Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday & Tuesday, March 30 – 31, 2009; Lagoon camp, beside the Linyanti Reserve

The reserves have no camps in them and are only for the animals although people do visit. There are no permanent structures. The camps are on leased concessions that gives them the right to operate camps either for photography or hunting depending on the kind of concession lisence they have. Lagoon has a hunting concession and keeps it active although they have decided only to do photography game drives/safaris. They have the largest in Botswana at a half a million hectares,

After a 30 minute flight I am at Lagoon, right on the Namibian border in the north of Botswana. It is right on the narrow little arm of Namibia that sticks into the centre of Africa the result of colonial powers making deals between themselves for land rights that were advantageousto them. In this case, I believe it was between the Germans in Namibia / Angola and the Portugeuse in Madagascar. I am met by Vondi, my guide he tells and James, his tracker. As we drive the several kilometers to the camp, we come across a herd of impala which barely move out of the way. Vondi informs me that they are habituated to vehicles.

The camp is quite different from Shinde, not as new, but with its own air. It is right on a large river with Namibia on the other side. As I sit on my veranda overlooking the water twenty feet away, I regularly hear fish jumping. I am told to stay inside the tent in the dark as there are hippos here and they will come out of the water and up to the tent. My shower is out of doors and looks quite fun surrounded by tight bamboo fencing. My tent is more of a tent in that it has zipper doors and is well sealed for bugs and mosquitoes. Again a double basin setup in the bath area with hot and cold water. It’s a tough life.

Here are 20 staff here and a German couple and I are the only guests. We only see a few of the staff that have been assigned to us awhile the others have a break, although later I find out that four of them are out tracking wild dogs that have been sighted in the area. The manager here, also a Keone, is only 30, something that I find common in my experience of Botswana. The generation of 40 to 70 is scarce and it is a country of the young. I am welcomed by Keone and his pretty assistant Obi, who offers me lemonade and a cool refrigerated wet wash cloth, which she carries in a traditional basket on her head, for me to freshen up.

At 4 pm, we go out on a game drive, and head north also looking for the wild dogs. They are on the endangered list and are under siege by the increasing and healthy lion population. The lions do not directly kill the dogs. Lions are opportunists and whenever they become aware of a dog pack with a kill, they steal the kill from them and eventually the dogs will starve. There is also a larger pack of 18 moving in from Namibia and they compete fiercely with the local pack of only 12.

The game drive is more relaxed for me now as I already saw a lot at Shinde and there is more time and pleasure in just viewing rather than felling the compulsion to shoot each one with my Pentax. Some new species I see here are ostriches, the banded mongoose, wilde beest or gnus of the great migration and crossing the croc infested river fame, the African jacana, the bird that walks on lily pads, guinea fowl, an eagle hawk, a fish eagle and a number of other birds.

On the morning drive, I see 6 hippos and a baby coming out of the water to go to a deeper channel. They only do that because of the baby and the fact that we make them nervous. It is an unusual occurrence. At another point, we are driving along, turn a corner on the track and come face to face with a male elephant. He eventually turns off and goes into the bush. We see dozens of impala, to the point that we barely take note of them anymore. How quickly we are jaded! Yet it is a wonder to see them pronking for the sheer joy of exercise, jumping straight up into the air and then kicking their hind legs at least 8 feet into the air as their front quarters start to come down. It is almost the same jadedness with the wart hogs as we watch them rooting around in the mud holes with their tusks and warty faces. A small herd of kudus do catch our attention.

The topography is very different than at Shinde. While there is savannah, there is much more rolling land and seriously wooded areas, indicating greater water availability. We regularly see impala, zebra, and also a giraffe. I learn that besides being untamable, the zebras has longer vertebrae than its cousins and cannot carry much weight. Apparently the elephant is the only one of the African animals that is relatively easily domesticated.

As darkness falls, it get very cool and I am grateful that I shoved a fleecy into my backpack. We end up doing a night drive but see little. The dogs have eluded us and the other guides, who we run into in en route. We continue the hunt for them during the morning drive, which begins at 6:30 am, having been woken at 5:30.

