African Safari - 2023
Gomoti Camp, Okavango Delta East, Botswana
After landing at the Santawani airstrip near Gomoti Camp, we were greeted with the mobile version of afternoon tea, including both regular and gluten-free versions of the bread to go with the fruit.
Gomoti features Natural Habitat's first all-electric safari vehicle. They have the whole setup with solar panels that charge batteries which are then used for overnight charging. The best part was traveling around minus all the noise of a diesel engine. With the tire noise, we weren't sneaking up on anything, but it was visibly less disturbing to the animals when we could stop and start without all the racket.
The afternoon snack at the airstrip was especially appreciated because we headed straight out on a game drive while the guys packed up the picnic and took our luggage to camp. The area features four male cheetahs. Ona had a lead on their location, so we set out to find them.
On the way we got distracted. Ona noticed an antelope paying very close attention to something nearby. He followed that lead and found an adult female leopard lounging near a small watering hole. She had a full belly and was panting, indicating a recent large meal. Ona guessed that she had a kill nearby and perhaps offspring tucked away to share the bounty. From her body language, he predicted a direction, and after a bit she got up and moved in that direction. We bounced around in the truck, following the leopard until she stopped, then circled around to find the remaining third of an antelope. Since it was on the ground, Ona suspected it was initially too large for her to carry up a tree out of the reach of hyenas. Could she protect what was left from scavengers? Did she have offspring nearby? Sunset was approaching, so we would have to come back in the morning to find out.
We returned the next morning to find the carcass had been carried up a very convenient ramp. Nearby there was a hyena hoping that it would perhaps fall to the ground.
Instead of the adult leopard, we found her two young sons playing around, getting their fill, and protecting the carcass from eagles who wanted a share.
The boys seemed pretty casual about their larder until eagles threatened to swoop in, then this guy went up to gnaw and make it clear it was still theirs.
The next morning we came back to check on things and found a bateleur eagle picking at the mostly-stripped skeleton. It seems the hyena's vigil was not rewarded.
There were a lot of elephants at Gomoti. They wandered around foraging, emerging from the trees and crossing the trails. Encounters were often close and brief making it difficult to get good photos. This large bull was standing firm in a nice pose as we took a turn on the trail.
Gomoti Camp is built around a watering hole. The camp gets its water from an underground source. They desalinate the water for human use and also keep water pumped into the watering hole for the animals.
The watering hole attracts traffic around the clock. During the day, when not out on a game drive, we could hang around and watch animals wander in for a drink.
The giraffe in the photo above waited for the elephant to finish before coming to the water. Even with their long necks, giraffes have to splay their front legs out to reach the water.
Later that afternoon, a herd of elephants strolled in.
The elephants like getting the water directly from the source. This family is sharing a drink right where it gets pumped out of the ground.
This adorable youngster was following its family back into the trees after getting a drink and cooling down with a splash.
We couldn't see the watering hole at night, but there was often quite a commotion with animals splashing around and occasionally elephants trumpeting. One morning while we were getting ready for the day, Cathy thought she heard an elephant close to the tent. As we walked to breakfast there was evidence that she was right.
We picked this time of year to see babies and were quite successful.
Even very young zebras have legs almost as long as the adults, making it difficult for predators to spot the youngsters in a herd.
It's fun to see the young giraffes frolic around.
Video of baby giraffe nudged into a gallop
Ona spotted this through the foliage: an impala born just minutes earlier literally still wet behind the ears, and everywhere else. We watched briefly as mother cleaned up the newborn but left when Ona decided we were making mom nervous.
These lilac-breasted rollers look like they just splashed around in a rainbow. Click on the photo to see a larger version.
The first two days at Gomoti, we saw lots of interesting animals while bouncing around in the truck searching for the four male cheetahs. Ona coordinated with other guides in the area via radio, sharing signs of where the cheetahs had been recently. Finally, on our second morning (the fourth game drive), someone found them. They are three brothers plus another male that joined their group, referred to as "the four brothers" by the guides.
While on an evening drive, we spotted several lions walking through the trees along the path. Ona quickly took us offroad to get ahead of them and parked in a clearing next to a termite mound adorned with lions.
Soon, the matriarch emerged, walked right up to within a few feet of the truck and flopped down for a rest. One after another, more came out into the clearing. They were all relaxed, occasionally opening their mouths wide and showing their impressive teeth, but they were just yawning.
Eventually, we had eleven lions hanging out with us. They were so close we couldn't get a group shot even with the widest lens on our big cameras, so Cathy snapped the photo below with Tom's iPhone in wide angle mode. It shows the lions but makes them look small and far away. They were neither. Click on the photo to see a larger version. If you want to count the lions, the last one is barely visible to the right of the termite mound, facing away from us.
Suddenly, the lions went on alert. Off to our left, we could barely see a pack of African wild dogs. One of the adult female lions took off toward the dogs, and we followed in the truck. The dogs immediately reacted to the lion, and most of the pack took off. This adult stayed back, barking and snarling to distract the lioness while the pups were spirited off to safety.
The next morning, we went in search of the wild dogs and found about half of the local pack. No pups were in sight, so they must have been with the rest of the pack. This group was parked but alert.
In the distance we heard the others calling and this group answered back in chorus. After a bit they jumped up one after another, then abruptly went silent and took off at a full run to meet back up.
Video of wild dogs calling to the rest of the pack
Later that morning around 10:00, when the day was getting warm, we chanced upon an adult male lion sacked out in the shade of a tree. Even in the electric vehicle, we still made noise as we approached, but not enough to roust him, not even so much as opening an eye to check us out. It's good to be boring to lions.
Scouting around near the lion, we found a group with an adult male, several adult females, and various youngsters, including two small cubs. They were all nestled under the low branches of a shrub.
That evening, we came back to look for that group of lions. We found the male wandering off by himself while the females were hunting and tending to the cubs.
Judging by all the scars on his face and side, it must take some battles to hold on to a pride/harem. Click on the photos above and below to see a bit more detail.
Joining up with the rest of the pride, we found the cubs being watched by some of the adults.
Three lionesses were crouched in the grass hoping to get a jump on prey. This wildebeest started near the tree line then walked into the field, not realizing what was hiding in the grass. We thought for sure he was going to wander into the trap, but he spotted them before it was too late and took off, apparently too healthy and quick to warrant much of a chase.
After the wildebeest took off, two warthogs appeared at the tree line. Ona observed that one of the lionesses was stalking off toward the trees well clear of the warthogs. He correctly predicted that she would sneak back around through the trees, then emerge behind the warthogs to drive them toward the two lions waiting in the grass. It unfolded just that way, like we were watching a narrated wildlife show. The plan nearly worked, but the warthogs figured it out and literally high-tailed it out of there. One lion gave them a bit of a chase, but had lost the advantage of surprise.
After the failed hunt, the rest of the group rejoined the hunters and this adorable cub came in for a nuzzle with mom or auntie.
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