AFRICA 2017

By Phyllis Dawson
Botswana - Part 13
Moremi Game Reserve

  
July 29 continued

     We went back out around three o'clock, driving behind the camp past impala and zebras. A fish eagle, a yellow-billed stork and a grey heron flew over us, one after the other. We headed out to the lechwe floodplain. A large croc that was basking on the shore slipped into the water ahead of us. A superb lechwe buck stood sentinel in the ankle-deep water, backlit, a dark silhouette against the sparkling floodwaters. The rest of his herd grazed on drier ground across the floodplain.

 

     We drove along a canal with more hippos; they really are amazingly round and fat. We got a  good close look at one out of the water as he ambled along grazing, paying us no attention whatsoever. An open-billed stork stood on a termite mound, one of the best looks we had gotten at this interesting tall black bird.    

 

 
Open-billed stork

     We met up with another guide who had been looking for lions for his clients all week; he couldn’t believe we had spent all morning with 26 of them. Gee led him to the pride. The mother and her four young cubs were very near where we had left them in the morning; the mother was sleeping flat out and the babies resting quietly, several of them peering up at us curiously.
    
The big male was resting in the shade; he raised his head and looked around, gazing at us assessingly. After a while he got up, yawned and stretched, and apparently deciding we were not a threat, walked to a different spot and lay down again. Even resting quietly he had a presence about him, a sort of savage splendor. It was clear he had an innate awareness of his own supreme maleness. There was no doubt; we were in the presence of royalty.

 

     We came to the mounds where we had left the hunting pride in the morning, and most of them were still there sleeping, some in the shade and some in full sun. One lioness was lying almost hidden in a bed she had made herself in the tall red grass. An older lioness who appeared to be the dominant female was basking in the sun; she yawned expansively, showing imposing fangs, and then groomed herself. She snoozed a little more, and then made a production of ecstatically scratching her neck and chin with her hind foot. A half-grown cub lay nearby, watching her. The male with the battle scars was still sleeping in the same place we had left him. He reminded me of my house cats; I will leave them sleeping on my bed in the morning, and when I come back in the room 12 hours later they are still in exactly the same position.  

 

     The dominant lioness yawned some more, and then stood up and walked over to the male. She rubbed faces with him in greeting, and then sat down beside him and started to lick him submissively. He was not terribly nice to her, and she bared her teeth in return. Then he did a bit of yawning himself; when he stretched his jaws wide it looked like he was letting out a roar. He looked cross; the wounds on his head most have been sore – or maybe he was just hungry? The males had likely not been around to share in that last kill.     

 

     Imminent action seeming unlikely, we left the lions for the moment and drove around the area.  We saw tons of waterfowl, several crocodiles, a bull elephant, and a pair of ostriches. You can’t help but laugh, watching the male ostrich prancing around like a prima donna. A giraffe was drinking at a channel, the water streaming from his mouth as he lifted his head. A lechwe bull ran through the water, the sun behind him turning the spray to glittering diamonds.

 

     We encountered a herd of elephants in a patch of forest; they seemed unaccountably nervous as they moved through the trees. They trumpeted in alarm when they saw us, then reversed direction and quickly moved out of the area. At the time we weren't sure why they were so wary; it wasn’t until I looked at my photos later that I realized they had a very small baby with them. Even in the pictures I could barely see him; the whole herd works together to shield the smaller babies from view.

 

     A red-eyed dove sat on a twig, dressed in shades of brown, slate grey and rose, with a black ring around her neck. These lovely birds look much like the more common cape turtle-dove, but the red eyes set them apart. A darter stood atop the same termite hill we had seen the open-billed stork on earlier in the day. A grey go-away bird peered at us, and a Senegal coucal perched in a thornbush. We passed Pelican Pond again, it was still empty. I asked Gee how often he saw a display of birds like we had seen there the previous day; he said it was very rare.

 
African darter

    We stopped back by the lions again; they were all starting to sit up and yawn now; it was evident they would be heading out to hunt again soon. Two powerful lionesses snuggled together, grooming each other in mutual respect. We watched the sun go down, turning the sky to fiery colors. The pride started to move about, but we had lost the light and had to head back to camp. We saw a hyena snuffling about in the dim light, sca-VENGing, no doubt. We returned to camp while admiring the post-sunset glow over the watery plain.

 

     We heard the lions calling as we sat around the campfire, and we were sad that this was our last evening to be doing so. But oh, what a day it had been!  We certainly needn’t have worried it might be a dud. For once there was no disagreement about the highlight of the day; watching two honey badgers back down a pride of lions was everybody’s choice.  

