instant coffee.

Before climbing onboard the Landcruiser, I made sure I was wearing a jumper with a fleece on top for good measure. In the sky there were the first signs of dawn, and the promise of warmth to come.

We negotiated the five minute drive, twisting and turning along the serpentine track through the dense mopane woodland before emerging onto the main ‘highway’. Although still no more than a sandy track, the ‘highway’ was wide and straight and allowed the guide to accelerate to much higher speeds. Higher speeds equated to increased wind chill and within minutes, I was wishing for something more substantial than my jumper and a fleece.

Mongooses crossing the Highway

We endured the intense cold for about 10 – 15 minutes before leaving the highway and heading into the bush. We suddenly came upon a clearing containing a large bright green water hole. It was a strange sight. The greater part of the water surface was covered in the most vivid green algae. Around the periphery were lots of white faced whistling ducks and Egyptian geese. Blacksmith Lapwings peeped and cheeped in annoyance and irritation, and out in the middle of the water, a hippopotamus surfaced from the depths with a grunt, coating his head and back with algae in the process. A green hippo was not something that I had seen before.

Egyptian Geese by the green algae waterhole

We had heard reports that in the area there were not one, but two elephant carcasses. Where there are carcasses, there is a strong chance of predators, vultures and horrific smells. The location of the first carcass was identified by some large trees festooned with around 70 white-backed vultures. As we set course to investigate, the sickly-sweet stench of death came drifting through the morning air.

White Backed Vultures gather near the elephant carcass

Large parts of the carcass were still intact, but it was non-the-less a grim and grizzly sight. Lions had been feeding over night and were suspected of snoozing somewhere in the thick of the scrub bush nearby. The vultures all looked well fed perched up in the trees. This poor elephant was going to keep a lot of creatures well fed for days to come. What had caused its demise was unclear, but it was likely some sort of disease or infection rather than predator attack.

With the malodorous air making everyone in the vehicle gag, we moved swiftly on.

Up ahead, a much more attractive distraction presented itself. A stunning male impala bathed in the golden morning light crossed the track in front of us. There is something about impalas that I love. They have the softest most beautiful facial features, and they move with an effortless grace. Many guides regard them as being of little consequence as they are so abundant. But they are the mainstay of many of the big predators and play a vital role in the food chain. The action of elephants, of which there are many in the Okavango, helps generate extra browsing for impala and their numbers have increased as a direct result.

Male Impala

After the beauty of the impala, it was back to elephantine unpleasantness. Feeding at the side of some mopane trees, a male elephant stood with his backside towards us. This poor lad had a serious infection around his anus. The root of his tail was badly swollen, and the area was oozing copious amounts of white puss. It was not a pretty sight and looked really painful. Even flicking his tail to brush off flies must have been so uncomfortable for him. Fortunately, we were upwind so I am not in a position to describe the smell to you.

On a much smaller scale, and significantly cuter, we drew up beside something else with a trunk. Several dwarf mongooses (I’m reliable informed that that is the correct plural) had made their home in a horizontal decomposing fallen tree. They were soaking up the warmth of the morning sun. Some were on the top of the trunk. Others scurried through the grass underneath, and some popped in and out of a cavity to grab a quick look at the bank of cameras staring at them from the Landcruiser.

Dwarf Mongooses

We moved on past more impala and a few zebras, before spotting another tree with vultures. We were heading for our second elephant carcass of the morning. This one proved to be much older and the greater part of the body had been devoured. Even so, there were a couple of spotted hyenas munching on some of the tougher remnants.

The sole of one of the elephant’s front feet was facing us. It was covered in white droppings from where vultures had used it as a perch. The beast’s rib cage was distorted and upright, reminiscent of a section of a storm damaged garden fence. As we watched this gruesome scene, two more hyenas joined their fellow clan members at the dinner table.

Spotted hyena amongst the elephant ribs

The power of a hyena’s jaws is incredible, and these hyenas were using theirs to happily rip off chunks of the most distasteful looking stuff, causing the hyenas to drool, and generating moans of revulsion from those of us looking on.

Time to move on in search of prettier things.

We parked up next to a large waterhole surrounded by long grass. It was time for coffee and biscuits. The heat of the coffee through the sides of the aluminium cups proved to be really useful as hand warmers.  Sometimes, being an experienced safari enthusiast give you an advantage over the novice. Both Malcolm and I were alert to the type of biscuits our guides were putting out with the coffee and tea. There were dark brown chocolaty looking ones in a see-through bag, and in another bag some chunky, bland unappetising lumps of rusk. While everyone was drawn to the chocolate biscuits, Malcolm and I quietly attacked the rusks. Light as a feather and harder than brick, you needed the jaws of a hyena to bite into them. But they were spicy and every bit as wonderful as when we enjoyed them back in 2019.

As we chatted and stretched our legs, we watched a couple of Jacana (sometimes known as Jesus birds because they appear to walk on water) using their huge feet to balance on some water lilies. Then from the right, three beautiful white storks came flying in before gently landing on the far side of the waterhole.

Suitably refreshed and significant quantities of rusk demolished, we climbed back into the vehicles and set off once again. We had gone no great distance at all when we pulled into a clearing and stopped. One of the vehicles had a puncture. The land was quite open around this clearing in the trees, so it was safe for us to get out and walk around.

Partner and Banda set about changing the punctured tyre and we took advantage of the situation by soaking up some of the warmth from the morning sunshine. One of the trees on the edge of the clearing had the most remarkable surface. The trunk and upper branches looked as if they were constructed from a giant Cadbury’s Flake. It may have simply been an odd type of bark or possibly the dead remnants of some creeping vine that had enveloped the tree.

