November 24, 2012 – Chobe National Park
You know the old saying, “When given lemons, make lemonade”. My corollary in Botswana: On a rainy day in Chobe, when the leopards don’t want to play, make the best of things and learn how to say “Leopard” in Setswanese.
We continued our routine of leaving camp at 5:30am and not returning until 7pm. We definitely kept Gwist busy. No rest for our weary guide. I can only imagine if Gwist has a blog out there and what he could be writing about us… If you want to read some funny stories from a guide’s perspective, pick up “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide” by Peter Allison. It is full of guest/guide anecdotes and from what other guides have told me, it is all too true.
We chose to start our day where we left the Leopard family the night before. Fresh tracks in the road alerted us to another Leopard/Hyena encounter. Who needs video cameras when the tracks can easily tell the story – the cubs were with their Mother when confronted by the Hyena. The Mother Leopard’s nails were firmly imprinted in the ground – she was definitely taking a stand for herself and the two cubs. We also noticed that yesterday’s kill (a young adult male impala), which had previously been deep in the bush, was now high up in a nearby tree.
We didn’t see any of the cats so decided to do one of our loops and look for more tracks along the way. Their kill was safely in the tree so we were confident the trio was relatively close. We returned about 30 minutes later to find the leopards out and another vehicle watching the action. We stayed here for the balance of the day, only taking a break for lunch at President’s Camp.
Given that we technically could not go off-road for closer viewing and photography, we were fortunate that the leopards had decided to pull this impala up a tall tree located at a crossroads of sorts, so we had two different angles from which we could potentially shoot. Most visitors take time midday for a siesta of sorts (which is also a quiet time for the big cats given the heat of the day), but we stayed put and took the opportunity to “abandon the law” and move a little closer to our subjects (even the Park Rangers take a siesta). Unfortunately, the leopards weren’t particularly cooperative, choosing to stay deep in the shade of the bush or up in the tree.
We passed the time in the rain learning the Setswana names for the all the animals we had been fortunate to see and photograph. Anyone who looks at my journal will get a laugh out of the phonetic spelling that I also included for each name so that I would remember how to correctly pronounce the names of so many of these magnificent creatures. My friend Alison Nicholls, the wildlife artist who lived in Botswana for a number of years, may correct me on some of these, but this is what my ear heard at the time…
Lion – Tau (sounds like “tao ooh”)
Leopard – Nkwe (sounds like “uun kway” – with a long A)
Hyena – Phiri (sounds like “peer re” – with a long E on the second syllable)
Elephant – Tlou (sounds like either “toe” or proper name “cloow” with long o)
Giraffe – Thutwa (sounds like “two twa” with soft a)
Warthog – Kolobe (sounds like “koo lou bay” with a long a)
Baboon – Tshwene (sounds like “sTwen nee” with a long e on second syllable)
Hippo- Kubu (sounds like “koo boo”)
Porcupine – Noko (sounds like “no koo” with a long o on first syllable)
Zebra – Pitse ya naga (sounds like “peek e ahnaha” with soft e on second syllable)
Wildebeest – Kgokong (sounds like “co co nay”)
Wild Dog – Matlharelwa (sounds like “ma tah less wah”)
The afternoon brought a different sort of Phiri, of the “four-wheeled” variety, into our life. It felt like all the vehicles in Chobe were stopping to see “our” leopards. We got a very heavy downpour that afternoon which ultimately cleared out all the Phiri. I was happy for the Tlou and the other grazers.