Month: November 2017

Botswana and the Okavango Delta

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It’s the people (including our excellent guides and camp staff) that make the trip, and the 14 people that joined me on this trip were some of the best guests I have ever taken to Africa. I would know, I have been taking people like this on trips for decades. Hopefully, we will be traveling as a group again in the near future.

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Four of my guests were from Michigan, one was from Nevada, and the rest from California. This is at Camp Moremi, at the Okavango Delta in Botswana. You will get a chance to see them in action later in this page. 

 The guides in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana, were all outstanding. They are the reason we had a spectacular time, saw more wildlife than we ever dreamed we would, and did it in safety and comfort (with full stomachs).

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These guides were way too serious about their work, and we could never get them to lighten up for a photo

This page, containing a substantial amount of information and photos on what it is like to travel to Southern Africa on a luxury safari (safari is a Swahili word for overland journey), and the wildlife you will encounter.  I did it for those of you that cannot make such a journey, so you can experience it vicariously. If you are interested in going on a trip like this in the future, rumor has it we will be going back to Africa in 2019, exact dates and location to be determined.

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We set up the trip with my friend Sharel at Luxe Travel, using Big Five Safaris in Africa. They  did a great job on the myriad of details and logistics required to make this trip a success.

Wildlife Photography

For you wildlife photography buffs, the majority of the photos were taken with a Canon 1Dx Mark II using a Canon 400mm f/4 D.O. lens, sometimes with 1.4X and 2X teleconverters. After using the Canon 500mm f/4 lens for many trips, I have settled on the 400mm D.O. for my last few trips, and have not regretted it. Its smaller size and weight are a good tradeoff compared to the extra 100mm of reach with the 500mm lens.

My assistant photographer and I also used a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-105 f/4 lens and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. A small amount of photos were taken with an iPhone 7.

Then there is the challenge of getting this equipment though security. Each country is different as to what scares them about what you can bring on the airplane. After traveling through many security checkpoints with no problem, an allen wrench that I use for my tripod was considered dangerous in one country, and was confiscated- go figure. Overall though, security was professional and efficient.

The biggest challenge is using this equipment in the field; getting just the right angle for the photo on moving subjects that could care less about your photo, then getting the guide to stop the moving vehicle in time before the wildlife leave, and then fighting off the baboons when they try to steal your camera. All in a days work for your average wildlife photographer. This page only has a fraction of the thousands of photos we took.

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Sometimes that moving vehicle was a boat

Africa

The continent of Africa has almost a billion people, and is growing rapidly. They want to be part of the modern world, and are developing all of their resources as fast as they can. This burgeoning human population has caused the decimation of all the big cats, the giraffe, the elephants, and the rhinoceros. Add to this the huge poaching problem due to the demand from China and Vietnam for elephant tusks and  rhinoceros horns, (and jaguars and tigers in other countries for their body parts) and you have a bleak future for these animals.

There is a glimmer of hope in China. The demand has come from the growing middle class and their interest in showing off their wealth in the form of Ivory carvings. Added to the unique blend of corruption and crony capitalism that is China’s economic model, and you have a huge demand. As of the end of 2017 China has banned ivory carving, and has closed down businesses that carve ivory. It remains to be seen what will happen in such a large country, with complex business relationships, and a long tradition of ivory carving.

The December, 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine has more detail on Africa’s modernization, and also how the Chinese are poaching jaguars in South America.

This is why I tell everyone who has an interest in going to Africa to see the wildlife, that it is well advised to go now, while the spectacle and the wildlife are still in abundance, and the infrastructure to travel safely and in comfort is still there. The country of Botswana is at the forefront of conservation in African wildlife, and a good place to see these animals.

The Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta in Botswana gets its water from two rivers that flow from Angola, the country just to the north of Botswana. Angola has been the victim of tremendous political unrest, and it is still not settled. These people need important resources like water to rebuild, and there is worry that the people in Angola will use so much of the water from the rivers that supply the Delta, that the Delta is in peril. The November, 2017 issue of National Geographic (Nat Geo) magazine lays out the troubles the Okavango Delta faces in regards to water replenishing the Delta each year. The potential changes here are another reason to go now.

