Tag Archives: Savute Safari Lodge

GuidePost: An Interview with Guide Extraordinaire, Dean Wraith

They say you always remember your first, well my “first” was Dean Wraith. I am, of course, talking about my first safari guide and our first trip to the Mala Mala Game Reserve in December 2009. Mala Mala is located in the northeast corner of South Africa in an area known as the Sabi Sands. It shares a 12 mile long unfenced border with the west side of the renowned Kruger National Park. Wildlife is abundant and Mala Mala is especially known for its healthy leopard population. The “Big Five” (Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino and Cape Buffalo) are almost guaranteed to be seen. If you are fortunate, you may also get a chance to participate in a Wild Dog chase or see the more elusive Cheetah. So what makes the difference between a good safari and a great safari? I believe the answer is simple, your guide. This is the person who wakes you up in the morning and puts you to bed at night, just without the sleeping part.

Dean Wraith (left) and Hans van Heerden taking a break between jackal shots.

Dean Wraith (left) and Hans van Heerden taking a break between jackal shots.

I now consider us somewhat experienced “safarians” having traveled to the African continent three times with two trips to Mala Mala, two trips to Duba Plains (Botswana), two trips to Selinda Camp (Botswana)  , one trip to Zarafa Camp (Botswana) and one trip to Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe National Park (Botswana). The camps each offer their own unique experience with differences in flora and fauna, and the guides put their own twist on that experience. We have had three guides, in particular, whose passion and expertise made our safari experience with them extraordinary.

My first “Guide Post” is an interview with Dean Wraith. In addition to being a guide/ranger, he is a talented photographer who always angled our open air vehicle so that Evan could get the best shots possible. His keen sense of anticipating the animals’ moves and moods made all the difference. I give him extra kudos because we shared a vehicle with another serious wildlife photographer and her husband. We were always the first vehicle out in the morning and the last to return at night. The camaraderie was so good amongst the five of us that we returned the following year with this same Dutch couple to share another vehicle, again with Dean at the helm.

Dean and Hans taking a closer look at an elephant skull we discovered in a dry river bed.

Dean and Hans taking a closer look at an elephant skull we discovered in a dry river bed.

Lisa: A bit on your background; where did you grow up and did you get to spend time in the bush at an early age?
Dean: I grew up on the East Coast of South Africa in an area called Zululand. My earliest memories of the bush are visiting the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve with my family. I was lucky enough that it was only a couple hours from home and we would go on a regular basis.

Lisa: What inspired you to become a guide? Was there any particular person or experience that motivated you to move in this direction?
Dean: Guiding was never my first choice and to be honest I didn’t really have an idea what or how guiding worked. In my final year of studying we had a change in lecturer; Chris Galliers came in and changed my perspective on what was available out there. He suggested we think about guiding as a path after we finished and he helped me get an interview and ultimately my first guiding job at Mala Mala Private Game Reserve. Chris was a guide at Mala Mala himself.

Lisa: What kind of training/certification do you need to become a guide? What does it entail? Are there a lot of programs available in South Africa to accomplish this?
Dean: I did a Diploma in Game Ranging and Lodge Management. Within that we had the opportunity to complete a number of FGASA levels and qualifications. FGASA is the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa and they set the standards for guiding qualifications. I specifically went through a training provider called Eco-Training. There are more and more training providers popping up as the need for more guides increases. I think the most important thing it comes down to when choosing which provider you will go with is the instructors. They make all the difference, they give you the base to be able to build and develop.

Lisa: How did you come upon the Mala Mala opportunity? What is the most challenging aspect of the job? What do you love most about it?
Dean: Our lecturer at college helped me get the interview and recommended two of us for the job, both of us were hired and we started early November 2007. All in all I spent around 4 years at Mala Mala on and off. The most challenging part is finding a balance. What I love most about the job…THE JOB. I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to have worked at Mala Mala.

Lisa: Provide some detail about “a day in the life” of a Mala Mala guide.
Dean: I think what makes Mala Mala such a unique safari experience is the freedom to spend as much time in the bush as you want and that means that no 2 days are the same. But on your average day most rangers will wake up between 5h00 and 5h15. Then it’s a quick shower and shave and wake-up calls before heading down to make sure the vehicle is prepped and ready to go before having a few cups of coffee on the deck. After the caffeine fix you head out on game drive which normally lasts anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. Then it’s time for a bite to eat with your guests, breakfast is a great opportunity to chat about the drive and gives the guests a chance to elaborate on some of their questions from early or get a little more information on some of their favourite topics. After breakfast is normally a bit of a walk with the guests just to stretch the legs and help get the digestive process on the go. Then there is an opportunity to get some down time before lunch, normally this is a good opportunity to go through some photos or get in some exercise or just relax and watch a series or 2. Lunch is next and this is normally a very relaxed affair with either it being your first meal with new guests or a chance to get to know your stay over guests a little more. After lunch is a good time to sneak in a quick power nap. After catching up on your much needed beauty sleep it’s time for a little afternoon tea and then back out into the bush. Evening game drives again vary anywhere between 3 and 4 hours again. Getting back from drive there is normally time for a quick shower then down to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and a chance to start unwinding. Dinner is normally more of an event with singing and 5 courses and good wine so it ends up being the most festive meal. After walking the guests back to their room after dinner it’s time for some good shut eye and the day is done.

Lisa: So you are basically “on” about 18 hours a day for weeks on end. How many weeks do you work before you have a break in your schedule?
Dean: We worked a standard 8 weeks on and 2 weeks off. Now it has moved to 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off.

Lisa: You mention “striking the right balance” – how easy or difficult is it to move from living six to eight weeks in the bush to an urban environment? Is one transition more difficult to make than the other?
Dean: It was definitely more difficult to transition back to normal life in the city. Just trying to get back into a normal routine was tough, but then dealing with everything that comes with city life is tough.

Lisa: So here’s my big question, what makes a good guide?
Dean: I think passion is really important, having a deep love for what you do is key. Otherwise I think the routine and constant dealings with people can become overwhelming. Then things like a good all-round knowledge base, good bush skills, people skills, humility and professionalism are all important.