Cadbury’s Flake Tree

On the ground a pair of Red-billed Francolin scraped around in the dust looking for titbits to eat. Their routine was to put their head down in search of food for around three seconds, rise their head to check for anything that might kill them for around half a second, repeat. I was obviously not deemed to be the type of creature who would eat a Francolin and so they allowed me to observe them from just over a metre away.

A Francolin passing some elephant muffins

Back on the road again we stopped to watch a small troop of Chacma baboons wander past. One small youngster was failing to keep up due to its compulsion to climb each tree trunk it came to. Another youngster had adopted the more sensible approach of hanging from its mother’s under carriage. This strategy involved little effort on the youngster’s behalf, refreshments just a turn of the head away, and carried no risk of being left behind.

Young Chacma Baboon

As the heat of the day built, elephants were emerging from the woodland in search of cooling water. A group of five bulls had wandered into a lagoon and were being observed from the edge by a sunbathing crocodile. It can be incredibly easy to miss a crocodile, as they lie motionless they resemble so many fallen limbs of dead and damaged trees.  It can of course work they other way. Many tree branches or fallen limbs get mistaken for crocodiles, or ‘Log’odiles as they became known. There are also other wooden animals to spot, such as Wart Logs.

Lurking Crocodile

Four of the bulls mulled around in the shallows whilst the fifth one wandered off through the lagoon into the long grasses growing on the far side. One bull in particular looked to be chilled out, standing ankle deep in the water with his huge trunk draped over one of his tusks. The tip of his trunk would occasionally point in our direction to check out our scent, and then he would point it at the water surface and lazily exhale, creating a burst of ripples.

Trunk Curl

All the time we were there, the crocodile never moved a muscle.

We left the creatures of the lagoon to their midday paddles and turned to head back to camp for lunch. On the way back we watched a pair of hamerkops searching for a frog for their lunch, and several groups of zebras seeking out some shade.


As we drove into camp, we got our first real look in daylight at the location and the layout of the tents. The camp was set up on the banks of the Khwai River, although because of the high grass and reeds, it was difficult to make out that it actually was a river and not just a small waterhole.

Lunch consisted of salad and the most amazing mince that demanded the indulgence of second helpings. Appetite attended to, I returned to my tent to indulge in a bush shower. A bag of warm water, around the size of a Tesco plastic carrier bag, was suspended from a tripod. That was for both Malcolm and I to shower with. We would take it in turns at going first to make sure we stuck to our half bag of water.  As I was getting myself organised for my shower a noise from about 40 metres away proved to be a lone elephant crossing the river at the edge of camp. In a documentary about camping safaris, I had seen an incident where a snake dropped in from an over hanging branch to join a lady in her shower. My ears were on high alert in case I was about to be joined by an elephant in the shower. Thankfully there were no such interruptions.

Refreshed, I got dressed and popped around to the rear of our tent. Some Chacma baboons were passing by as I set up two trail cameras to capture any nocturnal visitors to the camp. My presence was completely ignored by the baboons as they went about their daily rummage for food.

Before setting off again, there was time for a coffee and a couple of slices of cake containing large quantities of green glazed cherries.

Our afternoon game drive target was to find a leopard which had been sighted in the area. As we cruised around the bush the leopard was nowhere to be seen. Then, in the distance we heard the distinct alarm call of francolins. As we approached the francolins were calling excitedly and several iridescent blue Burchell’s starlings had joined in the chorus. There was obviously something causing the birds to react like this, but it was not a leopard. It was a mongoose. It was in the long grass munching on a francolin chick. A tragedy for the distressed francolins, but an important meal for the mongoose.

We never found the leopard, but in our search for the illusive cat, we were treated to sightings of several elephants, zebra, impala and several exquisite little bee eaters.

The exquisite Little Bee Eaters

We parked up the vehicles on the edge of the green algae waterhole for a sundowner drink. The geese and ducks were settling down for the night around the waters edge. The grumpy hippo was out in the middle, and he would occasionally erupt with a series of loud grunts and snorts. As darkness fell the sky above turned from burnished orange to dark red. The last of the ducks and geese had flown in and claimed their positions by the waterhole. Then it was time for the bats to take to the sky. There were hundreds of them, swirling all over the water feeding on the abundant insect life. It was mesmerising to watch them perform their aerobatics against that gorgeous African sunset sky.

Ducks flying in at sunset

As we drove back to camp in the dark, the guides searched for nocturnal animals with a spot light. Impala, kudu and hyena all made an appearance for us. Then, there was that stench again. We were approaching the elephant carcass. Two young male lions were gorging themselves. These animals have an amazing sense of smell. The stink was horrendous to the unsophisticated noses of us humans, so what it must have been like for these lions sticking their heads inside the body cavity? It didn’t bear thinking about. It is always great to see lions, but on this occasion we did not linger.


In camp, we took time to take in the amazing African night sky. The stars were stunning. Banda talked us through the constellations on view as the bell frogs chimed all along the riverbank.

Dinner consisted of brown onion soup, lamb chops with green beans and a garlic mash. All washed down with a cheeky glass of Merlot.

While we dined a hippo walked along, immediately behind our tents, before slipping into the river. As I retired to bed, I could see the dark shape of the hippo a few metres away in the river.

Trail camera image from the rear of my tent.

Tomorrow we would be joining it in the river. Eight of us were going out for a trip in Mokoros, the traditional canoe used in the delta. As I drifted off to sleep, the hippo grunted a loud “Goodnight” to me.

The link below will take you to a video of some of the events detailed above.

Okavango Safari Day Two

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