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The Okavango Delta is the the northwest corner of Botswana, adjacent to the northern part of Namibia, and just below Angola 

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The view of the Okavango Delta on our flight from Zimbabwe

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The two camps we stayed at in the Moremi Game Reserve are circled. After or four nights at Camp Moremi (rightmost circle above) we flew to Camp Okavango (leftmost circle above). The blue lines are waterways, where we spent significant time. In the center is Chiefs Island, where we went on walking tours.

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The Moremi Game Reserve has great wildlife viewing. I will be showing only a few of these animals on this page. 

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This is the wildlife sightings board at the entrance to the Moremi Game Reserve. The section on GPS is circled to remind everyone to turn off the GPS function of your smartphones and cameras. If you don’t, and you post animal pictures on social media, the poachers can track the animals you photograph using the GPS coordinates attached to your photo. 

Let’s get on to the story and photos.  This page has 14 separate sections on this trip, ranging from our adventure at Victoria Falls, to our camps, to the wildlife we photographed.

Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls (including swimming in Devil’s Pool at the edge of the falls)

Victoria Falls Entrance

The Victoria Falls airport is nice, too bad it took almost 2 hours to get through customs. Welcome to Africa!

Camp Moremi

After  two days at Victoria Falls we flew to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, staying at Camp Moremi for the next four nights. After Camp Moremi, we stayed at Camp Okavango for three nights.

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This camp is in a remote area surrounded by wildlife

Camp Okavango

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Our second camp was also in a remote area surrounded by wildlife

The fun people on our trip

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Dominic and Michelle have been on many trips with me, with many more to go!

Zebra in action

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The calm before the storm

Elephant

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If it wasn’t for the Chinese the elephants would not be poached for their tusks

Hippos

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They are fun to watch, just keep your distance

Cape Buffalo

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Their nickname is Black Death, so keep your distance from them also

Lions on the airstrip

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Time to move so the passengers can unload

Leopard on the hunt

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This female leopard loved having her picture taken

Wild Dogs

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One of the most successful predators in Africa is the wild dog

Black Mamba

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We encountered this dangerous snake while on a hike

Delta Birds

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The reeds of the Delta harbored many colorful birds like this Malachite Kingfisher

Cape Town diving with the Great White Sharks (well, not exactly)

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I learned about Great Whites, but not from diving with them

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Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

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Once we got through customs and brought our bags to the hotel, our African adventure started by going on a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi river. It was a great way to start the trip.

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On the cruise we had our first encounter with guides from Zimbabwe. They were fantastic in their warmth, knowledge, and professionalism. 

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I kept an extra hand on my camera when this guide asked if he could take a photo. Didn’t feel like losing my camera in the river so early on my trip!

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There is wildlife all along the banks of the Zambezi

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It was a good start to our trip, and was an inkling of what was to come

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The hippos put on a show with their territorial displays of fighting

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Hippos are dangerous, and will attack a canoe and capsize it. This one thought about it, but then realized our boat was a little bigger than a canoe.

The next day we went to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls to swim at Devil’s Pool at the end of the falls. During certain times of the year, when the water level is lower, you can swim to the very edge of the waterfalls with a guide.

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On the walk to Devi’s Pool you go past the gorge of the Zambezi. Zimbabwe is on the right, Zambia is on the left, separated by the Zambezi river below. 

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This is my view from the picture above. It is Victoria Falls, with some people at Devil’s Pool at the top right of the picture, which is our next destination after a short hike and swim. 

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A closer view of the water raging over the falls

If you are looking for something fun and adventurous to do in Africa, try hanging over the edge at Devils Pool at the Victoria Falls on the Zambian side of the falls.

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The trip starts off with a briefing by the guide on your short boat ride to the pool

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This is the sign you see upon arrival at Livingstone Island, where the Devil’s pool is

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A little liquid courage to help keep you going

The people at the top right are at the Devil’s Pool

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The view from the rocks along the trail to the pool

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As you get near this is one of the views you see

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The rapids alongside the pool

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Another guide, who was not too good at focusing, used my camera to obtain the following shots and video

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Last chance to change your mind

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The final view of the pool before you enter

Our last minute instructions

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The guide dives in first

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He mentioned earlier not to worry about the little fish that nibble on your toes

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He sits on the edge and gets ready for one of us to show up. CP gets volunteered to go first. 