Lisa: I can think of a couple of experiences with you that were particularly memorable for Evan and me and gave us some insight into good guiding qualities.  On one of our morning drives we were just about to stop for coffee and stretch our legs when we heard a monkey screeching somewhere in the trees above us.  You explained that he was sounding a predator alarm call. The first thing you told us to do was to find the monkey in the trees and see if we can tell which way he was facing – that would tell us which direction to look for the predator. The tree canopy was quite large and dense and we never got a fix on the monkey or the predator, despite making a couple of wide circles around the general area. After about 30 minutes we stopped in a wide open field for our long-awaited coffee break (“wide open” being key as we wanted to avoid anything surprising us). We had just packed up breakfast and were back in the vehicle, when Hennie van Heerden spotted a large male leopard drinking down by a water hole. The big cat was probably about 400 yards away from us. We surmised this was the guy that the monkey had probably been sounding the alarm on. New alarm bells were now going off in the form of a large herd of impala who had also just noticed the leopard. The impalas were all snorting loudly and stomping their feet in unison. I was surprised to learn from you that rather than try to run, the herd was signalling to the leopard that they were very much aware of his presence. A couple of hundred yards separated the leopard from the herd. Each stood their ground. We were able to great some great shots of the leopard before he casually moved on by.

Scratching Post - Lisa Holzwarth

Scratching Post – Lisa Holzwarth

Another leopard story with you that led to one of Evan’s all-time favorite shots (and the cover shot for The LEO Chronicles) is the afternoon we followed the Tamboti female as she headed towards the Sand riverbank, densely packed with eight foot tall reeds. The other vehicle that had also been following her gave up and turned around. You looked at us and we gave the nod to head into the reeds after her. It was tough traveling but you were able to keep up enough for Evan to catch this shot just before she slipped away. This was a bit of a costly reward, at least for you. The vehicle’s tow hitch got stuck in the unevenness of the river bed’s edge and you needed to do some serious digging to get us out. I asked what we could do to help. You were covered in sweat from all the shoveling. You said, “Stay in the vehicle but keep your eyes open for anything that might want to eat me”. That was the fastest we have ever gotten out of jam. Not only did you remain calm, but you maintained your sense of humor throughout. And I took your request very seriously about keeping my eyes open!

Tamboti Female along the Sand River, Photography by Evan Schiller

Tamboti Female along the Sand River, Photography by Evan Schiller

Late Afternoon Tamboti Female - Lisa Holzwarth

Late Afternoon Tamboti Female – Lisa Holzwarth

Lisa: What’s your favorite time of the year at Mala Mala and why?
Dean: All the time☺ sorry for the smiley face but needed to do it. Any time in the bush is good time. But if I had to pick a specific time then it would have to be spring/early summer, September to early December. It’s the first rains and the colour is starting to come back to the bush. It’s the baby boom and the bush is crawling with young antelope. The bush is still “thin” enough to make viewing good and easy for photography.

Lisa: Share your most memorable experience in the bush. What made it so special?
Dean: The most memorable experience was probably my first game drive. Just the experience and mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness. Seeing the animals at such close proximity and not having a driver’s side door is something that takes a lot of getting used to. Then all the added stresses of remembering the roads and keeping track of what is happening on the radio, it all makes for an extreme adventure.

Lisa: Please share your most memorable guest stories – funny, outrageous, stupid, whatever suits you.
Dean: Guests are as interesting as the animals, different cultures and nationalities, different beliefs and point of views always makes for interesting interactions.
Lisa: You are being way too circumspect, but you make a good point. I was hoping for a good laugh, even if it was going to be at my own expense. I did follow-up on your suggestion a couple of years ago and read Peter Allison’s “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run – Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide”. Absolutely hysterical and apparently quite true.

Lisa: You’re a great photographer. When did you get started and how have you learned the craft?
Dean: I have enjoyed photography for as long as I can remember. Taking photos at Mala Mala was a no-brainer. With the amount of time and quality of game viewing the opportunities are endless. I am mostly self-taught, reading, listening and talking to other photographers and then trying all the different techniques.

Lisa: What kind of equipment are you using today? What size lenses do you use most often?
Dean: I am still using Canon and have upgraded to a 70D and a 70 – 300mm f4 – 5.6 L lens.
Lisa: Glad to hear we are still all part of the same extended Canon family.

Lisa: What’s your favorite animal to photograph and what is its personal draw to you?
Dean: Predators are great to photograph and probably top most people’s list. Elephants are my favourite; anytime you find them they will be doing something. The texture of their skin and interactions between each other make them a fun species to photograph.

Lisa: This makes perfect sense now. I can think of a couple of elephant interactions that we had with you that were really special. There was that one afternoon drive where we found ourselves in an open field near Rattray’s Camp at dusk. The field was full of a large herd of grazing elephants. It was getting too dark to get any photographs, even at the lowest f-stop but we sat quietly as the elephants, including some of the babies, came close to check us out. You said we were very safe because it was elephants coming to us, not us inserting ourselves in their space.

I also remember a late morning drive near the bridge where a particularly inquisitive young male came very close to us, ie., he could have reached into the vehicle with his trunk. We were basically taking pictures of his eye, he was that close. It was cool to see how long an elephant’s eyelashes can be. You were focusing on his ears to gauge his mood. His ears were telling you that he was very relaxed.

Elephant Eye - Lisa Holzwarth

Elephant Eye – Lisa Holzwarth

Lisa: So please share three of YOUR favorite photos and the stories behind each of them.
Dean: This photo of a Black Rhino in full flight is one of my favourite, mainly because seeing a Black Rhino is just so special. This sighting didn’t last more than 4 or 5 minutes. We came up over a blind rise with a corner so as we crested the rise this rhino was not more than 20m from us. She jogged off behind a tree and turned around to look at us. She huffed and puffed and trotted around a little before deciding to have a go at us. She stormed us and stopped about 6 or 7m away from us and charged off into the bush.

