For this week's episode of the Safari Stories podcast, we are at Vumbura Plains, on the north-eastern side of the Okavango Delta. The area is considered one of the top game-viewing destinations for good reason. Massive seasonal floodplains make way for islands with lush vegetation and large riverine trees such as the African Ebony. The whole place is so beautifully photogenic. Lush grazing and browsing accommodates a large diversity and abundance of wildlife from large herds of buffalo and elephant to antelope such as Tsessebe and lechwe and their associated predators: lion, leopard and wild dog.
Above: A cheeky little elephant sitting on another juvenile elephant. ©Hadley Pierce
Above: A buffalo calf stares down Hadley's lens from the middle of the herd. ©Hadley Pierce
Upon landing, we were met by our guide Willy, who has been working at Vumbura for five years. On the drive from the airstrip we were instantly stricken by the sheer volume of wildlife in the area, having excellent sightings of an elephant herd with youngsters and an old male giraffe that was behaving rather strangely.
Above: A giraffe with an odd cheek growth and a little oxpecker bird sitting between its two horns! ©Hadley Pierce
To our delight and surprise Willy spotted a small pack of wild dogs relaxing around a water hole. They had clearly been feeding earlier that morning and were totally uninterested in the other mammals coming down to the water to drink. This was quite an interesting thing to see as the dogs lounged lazily beside the water as other species drank beside them. Two warthogs even ran towards the dogs and caused them to move away from the water and underneath a bush.
Above: An elegant giraffe trying its best to look elegant while bending over for a drink ©Hadley Pierce
Above: On the other side of the waterhole, the wild dog pack lies at the water's edge while the two warthogs look on, displeased! ©Hadley Pierce
Above: The wild dogs (with faces still red with blood from their recent hunt) gaze across the waterhole and watch as the giraffe drinks. ©Hadley Pierce
After several more elephant sightings and some tiny warthog ‘hoglets,’ we made it to the camp. While having lunch at the camp we were lucky enough to watch an African darter, a bird which resembles a cormorant, spear a fish and attempt to swallow it. This ordeal took the bird about ten minutes though it finally managed.
Above: Some very small (days old) baby warthogs. ©Hadley Pierce
Above: An African Darter spears a good sized fish!...Right in front of the lodge as Jomi and Hadley were having lunch. ©Hadley Pierce
All the above had happened before we even went on our first afternoon game drive and we were extremely excited to go on safari in the afternoon. As soon as we got out on the afternoon game drive, Willy told us that one of his colleagues had found a relaxed leopard, so we decided to drive into the area and got lucky immediately as we found a female strolling through a croton thicket. The only tell-tale sign she was there was the white tip to her tail. Shortly after we spotted the leopard, she strangely took off at a sprint and we were confused as to what was going on; it turned out that the same pack of wild dog were also in the area and had spotted the leopard and now gave chase to her.
Leopard and wild dogs are in competition for the same food sources and therefore not friendly. The leopard escaped to the only place it could: a tree. We watched as the dogs excitedly interacted with each other at the base of the tree, while the leopard nervously watched from above. The dogs eventually moved off and we spent some more quality time with the leopard while Willy explained to us in detail how this female fits into the leopard family tree at Vumbura. With more distractions such as hyena and elephant walking around close to the leopard, she did not seem ready to leave the tree so we decided to go and find the wild dogs again.
Above: The leopard looking down from the tree as the wild dogs circle the base ©Hadley Pierce
Above: Seeing that the dogs aren't going anywhere, she settled in a bit and watched them tentatively from her perch. ©Hadley Pierce
Above: The dogs eventually lost interest and moved away into a nearby open clearing. ©Hadley Pierce
Above: Enter, hyena. As soon as the dogs moved away, this spotted hyena came by to see what was going on. ©Hadley Pierce
Luckily we relocated the dogs quite quickly and just as they were getting on the move. We followed them as they scent marked and rolled around in various other animals’ scats and urine. It was so special to follow them on the move and really observe their behaviour in detail. It might also be worth mentioning that we were the only vehicle with them the entire time.
The dogs eventually got to a big open floodplain where some Tsessebe antelopes and their very young offspring were grazing. The Tsessebe spotted the dogs from several hundred metres away and as soon as they did the dogs gave chase, spreading out into hunting formation and tearing after the antelopes. We were driving 35-40 miles an hour and the dogs were easily outpacing us. We were able to keep up with them for about a minute until they disappeared into a thicket which marked the end of the floodplain. The antelope had had a massive head-start and were able to get away. We found the dogs on the other side of the thicket in the next open area and managed to follow them for another 15 minutes or so as they continued to move quickly through the bush, constantly on the prowl for something to hunt. Just as it got dark we decided to leave them and head back to the lodge, encountering some side-striped jackal puppies on the way home. What an afternoon it had been!
Tune in next week to hear about all the action we had the next day at Vumbura Plains!
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