We weren’t allowed to jump in

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Ready for the rest of the group to join me

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Group shot time

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We had the chance to hang right up to the edge

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Out guide getting some shots over the edge

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One of the photos he took

Our last video before we had to leave

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Before we left they gave us a gourmet breakfast

After the morning dip in the pool we took a tour of Victoria Falls (Vic Falls) from the Zimbabwe side. There is a national park that gives you tremendous insight into these falls, one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

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Victoria Falls was named for Queen Victoria by David Livingstone (from the “Doctor Livingstone I presume” fame)

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The view of just one part of the falls from the Zimbabwen side. Pictures can never do justice to the real thing, and I would need to make this photo as large as a wall to give you an idea of the immensity of Victoria Falls. 

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This is the same view, taken 22 years earlier, when I went to Zimbabwe on my black rhino trip. I think I did a pretty good job getting a similar view. 

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Camp Moremi- Okavango, Delta

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There are few roads, so the best way to get from Victoria Falls to Camp Moremi is by flying

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Walking to your room, you never know who or what (a bushbuck) might be waiting for you at these camps. You are in the bush, surrounded by wildlife, and can hear the lions and other animals at night. 

Camp-moremi-bed-BotswanaOur rooms at Camp Moremi were luxurious

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There was a souvenir waiting for us, courtesy of Luxe Travel and Big Five Safaris

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The daytime dining and meeting area

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Speaking of food, the cuisine was great and plentiful, even for a vegan like Dana

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The pool beckoned during the mid-day heat

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We used these powerful motorboats to explore the waterways around the camp

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It was like being in an everglades boat


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The boats are flat bottomed, so we could go right up to the vegetation at the edge of he river

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Photo op with Dana, my assistant photographer

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Photo op with Lets and Kops

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The had a beautiful bar/lounge/meeting room, and one night Dr. P gave a presentation

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Lets gave a presentation on another night

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Before dinner the cooks and wait staff would tell us what was on the menu, and then do a native song and dance

The staff at Camp Moremi saying good bye to a couple and telling them how they appreciate them coming here on their vacation. These are gracious and appreciative people!

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Amarula was a popular drink in the field

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They don’t call it a delta for nothing

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As we drove the delta around Moremi we saw an interesting landscape

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Sunsets were colorful

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The sun would change its hue as it set

Our 3 main guides were fantastic. They were lots of fun, always had a smile on their faces, had eagle eyes when it came to spotting wildlife, and always had something to eat and drink for us.

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Lasty Lets Kops

After Camp Moremi we flew to Camp Okavango

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Camp Okavango- Okavango, Delta

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After four nights at Camp Moremi our next stop was Camp Okavango, with another set of great guides and staff

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At this camp there are no Landcruisers. If you walk, it’s with  an unarmed guide, since no guns are allowed

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The mokoro rides are with a guide that moves you through the reeds with a large pole 

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They had powerboats just like at Camp Moremi, and took us to the islands in the area for our walking tour

Our rooms were large, luxurious, comfortable, and with a huge bathroom and shower. The shower was so large we could have had a party in it!

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Our veranda

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The well stocked bar, open 24 hours

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One of the areas to relax at mid-day during the heat, and also after dinner

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There was Internet access, but no WiFi. We told them never to get WiFi, this way people could interact instead of putting their noses in a phone.

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The location of the campfires and star gazing after dinner

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Dinner for 15, with a few guides and staff added in

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Another camp with outstanding cuisine

How our meals were introduced each night. This night we were having broccoli as our vegetable, with an mmmm of approval from the rest of the cooks and staff

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After our meal announcement it was time for a song and a lap before eating

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Speaking of song and dance, even when they surprised us with brunch in the bush there was singing and dancing

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After our mokoro rides it was time for drinks

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Remember these guys? They are still not smiling as they get our sundowner drinks ready.

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And more singing and dancing after drinks

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And more singing and dancing after drinks

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And a little more singing and dancing

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Dominic showing them the proper way to dance

Dominic has rhythm!

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Grota always had a smile, even when she was delivering water her way 

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Leina, the camp manager, helping out

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My namesake

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What a cool name!