Charging Black Rhino - Dean Wraith Photography

Charging Black Rhino – Dean Wraith Photography

This next photo was taken at Mala Mala last year. A giraffe had died in the south of the reserve and 3 lions had laid claim to it. We decided to make the long drive south and on the way down bumped into 2 male lions having a bit of stand-off. We couldn’t really see them in the thick bush. We decided to carry on to the giraffe carcass and see what was going on there. We arrived and 2 lions were busy feeding with quite a few hyenas hanging around. After about 15 minutes one of the other rangers came across the 2 males having a stand-off moving towards the giraffe. The 2 lions picked up and ran off and the 2 males arrived on the scene. Then chaos broke out, the 2 males who were from different coalitions started climbing into each other and it was a real fight. Most times it is quite a bit of vocalising and posturing, but these 2 decided to throw down properly.

Mala Mala Lion Fight - Dean Wraith Photography

Mala Mala Throw Down – Dean Wraith Photography

At one stage we had a coalition of 4 male cheetah that started moving onto Mala Mala from the north and this was the first time I had seen them active. We had a great afternoon with them mostly because there were very few vehicles out and that meant we had all the time we wanted with these four. Just as the light was getting good all 4 of these boys started getting active and were eyeing out a small herd of blue wildebeest with a few youngsters in the group. We moved ahead of the cheetahs to try and get the stalk and movement towards the herd and then hopefully a chase. These 3 sat down and it all just fell into place. The whole time they were sitting there I was trying to get the right settings and just waiting for them to get up and move. They didn’t and the subsequent shot turned out to be quite a unique composition.

Cheetah Formation - Dean Wraith Photography

Cheetah Formation – Dean Wraith Photography

Lisa: When was the Cheetah(s) photo taken? (I showed it to Evan and he was blown away). Is that coalition still around? Where was their territory? I remember you and Hennie talking about them in 2010.
Dean: It was actually taken with Hennie just a few days before you and Evan arrived. They were mainly in the north eastern section close to Kruger and then the northern parts of the Sabi Sands. From what I understand the guys haven’t seen them since early 2012. There were actually quite a few different cheetah around. Several small male coalitions and then a few females too.

Lisa: You mention the rare sighting of the black rhino and why that photo is special. From all that I have read, poaching continues to be a real threat at Kruger, so how does Mala Mala and the other contiguous reserves protect themselves against poachers? I have to say that I always felt completely safe while at Mala Mala, are the animals equally safe?
Dean: Poaching is a real threat everywhere. Rhinos are being hammered in the Kruger and it comes down to not enough man power to cover the whole area. Mala Mala and the Sabi Sands have to rely on private security companies to patrol and police the area. The biggest risk for Sabi Sands is the open boundary with the Kruger which does give quite a vast thoroughfare for poachers. From what I have read and understand rhinos are going to be moved from Kruger.
Lisa: Evan and I have gotten to know some of the individuals at Great Plains Conservation who are behind the “Rhinos without Borders” project to move rhinos from South Africa to Botswana. I got the impression that some of those expected to be moved would be from Kruger. That is definitely a good thing.

Lisa: On the topic of feeling safe, a lot of people ask me if I ever felt scared while out on a game drive, especially given that we are in open air vehicles and some of the animals come extremely close. I have always had the same response, “Never”. I think a big reason for that is the vibe we got from you. You were always paying attention to the big picture including the animals’ mood, what their ears may be communicating, were there young ones in the vicinity to protect, our ability to back-up the vehicle, etc.. This is my segue into the pro’s and con’s of carrying a rifle. At Mala Mala it is standard to have a rifle anchored to where the windshield would be. I specifically remember asking you why you only loaded three of those extremely long bullets into the rifle each morning when the barrel could, in fact, hold at least six . You responded, “if we ever have to use more than three bullets, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with…” So, have you ever had to use your rifle at Mala Mala?
Dean: I have never had to use a rifle ever, whether it be on one of my walking trails or game drives. At Mala Mala the rifles were more for when we left the vehicle to track and even then I think every ranger would agree with me that if they ever had to shoot an animal it would be the worst day of their career. I have worked at reserves since Mala Mala where we didn’t take rifles out on drive. I personally prefer not having a rifle on drive purely because you probably behave in a safer manner because you don’t have that safety net.
Lisa: That’s good to hear and makes perfect sense. In Botswana, rifles are not allowed and the guides there echoed your response – without a rifle you act smarter to avoid potential animal conflicts.

Lisa: What reserve is your own personal favorite and what makes it so?
Dean: Mala Mala is a special place and I appreciate having had the opportunity to have worked there. I love any reserve or protected area because each one offers something different, but Mala Mala would definitely top my list.

Lisa: Any particular countries or regions on your own “wish list” to visit?
Dean: My list grows and grows each and every day. Namibia is such a unique destination and the exploration opportunities are endless. The rest of the places on my list are specific to a mammal species that interests me, Gorillas in Uganda, Grizzly Bears in North America, Tigers in India, Polar Bears in Svalbard. To be terribly honest, I just love traveling and anywhere in the world I get to go would be a dream come true.

Lisa: What do you do when you’re not in the bush? What do you miss when you’re in the bush? When you are out of the bush?
Dean: I have always loved the ocean so I spend quite a bit of time fishing and just enjoying the beach. I mostly miss sport while I am in the bush. I love any sport really whether it be watching or playing. When I am not in the bush I really miss the sounds and freedom the bush gives you.

Lisa: Tell me more about the travel consultancy/agency that you have started with Victoria. Do you lead your own trips? What kind of trips do you offer?
Dean: The company is called Southern African Destinations. The idea is to lead trips all over Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi). The main focus is to tailor itineraries to what the clients’ interests are. Ideally we will travel with most clients but it is entirely up to them. Our main focus initially will be Scandinavian countries because Victoria is Swedish so she has the ability to translate and communicate with the clients.

