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Lots more wildlife if you get out by sunrise and stay out til sunset...
Overall rating
5/5

Botswana Days - With Masson Safaris

It must have been somewhere close to dawn as there were few birds calling. But it was the slight stop and start presence of a wild animal moving slowly towards the tent that caught my attention. We were on single cots inside the tent and it was the unmistakable hesitancy of the step that told me it wasn’t human. Within a fraction of time it was next to my window outside the tent, I was guessing less than three-feet away. I could hear the soft breathing and smell the musty breath of a spotted hyena as it moved away.


No, this wasn’t the first night, but it was one of the many nights of camping in the wilds of Botswana. On the first day our flights arrived a little late, so we loaded up and hurried into Moremi Game Reserve, as rules dictated that we had to be in our camp by 6:30, about sunset time (aka – no driving anywhere in the park after dark).


The camps are in a semi-open area under large, mature trees. The six tents are lined up in a somewhat 17th-century British army-manner. We arrived just after dark and along with our bags I was walked over to number two.


We were warned that animals might wander through camp, as there are never any fences out here like you find at the lodges. And no weapons are allowed anywhere in the preserve. So with those
thoughts, I wondered what would happen if an elephant decided to walk through our tent-scape? That was quickly answered with an admonishment that elephants view tents as one of the large termite mounds and would occasionally use them for a good scratch. And on one of the nights I could hear one of these hefty, gray wrecking balls make its way through camp. Not quite a tea shop, but loud enough…


After a pretty good dinner and a couple of glasses of wine, I was ready for bed. The front flap opened up about thirty feet from one of the hundreds of channels that made up the Okavango River delta. And with that water came hippos. During parts of the night when I laid awake to listen, I could hear them chortle and grunt at one another as challenges and other forms of small talk were exchanged. I was aware that hippos accounted for far more deaths than any of the other large animals in Africa and just figured what will be, will be…

Two other sounds invaded the six nights of camping in Moremi: Lion and hyena talk. My first three nights were filled with lions communicating across the vastness of grass and water. Sounds of the night swept across the African savannah were reassuring (and sometimes wonderment) that the animal world was alive and kicking.


The male lion roars as a challenge and as a communication with the pride, and those roars are usually followed by two or three soft grunts. The lioness’ roar never has those grunts, so for the most part, you knew what gender was calling. And they always seemed to be a distance from camp, very reassuring, that was until night three…


The male stared roaring a little after midnight, mostly to what sounded like a very distant female. The only problem was, he wasn’t very distant, maybe less than two hundred yards away. They went on for a while and it sure made that single cot seem like a very small, vulnerable world. At this point I was definitely aware that given just my hands and my wit, I was not even in the top three of the food chain here…


Three highlights to speak of during my time at Moremi that you will most likely find interesting: Two involving predators and the other with grazers.


We saw a small number of kills out there. And unlike our U.S. obsession with saving every animal, wilderness really is a predator eat prey world. I am sure if everyone left the safety of their home and were put in a more vulnerable situation, it would really shake our anthropogenic compassion. Especially when you see an animal taken down for a meal without feeling a sense of discouragement at what is the process of natural selection.\\\


Probably the most efficient predators are the African wild dogs (African painted dogs). Pack hunters that use pure physical agility and cunning to take down their prey. Lions and leopards will struggle to effectively suffocate their prey by grabbing their throat and holding on until the animal stops breathing. And sometimes this effective, but not necessarily efficient way of killing can take tens of minutes.


We encountered two different packs, and it was the pack on our last evening in Moremi that showed us their skills. We caught up with them along the edge of the Khwai River as the glowing, blood red sun was getting ready to set. They were looking for their final chance to hunt before the sun would set. They were ambling along in a very alert fashion looking at the game that was spread further out in the short grasses of the river. Red lechwe, impala, African buffalo and elephant were feeding, but it was the herds of impala
that were their primary prey...


As they loped along, they half-heartedly chased a flock of helmeted guinea fowl, scattering them to the forest. Finally after twenty minutes, we saw them all melt into the trees. We could see them back there and we could see that they were staring at a herd of impala. The impala had seen/scented them walking along the banks and were alert, but had not left the area they had been grazing. That was a mistake!


Without any visible sense of communication, we watched as one dog slinked out of the forest, crouching low and with its big ears laid flat, it was slowly and deliberately moving towards the impala. You could feel the both the dog’s and the impala’s tension as the distance closed. And then this lead dog broke into a dead run at the impala. All of us commented on the fact that the dog seemed like it could have easily outrun a greyhound given how fast it was moving.


Two dogs went after one impala, and that eventually ended up with the healthy, older impala out-distancing the dogs. But the other dogs made the decision to try and take down a yearling buck in their classic fashion, and they were successful.


