Carol Santora travels to Southern Africa

Traveling to Southern Africa and in particular, Botswana, transports you into another world. There are multiple political, social and economic challenges in all these countries, but the feeling of the Garden of Eden with lush bush and untamed wildlife beckons you. This was our fifth trip to this part of the world, and it never fails to amaze us.

We visited two Wilderness Safari camps in Botswana. The journey over the ocean to Johannesburg, then to Maun and then the camp was not an easy venture. It is long and arduous on both ends; jet lag is inevitable. However, once to Kings Pool and then Vumbura Plains Camps, we were in another time and place. Botswana has no fencing, no boundaries, no weapons. They are determined to keep poaching at a minimum and take every precaution to protect their wildlife.

Our guide for the duration was an extremely knowledgeable expert and an accomplished photographer, Ona Basimane. He was fun, daring and instructive. He made sure we saw everything.

Our goal was to see wild dogs in action and that we did. There was one pack at the first camp, two at the second. We watched them play and frolic in the water. However, when they got the scent of an impala nearby, it was all business. She first ran and actually leaped in the river where a waiting crocodile lurked. We were distraught as we watched, but she swam so hard she got to the other side before he could reach her. These few weeks were the period of impala birthing. Every night they would “drop” and the next morning we would see multiple little ones everywhere. The predators were aware also. We witnessed life and death – we saw a baby impala just dropped by the mother; she was licking his entire body not only to cleanse from the birth but to mark him with her scent; that is how she would recognize him. Soon after however, we saw the wild dogs catch another baby. It was gone in 15 seconds. Such is life in the wild.

Lessons and incredible stories are learned everyday. Termites and their mounds are ubiquitous; these interesting insects were once used by natives as a stitching tool, applying their pincers to torn skin. When the Queen dies, the mound can be used again or left dormant. Warthogs frequently use them as their castles; they enter backwards.

I most enjoy photographing the beautiful birds. We observed a Southern Carmine Bee-eater colony. Swarms of these gorgeous little birds were making nests in the ground, flying here and there bringing material for the nest or insects for the babies. The area also is home to lovely Kingfishers and Rollers, storks and birds of prey like the Martial Eagle or African Fish Eagle.

Elephants ~ the one animal that can intimidate. There were many herds of breeding elephants in this area. They will challenge the vehicles if they feel their young are in danger. We experienced numerous “mock charges” from these huge, gentle and protective beasts.   Ona was very confident about predicting their behavior, and I think he was amused when we were white-knuckled in the back!

A very different perspective that offers a unique view is a helicopter ride. We were so fortunate to experience this over the Okavango Delta of northern Botswana. The Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site produced by seasonal flooding. The waters come down from Angola in March, the highest level peak being from June to August when they slowly dissipate. This swells the lushness of the area as water attracts great concentrations of wildlife. To see it from the sky is impressive, even in November. I was able to photograph some lovely elephants playing in the water, hippos, and then viewed giraffe and even ostriches. This is an experience not to miss.

Ona was brilliant in helping to get the angles and light correct for several of our adventures. We were fortunate to track a mother leopard and her two cubs. She had an antelope hidden away and was able to feed and relax with her babies; we watched and then viewed her up in a tree with them at sunset. Speaking of sunsets, they are magnificent with radiant colors.

Lions~ where were all the lions? When one views many packs of dogs and a number of leopards, it means that there are not many lions presently residing in the area, too much competition for prey. Close to the end of our stay however, we awoke in the middle of the night to lion roars. We got excited. You visit Africa, you want to see lions…

The next morning, the entire camp was aroused. They are waiting for the pride to return to the area. The roaring young lion was finally spotted, but in an inaccessible location on an island. The interesting fact that came to light was that he was hoping to invade the territory and was following two pregnant lionesses that were seeking privacy close to their due time. Ona was not to be deterred. He plowed thru the water and got onto the area where the lions were scrapping. The male had a nice scratch on his eye. The lionesses are very powerful. They knew that if he was around for the births, he would try to kill the newborn cubs. We watched the “dance” but they had him beaten. Suddenly a herd of elephants loped into the area. They chased the lionesses away in order to protect their young. The finale is a mystery…..

We hope that our travels support the economy of the country. All the camps that we visit contribute in various ways to the surrounding communities. We are all aware of the need to protect our environment and to save endangered species. If you are interested and able, an adventure like this makes a powerful argument to guard the delicate balance of nature.

The finale of our trip was a bit of R&R on the island of Mauritius. It lies in the southeast off the continent of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is a mosaic of cultures: British, Dutch, Creole and Indian. The island is ideal for tea and sugar plantations, tropical fruits (it was mango harvest!) and several lovely resorts and golf courses!

All photographs by Carol Santora.

Intrepid Expeditions: Andre Steynberg , [email protected]

Ona Basimane – expert guide: Wilderness Safaris and Natural Habitat