July 30
    
The lions were calling again in the night, and early in the morning, very loud and near. The hippos kept up a hearty chorus of honking laughter. It was leaving day, and we were very sad for the mobile camping safari portion of our trip to be coming to an end. After our last breakfast of jungle oats and toast, we set off in the Landcruiser for Maun. We would have loved to have gone and found those lions again, but of course we couldn’t.
    
It was a beautiful morning. The sky was accented with clouds edged in fiery light, and geese flew across the sunrise. As we headed toward Maun, it seemed like the animals all came out to say goodbye.

     A gorgeous giraffe stood by the side of the road, posing for us in the spectacular morning light. Soon she was joined by another, and they gazed at us with gentle expressions. A large flock of pelicans gathered around a small waterhole, no doubt some of the same ones we had seen at Pelican Pond. A bit further on a family of zebras greeted us, including a wide-eyed foal that still had his long baby fur.

     Three magnificent kudu bulls walked beside the road, and then one at a time they crossed in front of us in a stately manner. Soon they were followed by two more; they briefly picked up a canter before stopping to turn and pay their respects. Impala and warthogs put in an appearance, as did hornbills, doves, Guineafowl and a bateleur eagle. An elephant paused to bid us farewell as he crossed the road ahead of us.

     We came to the veterinary checkpoint at the gate out of Moremi, where we were required to walk through a footbath of disinfectant to avoid the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. We could see the controversial Buffalo Fence, a double line of high wire fencing that was erected to prevent the spread of disease from cattle mingling with the wild buffalo. Gee told us that millions of wildebeest and zebra died on that fence because they could not follow their migratory routes to get to water. Elephants, on the other hand, just push the fence down. The buffalo have learned to follow the elephants, and cross the fence once it is down.

     We were now out of the park and on the main road to Maun. Gee told us some facts and stories to pass the time. He said that leopards are more aggressive than lions. If confronted by one, you should stare a lion in the eyes, but avoid eye contact with a leopard because it might provoke an attack. He told the story about when he and his dad once stared down a lion for over four hours when he was a small child. The lion was right in front of them, threatening, but as long as they kept eye contact with him, he would not attack. Gee and his father stood for four hours staring into the lion’s eyes. However as it started getting dark, Gee’s father knew that as soon as the lion could not see their eyes any more it would attack and kill them. Eventually he raised his gun and shot the lion, which he had been hoping to avoid. Gee said in such a case you just get one shot – you better not miss!

     We pulled off the road and stopped for tea break down by a wide river. A donkey stood out in the water; at first I thought it was a hippo. There was a fence along the river consisting of just a single strand of wire, which would keep out nothing – as evidenced by the donkey. There was a big palm tree nearby, which we used when we needed to go check the tires. It was not very private, but nobody appeared to look or care. Ladies were doing their laundry in the edge of the water, hanging it on some upright posts to dry. I wondered if there were crocodiles.

 

     Several times local people came down the path to get water, filling their buckets and carrying them back up the hill on their heads. One woman had several small children with her; they seemed scared and started to cry. Gee told us they are afraid of white people. We gave the kids some Werthers candies, after which they seemed less afraid. We gave one to their mother too; she seemed surprised and appreciative. I felt a bit awkward, hoping we were not being stereotypical ‘Ugly Americans.’  These people are lovely, so down to earth and true, and their lifestyle is a million miles from ours.

     It was interesting to pass through the small towns and communities. Before long we came to Gee’s village, Shorobe. He said it was an hour’s walk from his island, Chinxom Island. We passed the school he went to, and the house his mean aunt lived in, where he stayed when he was in school.   

     After a while the road turned to pavement. We started seeing more and more donkeys and cattle by the road, either grazing on the verge or laying down resting. Two donkeys without bridles were pulling a cart. A bit further on there was a pair of donkeys tethered together with ropes around their necks, and hobbled with a bandana. As we got closer to Maun, there were cattle and goats in the road everywhere. Gee said the cattle and goats are put in kraals at night to protect them, but the donkeys usually are not. The cattle are branded for identification.

      We saw several horses standing chest deep in the Delta waters eating grass, and then others just loose along the road. Horses roam free also, like the donkeys. There were small stacks of firewood for sale along the road; the local people sell it to the self-driving tourists.
    
Gee pointed out a river that leads to his property, which is on an island with palm trees, between two rivers.  One can only get to it by mokoro or boat. He plans to build a lodge or camp there in the future. He told us he has seven cows on the island. He did also have 14 goats, but they went off in the rainy season and got eaten.

     We said farewell to Gee at the airport in Maun. We were very sad to leave him. It had been a charmed trip, extraordinary in every way. I was already making plans for when I could come back.


Gee

     We also said goodbye to Patty and Rob, who were going home. The rest of us, Paula, Natalie, Tara, Jineen and I, were heading on to Camp Kalahari at the Makgadikgadi Pans for the final add-on portion of our trip. 

 ~ Continued on next page ~


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