Lisa: Share with me details about your most recent organized travel trip – how many guests and where did you go?
Dean: It was 15 people which turned out to be quite an interesting challenge in its own right. We started in Cape Town where we climbed Table Mountain, visited Robben Island and Cape Point, dived with Great White Sharks, got sea sick and did a few tours around the city. After that we drove the Garden Route and stopped off in Mossel Bay and then in Jeffrey’s Bay. Along the way we visited Cape Agulhas (most Southern tip of Africa), Storm’s River Canyon where we did some ocean kayaking and Jeffery’s Bay was an opportunity for some surfing. After that we flew to Durban and spent a few days in Salt Rock (Victoria and I live here and thought it was the perfect quiet beach/city break for the group). We did a lot of time at the beach, some deep sea fishing and went to watch a rugby game. The last few days were on safari at a place called Thanda Private Game Reserve which was great, we got the Big 5 plus Black Rhino and cheetah. All in all it was a great trip.

Lisa: Please share with us your contact information for SAND – Southern African Destinations?
Dean: My work email is dean@sandtravel.co.za and Victoria’s is victoria@sandtravel.co.za and our website is www.sandtravel.co.za and we also on Facebook at Sand – Southern AfricaN Destinations and Instagram at sandtravel.

Lisa: Thanks so much for sharing your stories, your time and your ongoing friendship. I am really excited about the creation of SAND. I know the two of you will make it a big success while enjoying some extreme adventure in the process!

My Favorite Four-Letter Word – Nkwe

November 24, 2012 – Chobe National Park

 

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In a Tree – Photography by Evan Schiller

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.

 

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Standing Her Ground – Photography by Lisa Holzwarth

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.

 

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Battling the Kill – Photography by Evan Schiller

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Dinner in a Tree – Photography by Evan Schiller

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.

 

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“Chameleon” – Photography by Lisa Holzwarth

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Siesta Perspective – Photography by Lisa Holzwarth

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.

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Sunsetting Flock – Photography by Lisa Holzwarth

 

 

I Spy with My Little Eye… Our search for Chobe Leopards Continues

Safe in the Bush - Evan Schiller Photography

Safe in the Bush – Evan Schiller Photography

November 23, 2012 – Chobe National Park

When you think about the vastness of the Chobe National Park and the small number of wild leopards and lions actually living there, it feels like nothing short of a miracle that we see them at all. That’s a key reason to use an experienced guide with deep-rooted knowledge of the area and the specific territories of the big cats living within it. The guides should be good trackers who can read a lot into a paw print. If you are doing a “self-drive” and don’t know the area, you would be well-served to pack lots of good luck charms in your knapsack.

Mother Leopard Paw Print - Lisa Holzwarth

Mother Leopard Paw Print – Lisa Holzwarth

We spent the morning “in the hills” tracking the Mother Leopard. No sign of her or the cubs but we did have a decent amount of tracks to decipher. Gwist noticed that the mother’s tracks included some drag marks – it appeared she had made another kill. As I have mentioned before, being in the National Park prevented us from going off-road to follow her trail, so our tracking sometimes only gets us so far. Then other factors come into play, those being intention, persistence and of course, maybe a bit of our own luck. Gary Player once said, “the more I practice, the luckier I get”.   So for the last two weeks we have been intensely practicing/training our eyes to pick up the slightest movement or flicker of color on a pale yellow landscape which is only beginning to green-up for spring. We felt like we were literally on the Mother’s tail, despite not yet seeing it, or her.

I've Only Got Eyes for You - Lisa Holzwarth

“I’ve Only Got Eyes for You” – Lisa Holzwarth

We crossed paths with “our” two male lions that morning on their own marking/scouting mission. Whenever there is a bit of rain, the big cats need to remark their territories. That means a lot of peeing. Lions also use their loud echoing roars as a way to audibly mark their territory. You can hear a lion’s roar from over five miles away (and that’s with the human ear, I am assuming the other cats probably can hear it from further away).

Up Close and Personal - Lisa Holzwarth

Up Close and Personal – Lisa Holzwarth

 

Lion Print - Lisa Holzwarth

Lion Paw Perspective – Lisa Holzwarth

After a break for lunch, Gwist decided we should circle back to the area where we had found the Mother Leopard’s drag marks. We were driving very slowly, six eyeballs scanning the trees, the bushes and the road. All of a sudden I yelled “STOP, back-up!”. I surprised myself at my own assertiveness given that Evan and I had been fooled countless numbers of times by stumps, termite mounds and tree branches that we swore were big cats in disguise. I felt certain that I had seen a flicker of white in the bushes. I had, in fact, caught the white underside of a leopard cub tail jumping in the heavy brush. Low and behold, we had found the Mother Leopard and her TWO cubs! This was the same mother and young female that we had seen yesterday, now joined by the shy male. They were deep in a thicket with their kill. Our hard work had finally paid off in multiple LEOPARDS. We spent the balance of the afternoon with the family. It was a bit frustrating that we couldn’t get closer but there were times when the cubs ventured out of the thicket and played. In these rare moments, I wished they were a month or two older than the 5-6 months that they were, just so that they would be a tad bit taller than the yellow grass they played in.

Rumble in the Jungle - Lisa Holzwarth

Rumble in the Jungle – Lisa Holzwarth

Cameo Camo - Lisa Holzwarth

Camo Cameo – Lisa Holzwarth

 

Opposites Attract - Lisa Holzwarth

Opposites Attract – Lisa Holzwarth

I Don't See You - Lisa Holzwarth

I Don’t See You – Lisa Holzwarth

All of a sudden, Gwist yells out “HYENA!”. From the far side of the thicket a healthy adult hyena was fast approaching. The cubs took off in opposite directions – the male up a very small tree and the female across the road towards a much larger tree. We couldn’t see the mother in the dense brush but heard her snarling. The next sound coming out of the brush was the crunching of bones…

The hyena had found the leopards’ kill. The Mother Leopard was now up in one of the big trees – there was nothing more she could do until the hyena decided to move on. The hyena ate in the thicket for a bit and then rested in the tall grass, though ever vigilant. Never completely relaxing, it continued to pick up its head and look for other predators moving into the area. You start to appreciate how the survival mechanism of “fight or flight” gets imprinted on one’s DNA.