The second lead dog took off after the impala and slowly pushed it away from the herd. The impala is an agile and very fast runner, and has a habit of kicking its hind legs out as it jumps. This effectively is a final effort to punish any predator that gets too close. But what the dogs do is hunt as an efficient killing pack. And after the turning the yearling away from the herd, the remaining dogs are spread out in a fan shape in the direction the impala has been chased. The lead dog tires, and then the next dog takes on the chase with a fresh set of legs. This goes on until the last three or four dogs of the pack finish the hunt and make the kill. The impala is tired after being chased by the six or seven dogs of the twelve-member pack, and then the remaining animals effectively do a dog-pile, with each grabbing a flank or leg and all the while pulling the animal down. Even though we did not see the final fifteen seconds of the chase (kill), by the time we got around the bend in the river, the impala was dead and already being eaten.


Feeding dogs are voracious, just ripping chunks of meat and bone off of the impala. Within fifteen minutes there is no meat and very few bones left. But now the dogs have taken an interest in a twelve-foot crocodile that smelled blood and was out of the water and heading in their direction. While most of the dogs were barking and growling at the front end, one of the dogs went around and nipped the croc’s tail. That was enough for the croc and it headed back to the water. And given that it was almost dark, we needed to head back to camp…


Our morning drives always started at 0630, about fifteen minutes before sunrise. And it seemed even with the few lodges in the area we were always the first out wandering the savannah and watching wildlife. Last night, just before dusk, we found a lioness with three year-old cubs – one female and two males. They were feeding on an elephant that had died of old age or some unknown malady on the banks of the Khwai River. It smelled to be three-to-four days dead and was just starting to fill the air.


So here we were parked thirty feet from two of the lions while the other two battled vultures and crocodiles for control of the carcass. Really no battle with the crocs as they were averaging 12-14’ and that meant if you went in the water you would end up in the same condition as the elephant. The lions knew this and fed on the top
and backside of the meal, while the crocs went in from the belly and fed on the front of the elephant from inside.


The back haunches of the elephant had already been consumed by the lions, so from our view, we could see through the back and through the eviscerated rib-cage. This gave us a portal to watch the crocs wrestle chunks of flesh from the carcass, back out and then point their snouts in the air and let gravity force-feed them. Between the lions and the crocs, the carcass was disappearing at an alarming rate! And all the lone spotted hyena on the opposite side of the river could do was watch. Way too many crocs…


The lions didn’t make the kill, but they controlled the land-based portion of it. One of the young maned males really didn’t even want the White-backed Vultures to land on the carcass. But as soon as he turned his back and started walking back to his siblings, the vultures would start feeding. Then the lion would glance over his shoulder, see the vultures and charge the vultures. Everything would scatter, and then the scenario would replay itself. Out of exasperation the lion jumped on top of the carcass and pronounced himself king-of-the-elephant! Not a bad way to let the vultures and everything else to stay away - well except the crocs…


Seeing the immensity of the carcass one day and then almost nothing but bones and semi-dried skin three days later reminded me that life was playing out all over the world in a similar fashion...


Leopards would pay us no mind as they lounged on mostly horizontal branches catching any breeze that just might come their way. African painted dogs ignored us with an indifference that almost made me think of arrogance. But really, they just didn’t seem to care one way or another. Smaller predators like jackals just went about their foraging or scavenging routines with only a quick, sideways at us. In a sense it was like the Galapagos or the Antarctic, just that we were in vehicles and not on foot (that was definitely a good thing…). All of this made for great photo opportunities and outstanding wildlife viewing...


I had expressions and fantasies of what Africa would look like and smell like, essentially make it would make me feel. One of those thoughts was to see huge herds of different grazing ungulates migrating from area to another. I knew Botswana would not be the place to have that experience, but still it was in the forefront on my Africa expectations.


So right after morning tea, we rounded a bend in one of the delta’s tributaries and came upon one of these long, languid pools filled with the periscope eyes and ears of large groups of hippos. Jacanas and other birds picked through the floating vegetation as the hippos would submerge while blowing bubbles and then resurface and twirl their ears to rid them of water.


We watched the hippos, but also noticed up at the head of the pool that some African buffalo were peeking around the corner of the trees. And then it started, just a few animals at the beginning, but then a steady stream. They started walking down the opposite bank about four to five animals wide. Red lechwe and other grazers joined the movement, as the buffalo just kept moving past us. Lots of cows, some with young and various aged males all mixed together. Thirty-five minutes later Mr. Fish estimated that we had probably just seen the largest herd of African buffalo in the entire Okavango Delta. There were ~4500 of them, and that didn’t include the other grazers. Really a treat and something I really didn’t think I would get to experience this…

The Central Kalahari -

No one drinks in the Kalahari winter, well most don’t. Except for man-made water holes and a few natural springs, most of the residents survive on derived moisture from their food.


We encountered bat-eared foxes on the surface of their dens during the late afternoon, when temperatures had cooled to the low eighties. At sunset we watched as one pair marched across the desert floor with their ears flattened and facing down. This Yoda-like appearance is how they forage. Their ears facing the ground listening for the slightest sound from any movement below. Maybe an insect, maybe a barking gecko, any sound is quickly investigated, dug up and consumed. I just thought that they had a lithe, little body under all that fur, especially after seeing at least a half-dozen burrows that were really no bigger than a softball. So it wouldn’t take much to fill that belly, but whatever was consumed was juicy enough to supply the fox with its daily moisture needs.


