This trip happened as a result of an earlier photo group safari that I helped lead a couple of years ago. Three of the folk who were on that trip, decided to plan their own custom trip, and I guided them for the whole itinerary.
We started out with four days at Kwetsani, which is in the north-west of the Okavango Delta. Exceptionally high water levels meant we had to boat each day for half an hour to reach the drier western game drive area, but we just got up a little earlier to make this work out.
There were many highlights during our time at Kwetsani. A young female leopard displayed herself on a dead tree in the last soft light of the afternoon. Another leopard jumped over a shallow pool of water in front of us.
A herd of almost 40 elephants moved by us in the open one morning, and another herd crossed a river channel whilst we were watching them from our boat on another occasion. The spotted hyaena in the area really put on a good show too, and we enjoyed photographing and watching hyaena cubs at play in the early morning, as well as seeing them active in the water on one afternoon. Some quite large herds of zebra also provided us with much interest. Our daily trips on the boat gave us many opportunities to photograph water birds as they flew alongside. We also spent an afternoon with a troop of banded mongooses that live on the island where Jao camp is sited, and as a result are quite approachable on foot.
We flew the 20 minute hop from Kwetsani to Chitabe during the midday and again spent four nights in our next location. Chitabe is a good area for carnivores, and on this occasion it did not disappoint. We found two male lions on our first afternoon, and although they were asleep, they woke and moved at sunset. Our next day was good in terms of sightings, but tough for photography. Three leopards and a cheetah showed up, but all were in harsh light conditions, or asleep. Our photographic luck changed the next day, when we watched a pack of wild dogs feeding on an impala they had killed. The pack consisted of twenty adults, and seven pups. A young female leopard had been attracted to the commotion, and the wild dogs had chased the leopard up a tree. The leopard was quite hungry though, and happy to bide its time until the dogs moved off. On three occasions the leopard tried to come down, only to get chased up the closest tree again. When the dogs moved off to rest in the shade, the cat came down the tree, grabbed what was left of the impala carcass, and hoisted it rapidly back up into the safety of a dead tree.
The next morning we found two young leopards moving slowly along the edge of a channel. The big pack of wild dogs were just a few hundred metres away, and were busy finishing off another impala. After feeding, the dogs took to playing in the shallow water of a nearby channel. There was so much going on that we almost didn’t know what to photograph. The leopards slipped away though, and we concentrated on the wild dogs. For the next hour the dogs kept at it, chasing one another through the water, and play-fighting on and on. Then some of the adults ran off, and we followed as they chased off a hyaena. Later, when another group of the adults left, we followed again and found them eating yet another impala. A pack of this size needs more than just a single impala each day. This time the dogs had killed their prey on an island, and we had some excellent photo opportunities when they crossed back onto the mainland, on their way to collect missing pack members and to return to the pups. The late afternoon brought more fantastic wild dog viewing, this time of the pack moving through some wet areas in good light, and then our last morning we located a small group of lions on the move, again in good light. It sometimes happens that you are at a place at the right time, and our visit to Chitabe was one of those occasions.
After a half-hour flight from Chitabe, we arrived at Dumatau. The camp is situated on the edge of the Linyanti river floodplain, and has access to that river as well as the Savuti channel. We were again lucky with photo opportunities of the wild dogs, this time a pack of 10 adults and 9 pups. A highlight was photographing a lone wild dog running down a female kudu. At the last moment the kuduescaped by running into the river for refuge and the dog went elsewhere. Wild dogs are cautious of crocodiles in deep water and don’t enter it too readily unless they have to. Up-close elephants, a couple of leopard sightings, and lots of other animals like zebra, buffalo, and elephant in herds made up some of the other sightings that we had.
It remains more important than ever though to select an itinerary carefully, as the highly variable water levels in many of northern Botswanas wildlife areas mean that conditions do not remain the same year after year.
This trip produced a very strong mix of good sightings and photo opportunities, with the wild dogs and leopards at Chitabe perhaps being the highlight for me.