We felt very fortunate to be able to stay in one place for long periods of time. It allowed us to observe the larger dynamic occurring in the bush. This might have proven more challenging if there were other guests in our vehicle.

Coming Down - Lisa Holzwarth

Gravity Drop – Lisa Holzwarth

The hyena eventually lumbered off and the three cats came down out of their respective trees and reconnected as a family. In the meantime we had lots of other vehicles stopping to check out our scene. We finished the day basically where we started it and enjoyed a beautiful sunset before heading out of the Park.

Chobe Sunset - Lisa Holzwarth

Chobe Sunset – Lisa Holzwarth

 

 

Winners at the “Rosette” Wheel

November 22, 2012 – Chobe National Park

Up close and Personal - Lisa Holzwarth

Up close and Personal – Lisa Holzwarth

Today I get to share a photograph that still brings a smile to my face.   I vividly recall  the connectedness that comes with being face to face with this young leopard cub.  I found her deep chestnut eyes mesmerizing.

We were now three days into our Chobe trip without a single leopard sighting and I was beginning to wonder if our luck at the “rosette” wheel had finally run out.   We left camp again at 5:30am and headed first to Harvey’s Pans with the hope of seeing the lions and cubs that we had missed the afternoon before.  Unfortunately for us, the Pans were void of lions, though we did see some vultures and hyenas feeding on another dead baby elephant.  I don’t know when or how it died.

We continued to explore some new Pans and were through Warthog Valley when Gwist got a call on the radio that a mother leopard and cub had just been sighted – in the exact spot we had passed early in the morning!  Gwist dropped his head in his hands – I think his frustration equaled ours.  Evan asked if we were far from the leopards.  While the answer was “Yes”, Gwist said it was reported they were calm, though on the move.  He then threw the vehicle in reverse and floored it, “abandoning the law” and going 60 kilometers per hour (speed limit in the Park is 40).  We arrived at our destination to find three vehicles already viewing the leopards.  The leopards were about 50 to 60 yards away from us and still moving.  I have to admit that I didn’t think we had a chance in hell of seeing them up close – fortunately for us, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The cub decided to pose on a termite mound and it only got better from there.

Savute Cub on Termite Mound - Photography by Evan Schiller

Savute Cub on Termite Mound – Photography by Evan Schiller

Savute Cub on the Move - Photography by Evan Schiller

Savute Cub on the Move – Photography by Evan Schiller

Savute Mother and Cub - Photography by Evan Schiller

Savute Mother and Cub – Photography by Evan Schiller

Question: Why did the Mother Leopard cross the road?

Answer: I have absolutely no idea, but I’m glad she decided to do it in front of OUR vehicle.

Savute Synchronicity- Lisa Holzwarth

Savute Synchronicity – Lisa Holzwarth

Question: When is “bigger” not better?

Answer: When a leopard cub is so darn close to your vehicle you can (theoretically) touch it AND take its picture!

Evan was getting some great shots with his 400mm lens, despite our distance from the mother and cub.  I was struggling with my 200mm to get anything that I thought worthwhile, but then my luck changed and it became abundantly clear to me that “bigger is not always better”…   In the midst of jockeying for vehicular position, we found ourselves in the exact spot where the mother leopard decided to cross the road.  The mother crossed first.  I think the young female cub was somewhat afraid of all the cameras firing away so she hesitated.  We found ourselves face to face with this little one who appeared to be 5-6 months old.  Evan had stopped shooting because she was too close for his lens!  I, selfishly, took three more shots and then decided I was being unfair to the little one.  It was only a minute or two at most after I stopped shooting that she joined her mother on the other side of the road.  In those quiet moments we breathed in her wild beauty and innocence and rejoiced at our good fortune.

Can't get any closer than this - Lisa Holzwarth

Can’t get any closer than this – Lisa Holzwarth

Gwist told us that this mother was approximately 8 years old and that in addition to the female cub there was also a male sibling from the same litter who was quite shy.  Gwist guessed that he was probably still back at the family’s hideout.  The female cub was now about 50 yards ahead of the mother when we saw a hyena approaching.  We thought the hyena was close to where we estimated the cub to be, though we couldn’t see her.  Evan and I worried that the cub was in imminent danger.  Gwist assured us that our fears were unfounded and that even a cub of this size was not in serious danger… with only one hyena…  Fortunately for all involved, he was right.  We were then treated to some mother/daughter poses on a weathered tree trunk.  Soon thereafter, the mother and daughter split up – we assumed the mother was planning to hunt and she was sending the young one home.  We waited to see if we would see the mother again, but did not.

In Search of a  Greater Perspective - Lisa Holzwarth

In Search of a Greater Perspective – Lisa Holzwarth

When things had quieted down, Gwist shared an incredible story – it’s too bad there were no filmmakers in Chobe eight years ago to capture this tale for the big screen.  This same mother leopard had been orphaned along with two siblings (a male and female, all at six months of age) when their mother was killed by a lion.  Despite the odds, these three cubs survived to adulthood and are alive today in the Park, living in contiguous territories.

Quiet please - Lisa Holzwarth

Quiet please – Lisa Holzwarth

With the leopards no longer in view, we headed to President’s Camp for brunch.  We had gotten in the habit of staying out all day – so always brought a midday meal with us.   President’s Camp is named in honor of Botswana’s first President, Sir Seretse Khama who served in that role from 1966 (the year in which Botswana gained complete independence from England) until his death in 1980.  President’s Camp is no more than a cleared area along the river, but apparently it was a favorite camping spot for Sir Seretse Khama during his visits to the Park, which he nationalized in 1968.  Today, Ian Khama, Sir Seretse’s son, is the 4th President of the country and it’s my understanding that he is a strong supporter of Botswana wildlife and the big cats.  Our brunches at President’s Camp were generally pretty quiet, plenty of time to eat and caffeinate, “check the tires”, and catch an occasional fish eagle fly-by.