Grazers such at the springbok and oryx do well by grazing at night and in the early morning when grasses hold about 20-25% more moisture than during the heat of the day. And it is this moisture that sustains them through the dry winter months.


Most desert rodents around the world, and here in the Kalahari, survive on seeds. I am always amazed at the fecundity of the different species even in the most arid environments even though I don’t readily see them. But I do know that really the only sounds at night here in our camp were those of rodents rustling about in the leaves outside the tent, so they (and there are lots of them…) are here. A much quieter and different campsite than the more mesic environments of where we camped in the Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta...


The one other thing I will always carry as a memory is that so much of the drier landscapes that had some alkali component, always excited my sense of smell. Very reminiscent of those cold mornings in the Carrizo Plains of San Luis Obispo County when the dried grass mixed with the pungency of Soda Lake…


The quietness of the night and the lack of any truly big trees brought me back home to the Central Coast. There we have wide-open skies filled with stars and the Milky Way on most nights. And here in the Kalahari it was my first night to see the southern skies and the Milky Way. It also allowed all of us to see the Southern Cross, that low, kite-shaped constellation that was barely above the horizon for just two hours. When the Cross settled below the skyline, it was almost time for the tent. We had always had those early AM wake –up calls “Morning, morning…” which would give us about forty minutes for dressing, coffee and breakfast. Some mornings it was easy and some not as easy, but the one standard we could count on was there would be some new awe-inspiring animal, bird or interaction we would experience and were the first group out in the wilds So we were always ready as Mr. Fish would say “Let’s rock ‘n roll…”

© Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith

beautiful ,comprehensive,exciting,the best park i have been too in africa
Overall rating
5/5

our tour was a private tour with a family of 4.we spent 7 days in tents,with all mod cons.
animals were prolific.the big cats were on show,and elephants were everywhere.we could not have wished for more

Overall rating
4/5

We just did one evening river trip into Moremi, out of Little Kwara lodge. The birding was good and the sense of wetland wilderness was very strong. We had a dramatic hippo encounter there.

Overall rating
5/5

The Moremi Game Reserve retains that primitive look and feel, much like the Kalahari. But, in Moremi, with all it's water, we saw more leopard, wild dog, hippo and birds.

Overall rating
5/5

We only visited Moremi twice as we spent most of our time in the adjacent Kwai Concession. It was very quiet and unspoiled but most of our encounters were at a distance. The Kwai Concession was amazing, especially as we had a number of encounters with African Wild Dogs.

Very low water levels in the Delta, but the wildlife more than made up for it
Overall rating
4/5

Our safari took in two lodges on opposite sides of Moremi; Sango Lodge, in the Kwai concession in the east, and Pom Pom Lodge in the west.

We only went into the Moremi Game Reserve proper on one occasion: the rest of the time was spent in the other concessions, which at the time of our visit was where the most accessible wildlife (and in particular, of course, the predators) was to be found.

Sango was impeccable. A wonderful low key lodge, with superb, friendly staff and with two packs of Wild Dogs nearby. A brilliant few days.

Pom Pom lacked some of the special character of Sango, and didn't feel quite so special. Our guide and the wildlife that he was able to show us were both brilliant, so perhaps this is more a comment on how great Sango was, rather than a negative review for Pom Pom.

One of the most beautiful and unspoiled places in Africa.
Overall rating
5/5

Located in the heart of the Okavango - the wildlife experience doesn't get much better than this. The lodges are small and set apart, so you feel like you have the bush to yourself. Excellent game viewing options - on foot, boat, mokoro & vehicle. Anyone who enjoys a true safari experience should put Moremi at the top of their list.

Overall rating
2/5

We stayed in Sango and were disappointed overall. game drives with the exception of the first morning were very long and not much wildlife. Guide was not very interested. Overall we would have skipped this one.

Self Drive Safari Dream
Overall rating
5/5

Moremi is a paradise for self drive safari-goers. We went in early November which is considered the off season, but, as such, there were very few people in the camps and on the roads. However, the wildlife viewing was second to none and because of the lack of people we enjoyed many sightings all to ourselves including a pair of lions, leopard in a tree on a kill and countless other non-predator sightings. Be sure to take a morning and go for a makoro (basically a wood canoe) ride through the channels. It was a very peaceful experience. Finally, the biggest advice for Moremi is to make sure you have a well equipped 4x4 and drive responsibly. While we never got stuck we did have to help get a couple get out of a mud hole that they had business driving through. The roads are tough, but if you are smart you'll have no problems.

Overall rating
4/5

So many cars in 2014. Except for the elephants, we did not see all the animals we saw in 2011.

Average User Rating

  • 4.7/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star 59
  • 4 star 11
  • 3 star 3
  • 2 star 1
  • 1 star 0
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