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Kaizer trying to focus with the 400mm (he wasn’t very good, but I didn’t say anything since he was carrying my camera for me)

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Lokang  pushing us in the mokoro

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Zak explaining animal sounds

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Owner keeping an eye out for elephants

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Too bad we could not stay there forever, and after 3 nights Zak waved good bye to us as we flew to Cape Town for our Great White Shark cage dive

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Botswana 2017 Guests

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A few photos of the peeps in our group doing their thing, some of them courtesy of Hal Gosling. Don’t miss the two videos of Dominic; one singing in a canoe, the other dancing with the locals.

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Dominic singing “Amore”

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The Active Zebra of the Okavango Delta

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The zebra in this part of Africa are called the Common Zebra, also known as the Burchell’s Zebra. These are the same ones you see throughout East Africa. The other species of zebra I have seen on prior trips are the Grevy’s Zebra in northern Kenya.

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Zebra’s faces have lots of expression

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Zebra have this uncanny ability to turn their butts to you as soon as you pull out the camera. Be prepared to get a lot of these shots as you are learning how to quickly photograph their faces

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Zebra are plentiful, and frequent locations that might surprise you. This is at the Livingstone hotel in Zambia, on our way to the Devil’s Pool. 

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My wish to see a little bit of zebra action came true when we encountered these males

Zebra stallions are aggressive and domineering animals that want to have a harem. They will fight other male zebras for this opportunity.  Even though I have never seen this, some of these fights lead to serious injury and death.  This aggressiveness is one of the reasons this “horse” has never been tamed.

The following male stallions decided to test each other’s strength and assert their dominance. Following are just a few of the photos I have, that took place as they sparred with each other. As the sequence goes on I concentrate more on their faces.

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When we first came upon the herd of males and females we saw these two males like this, thinking they were being nice towards each other. Not quite, as you will see from the following sequence of photos.

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Elephants of the Okavango Delta

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The waterways of the Okavango Delta attract large numbers of elephants for obvious reasons. You will frequently see them on land, on the islands, at the water’s edge, and in the water. We saw them from our vehicle and our boat, and we even walked amongst them. If you are an elephant fan like us, you will be in heaven.

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Evidence of their presence is everywhere

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They destroy trees as they go about their normal routine

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Walking amounts them was one of the more thrilling ways to see them. This one was not happy with our presence, and our guide made us lay low for a few minutes, then carefully circle past him, giving him wide berth.

As we drove around the Moremi Game Reserve we encountered elephants frequently. They were usually in large herds, with many youngsters of varying age. The herd was led by a female elephant who had substantial wisdom on finding food and water.

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Elephant herd crossing a stream

This young male is in musth, as evidenced by the fluid draining from his ear behind his left eye. This is the equivalent of being in heat in the elephant world. When males are in this state they are more aggressive. This male showed his irritation with our presence by shaking his head and ears, and then trumpeting loudly. Our guide knew he was just showing off, and after a few seconds of this, he went back to eating.

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It talks a lot of munching to fill up this stomach

We saw many elephant on the islands and the waterways of the Okavango Delta. They were quite peaceful, and we were able to get amazingly close in our boats. The high speed boats let us cover a substantial part of the waterways near our camp, yet we still only saw a small fraction of the Delta.

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Hippopotamus of the Okavango Delta

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They look so cute and adorable, especially when they are cuddling in the water. Don’t be fooled by their “three stooges” look, they are quite dangerous as most people know. They are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other larger mammal.

You don’t want to get between them and their escape route, a bull’s territory, or females with their young. From the stories I heard from guides and other guests, the biggest danger is when you are canoeing in the water and don’t see them, when all of a sudden one emerges near or under your canoe. The hippo panics and attacks the canoe, usually tipping it over, and possibly biting the occupants.

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They are rarely alone, unless it is a male that has been pushed out of the group by the dominant bull

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Threat displays are common

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Fighting amongst the males is common

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They have a smirk on their faces, and sometimes remind me of the three stooges

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Their skin is sensitive and will burn if they are out of the water for too long

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Do you see the five birds in this photo?

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The five birds are still present

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Cape Buffalo of the Okavango Delta

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Cape Buffalo (some people mistakenly call them water buffalo) are know by two other names; African Buffalo, and Black Death. The Black Death comes from their propensity to consciously charge hunters after they have been wounded in an attempt (successfully sometimes) to kill the hunter.