The German couple, Michael and Barbara, are pleasant and good company. We share the drives. We have pleasant meals sharing lots of good discussion on many things together with the guides and manager. We are all heading to Kasane, on the Zambian border in the east to go to see Victoria Falls at Livingstone tomorrow by way of the air taxi.

This morning I found proof that the hippos do come up and wander around the tents at night. I thought I heard one come up and do the tail whipping up and spreading his dung to mark his territory during the night. In the morning, I saw that I was right. There is dung sprayed all across the path about 40 feet from my tent. At Shinde and here, a certain type of bird hangs around to take advantage of the food being out in the dining area. A dozen or more sneak right on to the plates and even go under the netting that is placed over the food to protect it from the birds and flies. They are utterly brazen until the manager takes some food for them and throws it down the gully below to distract them.

On the game drives, which are usually about four hours long, we always stop for a snack and something to drink. In the evenings, it is almost in the tradition of the English tea with some snacks and drinks for those who wish them. At the beginning of dusk, a little table is set up, a tablecloth put on it and things set out. On the drive last night, we stopped in a nice area near a large tree growing out of a very high termite mound. A young bull elephant was fairly nearby and did not seem to like us much. He circled around us and disappeared quite a distance a way behind the tree and mound. He snuck up behind the mound and suddenly the guide ordered us to get in the jeep and quick. He was seriously concerned that the elephant might charge. He eventually left because as it was explained, once we were in the jeep, all that the elephant could then smell was the gasoline and the rubber and it lost interest in us. It was a memorable adrenaline moment.

There are specific night game drives offered, but I don’t really get the attraction even though lions and hyenas are largely nocturnal. I spent about a total a total of three hours on night drives and almost the most interesting thing to watch is the tracker sitting on the special seat on the left of the hood, swinging his powerful light from side to side in a sweeping motion to find interesting animals. I did catch a glimpse of an African hare and a few moments of a porcupine which was running ahead of us on the trail and like the dull North American porcupine, didn’t have enough brains to got off the track to keep from running for his life until he had run at least a kilometer. He probably knew the guides would never hurt him.

One bit of flora interest that we saw was a baobob tree that was alleged to be 1100 -1200 years old. It was just massive. If you could cut the tree down and make a platform of the trunk, you would be able to build a house on it. Later, I saw several in Zambia and although they were not a large as the one seen while I was at Lagoon camp, they were very formidable. They were alleged to be over 100 years old. I found out that the massive trunks store lots of water for hard times. However, they do not have growth rings the way most trees do and so their age is very difficult to determine with any accuracy.

We had four game drives at Lagoon and the last was best. On all four, we were tracking and looking for the wild dogs and the guide had a special interest in them. Lions were also a priority but were never seen although tracks were found. It was the same with the wild dogs. I almost passed up the last drive because my plane was picking me up at 10 am. But we left earlier at 6:10 am and so got pretty much a full drive in. It was a great drive and we started out with some pretty interesting birds. We managed to see African guinea fowl, a grey heron, maricaibou storks – they are the only birds that scavenge for carrion and hunt for fresh meat, an ostrich family, a white backed vulture and secretary birds – a spectacular bird that feeds exclusively on snakes. But there were a number of other firsts that I was surprised and pleased that they happened. We came on a water buffalo – a fierce, imposing looking animal, which apparently never backs down once it starts to charge.

A little later we saw my first elephant matriarch leading her family of about a dozen of all ages. They were on the other side of a small watering hole from us and had just come from drinking at the river a few hundred yards away. She stood at the water’s edge and made like she was drinking. The guide explained that she was just pretending so that we would relax and she would catch us off guard. Eventually, she gave up and led her family away. The prize of the day though was coming on three brother cheetahs. They were known to the guide and they were very beautiful; sleek, well fed and looking the picture of health with shiny coats and calculated disdain for us. They took almost no notice of us and sauntered by without a apparentcare in the world.

I say good bye to everyone and head off to Zambia

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