Botswana Wildlife Safari Trip Report. August 2016
12-Day wildlife safari visiting Botswana’s Northern Parks
Trip Report: 7th – 18th August 2016
Hosted by Wildlife Photographers Andy & Sarah Skinner
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During the 12 days spent with our photographic wildlife safari group of eight clients in Northern Botswana we had some fabulous sightings. Each game drive filled with something new and different and some very pleasing photographic moments. What follows is a brief summary of some of these sightings. Together with a small selection of images from the 12 days that our group spent in Botswana on the wildlife photographic safari held August 7th – 18th 2016.
Our wildlife safari photographic adventure started in Maun, just a short 1.5-hour flight from Johannesburg and one of the best locations from which to start a tour of the Northern parks of Botswana. With guests settled in at our comfortable lodge on the banks of the Thamalakane River the first of our photographic opportunities soon presented itself with a stunning sunset on the rivers edge, just a few metres from our comfy chalets. The river, together with palms made for a lovely composition with several bird species fleeting in and out of the papyrus reeds.
The next morning our adventure began as our group met our two experienced bush guides Moses and Kane. Soon after we were off and headed to our first destination deep into the heart of the famous Moremi Game Reserve. After 45 minutes we said goodbye to tar roads for the next 12 days. Tar turned to corrugated gravel and that soon turned to deep sand, passing a variety of herbivore species as we headed deeper into the reserve.
After a nice rest stop at the entrance to Moremi Game Reserve we arrived at our first camp and our home for the next three nights. A beautiful camp, which had been set up ahead of our arrival by our own support crew with well-sized Meru style tents, complete with a simple yet well-equipped en-suite bathrooms.
The camp was nestled deep in Mopane woodland and located on the edge of the world-renowned Okavango delta. Moremi ranks as one of the most beautiful reserves in Africa, boasting one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the continent. This makes for spectacular game viewing and bird watching, including all major naturally occurring herbivore and carnivore species in the region. Our time here did certainly not disappoint!
During our three nights in Moremi we were incredibly lucky with some very special sightings, including a lone sub adult male lion, a mating pair of lions and a young male leopard. However, the highlight by far of our time in this area was undoubtedly the time we spent with wild dogs and pups at their den, which was located just 30 minutes from our camp. The pack comprised of 15 adults and 7 pups ,which provided a variety of fascinating behaviors for the group to photograph. Including some wonderful playful moments at the den as well as the adults returning and regurgitating food from kills made during our time there.
We also had plenty of time to photograph other species, including lechwe, zebra, spotted hyena and a myriad of Moremi’s other endemic species. Plus a special sighting of an African wild cat hunting guinea fowl. In addition some time was spent photographing hippos at a nearby hippo pool with some rather comical moments watching African Jacanas as they used the hippos as stepping-stones.
After our bush breakfasts there was also plenty of time to discuss photographic techniques, whilst taking in the stunning scenery of this wildlife rich area. Also providing a great opportunity in which to stretch our legs and taking time to look at animal tracks and observe the smaller species that often go unnoticed from when in a vehicle.
Bidding farewell to the wild dogs and the beautiful Moremi Game reserve we then transited to our next location; the Khwai Community area. Experiencing lovely wildlife sightings en-route. Including a young male leopard and numerous elephant breeding herds. Our journey taking us past scenic lagoons, through deep water crossings and across wooden bridges and including a lunch stop at a hippo pool
The private Khwai Concession is situated adjacent to the Moremi Game Reserve and close to the north gate entrance of Moremi. This area, formally a hunting reserve is now a well- established conservation area. Formed by the local community and under management by the Khwai Development Trust.
It has quickly established itself as a renowned location that provides excellent wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities. As soon as we settled into our spacious mobile camp we embarked on our first game drive, where we watched an abundance of bull elephants and elephant breeding herds visiting the river in which to quench their thirst.
During our three nights here we were able to photograph a large variety of species that were all concentrated along the river Khwai. A stunning river, dotted with lily pads that gently winds through the area, making this an incredibly scenic location. Elephants, baboons, zebra, impala, hippo, lechwe, giraffe and many water bird species were in attendance. In addition we were incredibly lucky to see the rare sable antelope, as well as one afternoon watching impala leaping across the river. It was soon evident why Khwai provides such a fabulous area to visit for wildlife viewing and photography.
Our time here was also focused around searching for the predators and what lay in store for us at Khwai was quite some treat. On numerous occasions we had some great leopard sightings, which included seeing one of Khwai most famous leopards, called ‘Matsebe, an adult female who is very easily identifiable leopard by a prominent notch in her right ear. On several occasions we saw her with her male cub, who at the time of writing this will now be fully independent of his mother. The two of them gave quite a show. On one occasion we had the male up a tree with an impala kill and during another sighting we were treated to mother and son playing both on the ground and then up in the tree. With just six days into our safari at this point we were already filling memory cards at a rapid rate!
However, our wildlife sightings were not just restricted to whilst we were out in game drives and what happened twice during our lunchtimes in camp is an experience will stay with us all for a very long time! During our first full day in Khwai and as we were recounting the morning’s sightings and relaxing in the shade after a lovely lunch provided by our private chef we soon spotted an elephant that had wandered into our mobile camp. With no fences between us and the animals (and one of the best ways to experience Botswana) this is an occurrence that can happen on quite a regular basis and something that Andy and I are quite used to experiencing and can never tire of!
