Morning Game Drive, Chobe National Park – November 21, 2012
We left the Lodge at 5:30am, the earliest you can leave to get into the Park. We were on the lookout for leopards. We did see a couple of sets of lion tracks but they went into the bush. We also saw from afar four lionesses out in the Marsh with their eyes and noses set on a large herd of grazing buffalo with some wildebeest on the fringe, but it was still cool so the big cats weren’t in a hurry to seek shade. While we could easily see them, getting to them was another story. Everyone was also intrigued (and a bit envious) of the filming vehicle which was doing a documentary on Chobe’s lion and elephant dynamics and could get as close to the action as they wanted. This filming team had a permit which allowed them to overnight and off-road in the Park. This sometimes complicated matters when other visitors could see them in the distance and then try to join them in places the rest of us were not permitted to go. While this picture technically incriminates us, it does give you some perspective on how big these lions really are – the filming vehicle was just a “regular” sized SUV.
Gwist decided to travel down the “Elephant Highway”, a “road” formed from the tracks of thousands of elephants and one that had not been traveled on since 2010. It was still so dry that while, technically, it was open, the going was rough at best. Remember, you can’t travel off-road, so if you choose to take the “Elephant Highway” you are supposed to stay on it, even though it really looks like one big open marshy plain. Gwist finally threw up his hands in utter frustration with our lack of progress and decided to follow a couple of other vehicles “off-road” to avoid some of the extreme terrain. The plan backfired as a park ranger vehicle appeared in the savannah’s distance and everyone veered back onto the Elephant Highway.
We ultimately made our way over to Jackal “Island” where the four lionesses had headed – “Island” is really metaphoric here – no water in the near vicinity, more of an outcropping of slightly higher land than what surrounds it. The day had warmed up quickly and the lionesses were now in the shade, deep under some bushes and not a very camera-worthy shot.
We heard from some campers we had passed that a leopard had made a kill right outside their tent that morning, but when we went to investigate we could not find any remains.
Afternoon Game Drive – November 21, 2012
I am beginning to think we were meant to come here. Not all safaris are filled with full days of big cat sightings and overflowing memory cards. Days like this give me perspective. I always want to be learning. We have counted 30 or 31 dead elephants to date, and these are only the ones we can see who die close to the roads we happen to be on.
We left camp around 3pm in the heat of the day. It was hot for us as well as the animals, so not much activity. We went back to Jackal Island where Gwist again “abandoned the law’ to drive a whole 30 feet off the dirt road so that we could get the angle Evan wanted to capture the reflection of a lioness drinking at a water hole. We also got a few shots of a young male who was about a year old and was just starting to grow a mane. The picture reminds me of so many teenage boys I know and their scraggly facial hair.
We heard there was a leopard down by the Marsh where we had photographed the dead elephant with the two male lions yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, no leopards when we arrived.
We did see the two big males of the Coalition of Five lying near the Savute Channel. Evan was training Gwist on what it takes to position the vehicle to maximize the photographic opportunity. We soon found ourselves surrounded by lots of other vehicles. Gwist heard over the radio that six lions were spotted over by Harvey’s Pans. We debated on whether to make our way to Harvey’s and decided that two adult males “in hand” were better than “maybe” six lions down the road. It was only later that we learned the six lionesses also had brought their cubs to the Pan (a key piece of information and a missed opportunity, but this is one magnificent shot of a truly magnificent creature!)
Gwist – Gives us a lesson in Botswana Culture & Marriage 101
Because we were seriously focused on finding leopards, we sometimes found that it was smarter to sit and wait for them, rather than hoping to randomly happen upon them in our travels. This meant we had lots of quiet time with Gwist and learned a lot about him, his family and the language.
First thing, his name – all he would share is that this was not his given name but one that he had received in school and that it had a bit of a crude connotation, but that is the name he chooses to go by today.
Gwist is the youngest of six children and the only son. He only knows the age of one of his sisters, the fifth child in the family – and she is seven years his senior. Gwist did not give much detail about his parents and in fact never mentioned his father. I know he lived with his grandmother in the Delta until he was about four years old and then moved to Maun to live with his family. He went to school in Maun and when he was in his last year of high school got his girlfriend pregnant. When you get a girl pregnant (the first time), Botswana law requires you to pay the family 3500 Pula and support the child (today’s conversion rate is 1 Pula equals approximately 12 US cents, so your fine is approximately US$400, plus child support). It seems like the law relaxes a bit after that if you have more than one child with the same unmarried woman. Gwist and his girlfriend, Michelle, now have two children together and want to get married. We learned that it takes a lot of effort, persistence and savings to actually be allowed to get married, and it doesn’t hurt to have some good negotiating skills. For Gwist and Michelle the process started in October 2011 when Gwist’s uncle, acting on Gwist’s behalf, wrote a letter to Michelle’s family making known Gwist’s intention of wanting to marry Michelle. It took until February of 2012 for the two families to reach a mutual agreement. I discovered that the maximum a woman’s family could be paid for their daughter’s hand in marriage is twelve cows. The final negotiations, which lasted over two or three days, finally settled on eight cows. Gwist said his future mother-in-law was willing to take less than the twelve because she likes his good manners and believes him to be a good man. (I apologize, I never did find out the conversion rate of 1 Botswana Cow to the US dollar). We were Gwist’s last guests at Savute before he would be going back to the Delta and his Grandmother’s home for the wedding on December 21, 2012. He expected over 150 people to attend the celebration – and that’s not including the people who just invite themselves! And with regard to Gwist getting back to the Delta – while we accomplished that feat in 30 minutes via a Cessna, it can take people close to 24 hours to make the trip when they are limited to public transportation of cars, buses and boats.
Without many cats to focus on, my mind wandered to cows as we took in Gwist’s story and I began to wonder how many cows my parents would have demanded from Evan and how many he would have been willing to pay…