Fish Eagle at President's Camp - Photography by Evan Schiller

Fish Eagle at President’s Camp – Photography by Evan Schiller

We spent our afternoon back in search of the mother leopard.  While we saw leopard tracks just past the 2000 year old Baobab tree and close to another dead elephant, we did not see the leopard.  At one point we came upon a lone baby impala bleating for its mother.  The sight was heart-wrenching because the louder the baby cried, the more attention he was calling to himself.  For all practical purposes, we should have stayed with the impala but instead Gwist chose to circle the Ridge.  At one point Evan heard an adult impala snorting – usually the sign that it is calling attention to an intruder.  Gwist did not believe Evan’s ears.  We then caught sight of a tail – we think the white of a leopard’s tail.  While we couldn’t be certain given the thick brush amongst the rock outcroppings, we believe the leopard had made an impala kill.  It was now close to 7pm and we needed to be leaving the Park for the night but feeling like the Rosette Wheel was back in our favor.  Tomorrow we will be putting all our money on the number #3 – hoping to find the Leopard Trio of mother, daughter AND son.

Safari adventures continue – On to Chobe National Park and Praying for Pula

November 20, 2012

Counting Cats

“As I was going to St. Ives

I met a man with seven wives

Each wife had seven sacks

Each sack had seven cats

East cat had seven kits

Kits, cats, sacks, wives

How many were going to St. Ives?”

As we gathered up our cameras and gear in anticipation of visiting Chobe, we took note of the number of cats we had encountered to date and the St. Ives nursery rhyme came to mind.   We found that we could be much more definitive about the number of cats we encountered than the oft debated children’s rhyme.  Between, Zarafa, Selinda and Duba, we counted 40 different lions.  And at Selinda we were rewarded with seven sightings of five different leopards.  The five leopards were all female, three of which were adults.  Leopard #1 was approximately 8 years old and had a five-month old cub with her.  The next adult female we saw was about 4 years old and the daughter of Leopard #1.  The last adult female we came across was approximately 9 years old and she was also with a cub of approximately 7-8 months old.  Unfortunately no cheetahs were in the mix, though we knew not to expect them at Duba (nor leopards for that matter), given the watery terrain of the Delta and the lions’ dominance.  We wondered what Chobe would offer up to us, sightings of all three were certainly a possibility.

We also were very cognizant that we were visiting an area of Africa and in particular, Botswana, where the cats are relatively plentiful.  We were not blind to the fact that healthy numbers here did not necessarily correspond to healthy numbers elsewhere.  Unfortunately, many safari guests do not make this connection.  The reality is that lions have lost 80% of their historical range in Africa and recent surveys estimate that there may be fewer than 30,000 left in the wild, compared to 200,000 less than a century ago.  Leopards, while the most adaptable of the big cats, have disappeared from almost 40% of their historic range in Africa and 50% of their historic range in Asia and the cheetah has vanished from over 77% of its historic range in Africa.  It is estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 adult cheetahs left in the wild today (my statistics are coming from Panthera).  More camps and guides need to make their guests aware of this crucial situation.  Awareness is the first step in making a difference.

November 20, 2012 Flight to Savute Safari Lodge – Chobe National Park

We left Duba in the heat of the day.  Extreme heat does not make for pleasant flying on these single engine, five-seater light aircraft planes.  The Cessna 206, built in the US and known for the past forty years as the ”Land Rover of the Skies”, is as rugged as it’s four-wheeled cousin.  Anyone who has spent time in a real Land Rover knows that while you can probably get yourself out of pretty much any jam, it is sans luxury (do not confuse a real African Land Rover with the ones driven in Fairfield County, CT or Orange County, CA).   Bottom-line, there is no “climate control” on the Cessna 206, rather, the climate controls you.  Add a bit of bumpiness and someone with a weak stomach to the mix and you are just asking for trouble.  Unfortunately, one of the other two passengers (who already had been flying for an extra 20 minutes before picking us up) had eaten a big lunch before he got on the plane – big mistake for all of us.   The guy was already looking pretty green when they touched down to get us – his Grinch-like shading quickly intensified as we began to ride the warm air currents towards Chobe.  I am one of those people who is highly susceptible to the gag reflect – so I covered my ears and focused my attention on counting the elephants below us.  I quickly lost count to the multitude growing along the Delta’s meandering waterways as they guided us back to the northeast corner of Botswana.

Chobe National Park covers almost 12,000 square kilometers of the northern Kalahari and has four different areas to explore, each with its own unique ecosystem.  It is an area that has long attracted explorers – David Livingstone is known to have spent time in the area in the 1850’s.  Chobe was first designated a game reserve in 1961 and then in 1968 it was named a National Park.  Chobe is known for its large concentration of elephants – some estimate the number to be around 50,000, which would make it one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Africa, if not the largest.  Our guide, Gwist, said the number was probably closer to 70,000 or 80,000.  The herd has grown from a few thousand in the early 1990’s to its current numbers today.  What makes the area so intriguing is the dynamic of the animal migrations that flow through this Park.  The flow stems from long held traditions the animals have come to follow based on rain flow and the resultant availability of food.  In the Setswana language, “Pula” translates to “rain”.  Rain is the ultimate key to the region and life, so there’s good reason that Botswana’s currency is called the “Pula” and that when people raise their glasses to toast they say “Pula”.    We soon found that we were praying for Pula like everyone else.

Why Savute?  Our South African friend, Gordon Turner who runs Capescout, had recommended that we stay at the Savute Safari Lodge located near the Savute Marsh and covering the western stretch of the National Park.  FYI, we had spent the early part of our trip at the Zarafa and Selinda camps which lie to the west of the Savute Marsh.  Despite the relative proximity to Zarafa and Selinda, I was surprised at how different the topography and animal dynamics could be.  Zarafa and Selinda consist of riverine woodlands, open woodlands and floodplains while the Savute Marsh consists more of savannahs and grasslands.  The Marsh is what remains of an inland lake that dried up long ago with the shift of tectonic plates.  Today it is fed by the erratic Savuti Channel, whose water supply mysteriously turns on and off for long periods of time with various plate shifts.  Dereck and Beverly Joubert shot a National Geographic film many years ago called “The Stolen River”, which begins in 1982 and documents over the course of seven years the water’s disappearance from the Channel.  The water returned to the Channel in 2010, once again supplying the Marsh with the necessary elixir to feed the nutritious grasses the animals so readily seek.  Even in the dry season, the animals are attracted to the Marsh for nutrition.  The Lodge was constructed on the banks of the Savuti Channel and offered us some absolutely amazing elephant views.  Evan got some incredible shots minutes upon our arrival and just yards from our front porch.  He easily captured over 150 shots before we had unpacked our bags.  These two shots are absolutely adorable of an extremely young baby – perhaps just days old.

