Too much action to fit into one podcast and blog!
For this week's Safari Stories podcast episode we’re back at Vumbura Plains talking about the second game drive we went on in this slice of safari paradise. Seeing various nocturnal animals by day, another elephant carcass, tracking lions through channels from one island to the next, and an incredible sighting of a predator stalking some very large prey to cap off the drive: this is another action-packed episode from the heart of the Okavango.
Just as it got bright on our second day at Vumbura Plains, we saw a dark shape running across an open area: a civet. These primarily nocturnal creatures look similar to cats and are incredibly shy and difficult to see, particularly by day, so it took us a moment to figure out what exactly it was we were looking at.
Photo above: World Land Trust
We went into an area where there was an elephant carcass and came across a number of hyena, poking their heads out of the tall grass and smelling the air. Willy, our guide, had done an excellent job of explaining to us how sensitive a sighting this was and why the previous afternoon he had not wanted to go to the elephant carcass. There had been male lions in the area that had in the past days killed one of the female’s cubs and the lions were on the stressed side. Willy decided this morning that, because there were hyena so close to the elephant carcass, the lions had likely moved off so we went and had a look at the carcass of the large pachyderm.
Continuing our drive, we decided to follow some lion tracks that were heading west, driving through various different channels we managed to get stuck in some mud. Jomi was only too happy to help Willy jack the car up and put wood underneath the tyres to create the traction needed to get out. At this time we also had our first slaty egret sighting in the Delta.
We eventually caught up with two female lionesses, who were napping under a bush. Willy had given us an excellent history lesson on the pride dynamics and how these lions specifically fit into the family tree of the Vumbura and Duba lions. More tracks led away from the lions and we followed them into the north western part of the concession.
This part of the Delta is exceptionally pretty. Very large open seasonal floodplains (which at this time of year are only partially wet) make way for small islands with tall trees and shrubbery and we observed a family of baboons moving from one island to the next, carefully keeping a look out for predators. One of the baboons had been shouting at something in the distance which we thought to be a leopard though we could not find anything -classic leopard.
In searching though we did come across something arguably even more special: a Pel’s Fishing Owl. This large orange owl normally lives close to water where it can hunt fish and is exceptionally shy, so to see one during the day was very special indeed. It luckily allowed us to get close to it and get a few photos and videos before Willy decided that we would let it continue its morning nap.
Driving further north, we were following some fresh lioness tracks and eventually came across a lioness, famously dubbed ‘Killing Machine’ for her hunting prowess. ‘KM’ was definitely eyeing up some Tsessebe and warthog in the area but as any good huntress would, decided to conserve her energy as these animals were out in the open and slightly too far away. Seeing ‘KM’ on the move, we could see how strong a lioness she is, muscles bulging in her hind legs and shoulders. We decided to leave her as Willy had heard over the radio there were more lions close by. It turned out that her sub-adult offspring were about a mile away.
When we reached them, a male and a female of about two and a bit years old, they were in a very nice open area with tall grass. On the far side of the open area a herd of several hundred buffalo was busy grazing and slowly moving across the open floodplain. The lions were extremely interested in the buffalo, stalking and trying to maneuvre themselves into a better position to hunt. At the same time, they showed tremendous experience in avoiding detection. We could barely make out the lions as they sat upright, only the tell-tale black eartips showing from behind.
When they crouched down, it was impossible to see them. The young male lion was about thirty feet from some very young buffalo at one point and we thought he would definitely try to catch one but the large number of adults in the herd meant it would have been a tall order, particularly given his age and size. The buffalo herd slowly moved on, pausing from time to time to sniff the air. It had been an incredibly tense sighting to watch. The lion siblings then stalked some warthog, which they also chose to ignore as the wind direction had changed and was no longer in their favour.
We watched the lions eventually settle on a termite mound before deciding to head back to the lodge. On the way back to the lodge we bumped into ‘KM’ once more, she was on the move in the direction of her offspring and we watched her move across the open floodplain before the cloud cover broke, it got hot and she decided to settle in for the day.
We drove back towards the lodge, encountering a lovely large sable bull on the way, his massive horns and dark fur glistening in the midday sun. We finished the morning at a lovely bush-brunch spot, a picnic had been specially set up for us, with lots of delicious treats to reward us for such a productive morning. Only a pair of yellow-billed kites were trying to spoil the party by mobbing us to try and steal the food we were eating.
While there is plenty more to talk about at Vumbura, we are going to discuss a very different camp in the next episode: Tubu Tree in the Jao concession on the north-western side of the Delta.
Tune in! You can listen to the Safari Stories podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, our website, or wherever you listen to your podcasts! Links below.