We drive from Livingston to Kasane Airport in Botswana. Twelve years ago, we travelled this route in the opposite direction and were told that very soon there would be a bridge connecting Zambia and Botswana. You guess right – we still board a boat to cross, but to our right a mighty bridge is under construction. That will be great progress for commerce in southern Africa, as the trucks line up for miles on both sides of the crossing. They have to wait up to two weeks to get onto one of the three rickety ferries available.
Getting off the air taxi at Baines Camp, Brooks Kamanakao welcomes us with wide spread arms and a good hug. Brooks already guided us in 2007 and 2009 and he has put together this year’s itinerary with the help of his friends at Safari Essence in Maun, Botswana. We keep eyes and ears open on the drive to camp and end up under a tree that serves as lookout to a leopard. Then the bush strikes – our jeep refuses to start again! While the driver organizes help form camp, I get some beautiful shots before the leopard heads off. Meanwhile we transfer to another vehicle and follow the leopard who tries to find a meal amongst a troop of baboons. To our great amusement, the big males spot him and make him run for his dear life as they chase him angrily and loudly yelling at him.
As dusk is settling, we find a pack of wild dogs. Luck must be with us, as this is our first spotting of them – failed to find them in 2016 in the Selous in Tanzania. This highly endangered species is the most skillful hunter in the bush. 80% of their attacks are successful, as they have developed sophisticated techniques of cooperation while hunting.
The next morning we spend with Morula and Jabu. Morula was orphaned and held as a pet by a family in Zimbabwe. Jabu is an orphan as well. His parents were killed in a drive to reduce the elephant population in Zimbabwe in 1986. Sandi and Doug Groves who founded the Living With Elephants Foundation are lovingly taking care of these two gentle giants who due to their traumatic upbringings cannot live independently in the wild. Getting really close to these immense mammals is an absolutely unique experience. Sandi and Greg teach us about the life and behavior of elephants, show us how they graze – as we are left- or right-handed, they use their trunk either in a left or a right turn – , where they can smell – on the upper side of their wide open mouth – , let us feel the trunk that is equipped with 40’000 mussels, make us taste the musky, rotten smell from their trunk, watch them demonstrate how they lie down – their heart rate doubles as they do so, as they can only use ½ of their lung in that position – , demonstrate seven audible sounds elephants use to communicate, and a lot more. In the end, Marula gives each of us a warm embrace and a wet kiss, thus accepting us into her family.
Coming over a slight rise, we hit a pond with three hippos. Well, one lovely female and two male full of testosterone spell exciting trouble that enfolds in front of us. The guys repeatedly crash open mouthed into each other and make big splashes of water rising into the air, while fighting for the attention of the girl.
Around the corner, there is a big waterhole. Birds carrying their catch are riding piggyback on hippos, crocodiles are cruising or lying lazily along the edge of the water and hundreds of pelicans, marabous and other countless species of birds linger in the pond. Brooks counts at least 85 hippos and 63 crocodiles!
As the sun starts to set we are visited and our car is inspected by a generally rather shy spotted hyena and a curious youngster looks at us from the back. Other animals in the pictures below are buffalo, zebra, crocodile (terrified motionless by our presence), and the elusive Sitatunga (antelope).