The large bull elephant had only come into the camp for one main reason and that was to feed on the Acacia pods that were still falling from the trees (plus maybe the addition of wanting to be a little nosey as to what us humans were up to!) As we sat around the table everyone watched with excitement as he slowly made his way past each guest tent and then eventually to the lunch table where he stood behind us all and started sucking up the discarded pods that lay on the deep sandy ground. He then soon moved off and continued to feed around the tents, knocking over one of the showers in the process!
Sure enough the next day we had a repeat performance, this time from a different bull elephant, which again was looking to feed on the seedpods. This time everyone had cameras in hand at the lunch table and it was the perfect opportunity to get some great close up shots as he calmly moved around our camp before making his way down toward the river nearby to where our camp was located.
Our time soon came to an end after three nights spent in the wonderful Khwai concession and after a last morning drive in the concession area we set off for our next destination, the world famous Savuti region of Chobe National Park. Savuti area is by far one of the best areas to view lion and elephant and an area where countless wildlife documentaries have been filmed and also where the famous Marsh Pride of Savuti has become renowned and expert at hunting buffalo. The Savuti area is also home to many ancient San Bushman rock paintings and magnificent baobab tress, some over 2000 years old.
Our journey was long and dusty as we crossed the famous Magwikwe sand ridge, once part of a shoreline of an ancient lake. Upon approaching Savuti the area was very dry, the marsh which ordinarily would have filled by this time of year was parched and testament to the failed rains of the previous season, a vast difference to the lush green lagoons of both Moremi and Khwai. However, there was still an abundance of game concentrated around the waterholes and as we approached our camp plenty of signs of predator activity were presented in the vast amount of lion tracks visible in the soft sandy tracks.
Our mission here was to focus on the famous huge bull elephant herds as well as the Marsh pride of lions and in both areas we were incredibly successful. Many hours were spent at both Pump Pan and Maribou Pan where we sat and watched large congregations of bull elephants and where it was also a good opportunity to work on some creative photography with the group by doing some slow panning techniques as elephant transited to and from the waterhole.
The Marsh pride, consisting of two males, three sub adult males, four adult females and four cubs were seen on numerous occasions, with time spent with them on the dry marsh as the pride congregated one morning, as well as later on seeing them in the Savuti channel. Which for the second year running had sadly failed to flow, which it is blamed on both lack of rainfall and also potentially upon the movement of tectonic plates further upstream of the channel. However, the highlight of sightings with the pride was our last morning in which we found them at first light feeding on the remains of a buffalo that they had predated during the night. The cubs excitedly clambering all over the carcass providing some great photographic moments. It seemed such a fitting sighting with which to conclude our time in this area.
Savuti also produced any other great photographic opportunities with plenty of other game frequenting the waterholes , as the channel running dry these were the only water sources available . The sunrises here are just outstanding and where we were able to capture some lovely images of elephants drinking as the sun rose at Maribou Pan.
One afternoon we also had a very lovely sighting of a beautiful male lilac breasted roller who was very obliging to our group. Posing in lovely light and against the backdrop of the sandy terrain.
Savuti is not only famous for its concentration of elephants and predators but also for it’s ancient rock paintings and impressive Boabab trees, During one breakfast stop we visited one of Savuti’s largest and most famous baobabs. It’s huge 2000 year old mass dominating the landscape and such an impressive specimen of such an iconic tree. Prior to an afternoon drive we also took a walk up high into the rocks where Kane, one of our guides and a bushman himself gave an interesting talk on the ancient San-Bushman rock paintings and an area which gave us a great vantage point of over beautiful Savuti area.
With heavy hearts and saying farewell to Savuti after three wonderful nights we embarked on our journey to our last destination and where our safari would conclude in the town of Kasane. However, not before visiting one last destination and exploring another part of the Chobe National Park.
On arrival at our riverfront lodge in Kasane we bid a sad farewell to our two fabulous expert field guides, Moses and Kane. With a little time to dust ourselves off and a quick rest we took our last excursion with a private sunset river cruise with our group along the Chobe riverfront. The perfect way in which to experience this part of the Chobe National Park, allowing our guests to experience the park from another vantage point other than that of a vehicle based activity. The light was nothing short of glorious as we cruised past hippo, buffalo, waterbuck, and many bird species. We also had the opportunity to witness elephants swimming across the river while listening to the iconic call of nearby fish eagles.
As the sun set on our epic 12-day wildlife safari adventure it was a chance to reflect on what incredible sightings nature had delivered. Along the way allowing our guests to experience Botswana’s true wilderness areas and a variety of different habitats from the lush waterways in Moremi and Khwai to the dryer landscape of the famous Savuti area. It was a true adventure that delivered both fabulous wildlife and photographic moments for all of our guests and one that we are very much looking forward to repeating in 2017.
We would like to extend a thank you to our expert field guides Kane and Moses and of course our fantastic support crew who did a great job of setting up our camps at each location ahead of our arrival. In addition thank you to Eddie, our expert chef who each day provided us with fantastic cuisine. Not forgetting a thank you to such a great group who well and truly embraced the spirit of adventure and were happy to endure early starts and often-long days. Which most certainly paid off with some great images as a reward for putting in the hours.
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Andy & Sarah Skinner