Baby Elephant in the Savute Channel - Photography by Evan Schiller

Baby Elephant in the Savute Channel – Photography by Evan Schiller

Baby Elephant II in the Savute Channel - Photography by Evan Schiller

Baby Elephant II in the Savute Channel – Photography by Evan Schiller

National Park versus Private Reserve?  Some of the previous camps were repeat visits for us.  We definitely wanted to add one last segment that would offer us a different terrain and potentially different animal dynamic.  That’s how Gordon decided upon Savute Safari Lodge on the edge of Chobe.   In addition to the large number of elephants, Chobe is also known for its elephant/lion relationship.  In addition to the lions, it is also home to a number of leopards, many who live in and around the rocky kopjies.  Gordon knew the Savute Safari Lodge owners well and thought the camp would be a good fit for us.  The only disconnect for us was that the three previous camps we had visited were all private reserves which meant that there were no hard and fast rules about how early you can go out for your morning drive or how late you return and whether you follow a road or go off-road.  Private reserves are all about your guide using his experience and discretion to avoid a problem before one is created – the intention being to observe the animals without creating disruption, as well as overall safety for everyone and thing involved.  With national parks come specific rules – which in retrospect is understandable given that there is much greater foot traffic coming through a national park than a private reserve, but rules can also be frustrating, especially for a photographer, when they tell you how early you can enter the park, how late you can stay and most frustrating of all, that you can’t go off road to track!  For the past ten days we had derived incredible joy and satisfaction by following cat tracks off-road for hours on end, many times to be rewarded with finding the cat who belonged to those tracks.  We soon discovered that in a national park, you can track a cat only until it goes off-road.  From that point on you technically have reached a dead-end unless your guide circles round to another road on the other side to determine if the cat continued on in that direction.  Sometimes you get lucky, but not always.   Gwist was a particular stickler to the rules – his phrase for going off-road was “abandoning the law”.  Again, I appreciated his concern – if a guide is caught “abandoning the law” for any number of infractions, he could lose his guiding license and face financial fines.  We grinned and beared it as best we could, but it was not without an occasional grumble on our end.  As I reflect back on this segment of the trip, it all worked out in the end.  We captured some great shots.  I think a lot of those shots were the result of our persistence and patience while others were derived from a little bit of luck.  All things being equal, we probably would opt for private reserves, but I feel there will still be some very special national parks in our travel future.

What happens when the “Rainy Season” is missing the Rain?

First Afternoon Game Drive – November 20, 2012

No surprise, we were the first out at 3:30pm for the afternoon game drive.  The rainy season was extremely overdue, and the ramifications of the delay soon became sadly evident.

Gwist took us into the Marsh and introduced us to two of the five male lions in this particular coalition whose territory we were now in the midst of.  These guys were both between 5 or 6 years old and Evan and I think they are actually larger than the Skimmer Male at Duba (who, to date, was the biggest guy in our eyes).  As we learned, while the Duba lions eat buffalo, the Chobe lions aren’t afraid to take down elephants.

King of Savute - Photography by Evan Schiller

King of Savute – Photography by Evan Schiller

Savute Profile - Lisa Holzwarth

Savute Profile – Lisa Holzwarth

Marsh Patrol - Lisa Holzwarth

Marsh Patrol – Lisa Holzwarth

The afternoon proved to be a difficult one.  The elephants had descended upon the Marsh for sustenance.  Some had managed to bring their young.

Got Milk? - Lisa Holzwarth

Got Milk? – Lisa Holzwarth

Follow the Leader - Lisa Holzwarth

Follow the Leader – Lisa Holzwarth

But it was the first time we were faced with watching elephants literally dying of starvation.  We wondered if the young ones we were watching today would make it.  The delay of the rain by over a month was limiting the growth of the grasses and other vegetation necessary to sustain life.  The elephants were depleting their stores of body fat and were not getting enough nutrients from the sparse vegetation left in the area.   A lot of the mopane trees had been stripped bare – what a difference to what we had experienced with the mopane and overall vegetation near Selinda and Zarafa.

It was sobering to see elephants, who had dropped to their knees without the strength to get up, dying in that position.  That afternoon we counted six among the dead in our travels.  Imagine the stench of multi-ton corpses.  The sight and smell lingers.  Gwist says there are probably about 20,000 elephant living in this general area of the Park.  This was certainly a time when the predators had easy pickings.  And for all of you who are wondering what happens with the tusks given the world’s (and especially Asia’s) demand for ivory, the Park Rangers make note of the fallen elephants and ultimately remove the tusks so that they are not a temptation for others.  We were told that they are stored by the government so that they do not end up on the world market.

Harsh Reality - Lisa Holzwarth

Harsh Reality – Lisa Holzwarth

In addition to the two 5 or 6 year old males, we also got to see two younger male lions (probably around the age of 2.5 years old).  The younger males are in the midst of being pushed out of the pride by their mother who has now apparently finally begun to accept this Group of Five coalition as the dominant males in the area.  The younger males are no match for the coalition and are of the age where they will now need to strike out on their own.

As I lay in my bed that night I listened to the elephants down on the riverbank splashing in the little bit of water running through it and prayed for Pula.

The Duba Chess Match – where’s Bobby Fischer when you need him?