We took the powerboats to an island for a walking tour with our guide. We encountered a herd of Cape Buffalo at our landing site, and had to wait from them to pass. This gave us an opportunity to photograph them up close, while they were calm (although inquisitive about us based on their stares), and from the safety of our boats.  Once they moved away we walked around the island. Africa is a whole different place when you walk around with an experienced guide that points out the the details of this complicated ecosystem you miss when riding in a vehicle.

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We could see them in the distance as we neared our landing spot

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The large bulls kept an eye on us as the herd grazed unworried

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As we got closer, they came to the water’s edge

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As they slowly walked past they would stop their grazing and stare at us

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The large bulls came up to the waters edge to look at us

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We waited until they moved on and then disembarked on to the land for our tour with Zak

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Our guide kept a tab on them as they grazed

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After one final check with the binoculars we moved on for our walking tour

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Our first observation was a large den, probably from an aardvark

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Lion tracks were easy to spot in the soft sand

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Zak taught us about animal tracks

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From the elephant tracks were learned how to tell which foot we were looking at, and the size and age of the elephant

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Do you see the lion track in the center of this elephant track

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This view makes it easier to visualize

As we continued walking Zak heard the alarm call of a bird, and said that it was a reptile alarm call. I though he was pulling our leg. He said that in this area it was either a lizard or a snake. I remained skeptical, even when we saw the skid marks of a reasonably large snake in the area. My skepticism rapidly vanished when another guide in our group called us over to him just 50 yards away. They were looking at a Black Mamba snake in a tree.

Click here to go to my Black Mamba page. I never dreamed I would be standing this close to such a dangerous animal. I have only seen one once, and it was in Kenya when I was on an Earthwatch project monitoring the lions in Tsavo National Park. I will show that old photo, along with the new ones, when you follow the link. 

 

 

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There are Lions on the Airstrip

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Our guides drove us to the airstrip at Camp Moremi to see some male lions. Sure enough, when we got there we saw two lazy male lions enjoying their peace and quiet (which would soon be interrupted).

One male was sitting under the fire buckets, while the other was at the passenger loading area. Neither had a care in the world, that is until an airplane with passengers landed. The bush pilot saw our vehicles near the airstrip, so he knew something was up, and was not caught by surprise when he landed and taxied to the passenger loading area.

These bush pilots are professional and experienced, and know what to do in this situation. Once the airplane is on the ground the lions usually move away due to the noise. If they don’t move far enough away for passenger safety, the pilot will rev up his engine and the blast from the prop will move the lions further. This pilot did this, and once the lions were at a reasonable distance, all of our guides moved our vehicles in a line between the lions and embarking/departing passengers. It was quite entertaining, and the passengers on the airplane now have a story to tell the folks back home.

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The two sleeping lions who are about to be rudely awakened

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This guy did not have a care in the world, and was enjoying his siesta in the sun

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The other one slept in the shade

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When the pilot saw all of our vehicles he knew something was up

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He could see the lions as soon as he landed

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The male closest to the airplane heard the airplane land and was instantly alert

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He decided it might be a good time to move, and sauntered right past our vehicle.

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He was in no rush, and took his sweet old time

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He has a beautiful mane

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He walked past his buddy who was now also awake from his nap

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The first male decided to stop by one of our vehicles and stare at its occupants. We were not blocking his path, so it is hard to known why he stopped. 

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For some reason he was not too keen on them, as you can see from his body language. He could hear the airplane getting closer, so he kept on moving.

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The pilot taxied towards this lion (the other lion had already moved into the bushes on the right) to keep him moving away from the passenger loading area

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The nose of the revving engine kept the lion moving

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The lion was still too close for the pilot’s peace of mind…

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so he kept coming towards the lion

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The pilot was still not happy, so he turned the airplane away and revved the engine

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This procedure worked, and both lions moved far enough away for the pilot to feel comfortable enough to unload his passengers

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Our guides moved our vehicles forward between the lions and the airplane to help the pilot

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With the lions at a safe distance, and our vehicles blocking the lion, the passengers unloaded and loaded

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The airplane uneventfully left  the loading area with new passengers

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It took off successfully

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Our friends went back to relaxing


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We had a bunch of happy campers (and guides) this day!

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