November 18 – Morning Game Drive

James "007" in Action - Lisa Holzwarth

James “007” in Action – Lisa Holzwarth

High Drama & Vehicular Chaos, aka “The Moment We had all been Sweating for” – When we found the buffalo herd that morning, the lions were only 100-200 yards away.  Imagine these lions quietly circling the flanks of 1000+ edgy buffalo.   Six of the Tsaro Pride (including the 20 year-old Grandmother – a note about that later) and five younger lions, including the 2010 female cub (now a sub-adult), were in the early stages of mounting an attack.  The energy was high on all fronts – including that of the photographers.   The posturing is amazing to witness and experience. The lions are aggressive and bold, but so are the buffalo.  Given the buffalo’s size, they are not easy to take down and the big bulls work together to protect themselves and the herd.  The action started in the midst of some dense shrubbery and we initially thought that the lions were going to get lucky, but in fact, one of them came out of the shrubs with a gash in its side.

The drama was increased by some unfortunate “vehicular chaos” – imagine if you started and stopped your car every few minutes, every day that you drove it.  What kind of problem would you ultimately expect to encounter – perhaps one with your starter???  Well that is the name of the game on safaris – guides are constantly starting and stopping the vehicle – as they move closer to and further away from the animals.  We unfortunately experienced some severe starter problems just as the Chess Match was getting underway, so in the midst of the lions chasing the buffalo and then getting chased themselves, we found ourselves jumping from one vehicle to another in the midst of this action to make sure that we didn’t miss the real action!  Martin came to the rescue with a fresh vehicle so all was well. James 007 wanted to make sure we were getting the right action shots so he was yelling “SHOOT THE BULL! SHOOT THE BULL!!”.   This was my first attempt at “action” video and I have so say I am neither Ron Howard nor James Cameron – at least not yet…  Unfortunately you can’t ask for a “Take II” on the Duba set…  I am glad that Evan kept his “eye on the bull” and got some amazing photos of the experience. The lions worked together and for what seemed like a split second, one of them did jump on the back of a bull, but the buffs quickly closed ranks, heading off the ability for the lions to really join forces and pull the bull down – Advantage Buffs.

The Chase - Photography by Evan Schiller

The Chase – Photography by Evan Schiller

The Chase Continues- Photography by Evan Schiller

The Chase Continues – Photography by Evan Schiller

The Chase III - Photography by Evan Schiller

The Chase III – Photography by Evan Schiller

The Hunt - Photography by Evan Schiller

The Hunt – Photography by Evan Schiller

Waiting - Photography by Evan Schiller

Waiting – Photography by Evan Schiller

Chess Match - Photography by Evan Schiller

Chess Match – Photography by Evan Schiller

Lion Jump - Photography by Evan Schiller

Lion Jump – Photography by Evan Schiller

Lion Jump Sequence - Photography by Evan Schiller

Lion Jump Sequence – Photography by Evan Schiller

Bottom-line, despite their efforts, the lions came up short – no kill and some injury, though nothing life-threatening, this time anyway.  This is a normal occurrence for the Duba lions.  While you will find them occasionally feasting on warthog or tsessebe or lechwe, the buffalo are their primary food source, a particularly dangerous source, each and every time.  Interestingly, our guide at the Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe National Park told us that the Chobe lions steer clear of the Cape Buffalo and would never consider pulling out the Duba playbook and executing on that strategy.

Going back to the 20-year old matriarch for a minute – James 007 said it really is quite phenomenal to have a 20-year old lion in our midst.  He also said that the Duba lions live a somewhat “protected” life, given the general isolation of the Duba Plains camp in the Okavango Delta, that is, if they survive their day-to-day combat with the buffalo…

Water Break - Photography by Evan Schiller

Water Break – Photography by Evan Schiller

While so many guests want to witness a “big kill” (and we were fortunate to see that occur here in 2010) – I was fascinated watching the “Chess Match” strategy play out today and did not really feel the “need” for a climactic finale, of course, the lions would have preferred a totally different outcome.

Evan Becomes “One with the Dung” – When the action subsided and the protagonists headed for the shade, we headed down to the Hippo pool to cool our own heels (metaphorically speaking that is, under no circumstances would we consider putting our feet in or close to the water – for fear of becoming a crocodile treat).

Evan at the Hippo Pool - Lisa Holzwarth

Evan at the Hippo Pool – Lisa Holzwarth

The Hippo Pool - Photography by Evan Schiller

The Hippo Pool – Photography by Evan Schiller

A Big Hippo Hellooo - Lisa Holzwarth

A Big Hippo Hellooo – Lisa Holzwarth

James and Evan debating who can run faster if chased by a Hippo - Lisa Holzwarth

James and Evan debating who can run faster if chased by a Hippo – Lisa Holzwarth

The hippos weren’t that active, so after a bit of a coffee break, James decided to turn up the adventure-meter with an up-close and personal photo session with the elephants.  We parked near a big dirt mound as the elephants were coming our way.  Then we got OUT of the vehicle and waited for the elephants to pass, taking pictures the whole time.  Being on the ground was AMAZING – I will share my short video here. It really gives you a sense how close we were and the elephants’ size.  Did I tell you how much I love the elephants??  Notice how the adults are always protecting the young ones…

Evan really wanted a LOW ground shot and because everything was happening quickly he threw himself down to prepare for the entourage – only after they had passed did we all realize that he had thrown himself into a mound of elephant dung (not too bad, at least on a relative basis – elephant dung is pretty darn dry – just happy for our sake that it wasn’t buffalo dung he threw himself in – let’s just leave it that buffalo dung is a lot more “moist”).

On the Ground - Lisa Holzwarth

On the Ground – Lisa Holzwarth

The action continued after the departure of the elephants as we then found a lioness and her two sub-adult offspring, devouring a red lechwe in a big muddy area.  James ventured to guess that the lechwe had been killed by a crocodile the day before, but the croc had been unable to move the lechwe back towards the open water.  The lions have no problem scavenging if they feel like it and the mother and two cubs (male and female) wasted no time in devouring the lechwe.   It was most interesting to learn that this mother was in fact, Ma di Tau (the “Mother of Lions” and the star in Dereck and Beverly Joubert’s movie, The Last Lions).

Ma di Tau and Cubs - Lisa Holzwarth

Ma di Tau and Cubs – Lisa Holzwarth