Lions, Leopards, and Cheetah, Oh My!

Vumbura Plains delivered on the big cats in a big way. Not only did we get to see the lion family with the buffalo carcass on a daily basis, but we saw several leopards, a couple of cheetah, and other lions, including some that were hunting. It was a big cat fest as far as we were concerned, and we realized just how lucky we were when we met an American man stationed in Gabarone, Botswana, who had been on safari numerous times, and still had never seen a leopard, despite his fervent wish to do so.

One of our leopard sightings was a beautiful female lounging in a tree. The light was decent for once, at least until she turned the other way! After watching her for a bit we got to see her climb down the tree and go hide in the bushes. An approaching troupe of baboons was the cause. You would think a leopard in a tree would not have reason to fear a few baboons, but in reality, she was in grave danger as they could easily have overcome her. Baboons can be fierce aggressors and a lone leopard is wise to seek cover. Here are some photos of that gorgeous lady.

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One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.

One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.

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On the way down.

On the way down.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

We also came across two cheetah brothers who were having a siesta on a termite mound. We watched as they stretched and moved off through the grass to a different termite mound in search of more shade. Though they looked very relaxed, it was clear they were keeping a keen eye on their surroundings.

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Shade was the order of the day.

Shade was the order of the day.

Me and my cheetah friends!

Me and my cheetah friends!

There were, of course, other wonderful things to see besides the big cats. We had a lovely experience in a watery plain watching as two male kudu made their way towards us. With the engine off, we sat in silence, listening to the splash, splash of their steps and admiring the reflections of these magnificent beasts in the water. It was very peaceful.

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Another favorite photo.

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Another time, while out on the western edge of the concession that is used by Vumbura Plains, we had just spotted a secretary bird, which I was trying to photograph, when a sable antelope dashed out from behind a bush and ran away. I missed the secretary bird, but just managed to catch the sable. They are very rare so I was quite pleased to see one, even if only briefly!

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Here is a smattering of other lovely creatures we saw while at Vumbura Plains.

Mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.

Banded mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.

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A bachelor herd of impala.

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A bateleur

A bateleur

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A vervet monkey

A yellow-billed kite

A yellow-billed kite

Crocodile amongst the flowers.

Crocodile amongst the flowers.

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Cape buffalo

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Red-billed oxpecker

Red-billed oxpecker

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One morning after transferring our English companions to another vehicle so they could go to the airstrip, we had Ben all to ourselves. He had heard there were some lions who had been following a herd of buffalo for some time, so we went in search of them. First we found the very large herd of buffalo who were accompanied by many birds taking advantage of the bugs stirred up by their passage. Then we found the lions. There were three of them perched on a termite mound keeping an eye on the herd, or more likely the older male stragglers.

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As we sat and watched them, a couple of older male buffalo got closer and closer. Ben told us that if the lions took off in pursuit, we should be ready to hold on tight as he would try to follow. Not long after, the lions got up and started off into the long grass. It was hard to believe the buffalo weren’t aware of their presence as they were so close. We saw them spread out and slink through the grass, incredibly well camouflaged.

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The males watch as the female closes in.

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Finally, it all happened in a flash. The lions charged, the buffalo took off, and so did we. That was a wild ride! – two hands on the roll bars and big grins on our faces. The lions missed and the buffalo lived to graze another day, but it was very exciting to see first hand.

After the chase.

After the chase.

The next day we came upon yet another male lion waiting out the heat under the shade of a tree. He was a splendid sight and posed quite obligingly.

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Next time I will share some photos of the incredible elephants we saw and heard and other fun things from our time at Vumbura Plains. Until then, be well and thanks for reading.

The Teaming Wildlife of Chitabe

As I mentioned before, there was no WiFi or internet access at Chitabe. However I did take some time to write about our experience in the moment. Here is what I wrote along with more photographs.

“Our time at Chitabe has been quite peaceful. We have fallen into the rhythm of safari again and appreciate the slight changes in the schedule that Wilderness Safaris uses as opposed to the lodges in South Africa. Wake up is 5am again, with gathering at 5:30. Then we have some coffee and a bite to eat before going out at 6am. Brunch is at 11am and so far we have not come back from morning game drive much before that. We like having brunch and not both breakfast and lunch as you really can’t comfortably eat that often anyway. I have found I have been looking forward to some food or a snack at every opportunity instead of feeling always full. Tea is at 4pm which leaves a nice chunk of time after brunch in which to relax, nap, shower, or do whatever appeals. We depart at 4:30pm for evening game drive, are back around 7:30 or 7:45pm, and dinner is at 8pm. Meals are taken communally at one big table with the other guests. The tradition of morning coffee and evening sundowners while out on game drive continues. The food has been fresh and good and the quantities sufficient without being overwhelming. All this is quite a feat as we are out in the middle of the bush with only weekly and monthly food deliveries.”

Here are some photos of Chitabe camp. All the buildings are raised up off the ground and connected by wooden walkways.

The communal lounge area.

The communal lounge area.

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Firepit gathering place

Firepit gathering place

Michael at the gorgeous wooden bar.

Michael at the gorgeous wooden bar.

“Our tented room is certainly bush luxury– two sinks in the bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, a huge mosquito netted bed, wood floors with rugs, and nice artsy touches. We latch the doors to keep the baboons from ransacking our room while we’re out and there is no AC, only a fan. We do have a view of the savanna woodland in front of our lodge and pretty good privacy. All in all it’s a treat.

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The view from our deck.

Our guide is Gordon. At Wilderness Safaris you have a guide only, no tracker. Gordon is Batswana, meaning he is from Botswana, the country. He has been doing this for twenty-five years and seems relaxed and patient. He knows a lot and has a good sense of humor. Since we arrived later than expected we were driven out to join the game drive already in progress on our first afternoon. Our companions are an American couple from Baltimore, Robert and Arlynn.

The game here is plentiful, more abundant than we’ve seen anywhere else, and very concentrated. The landscape is much more open than South Africa was, with sweeping views of the palm studded grassy floodplains, marshy areas, acacia woodland and lovely trees. You can look out and see giraffe, zebra, and impala all at the same time, dotting the landscape. I especially like the trees. We’ve seen Marula, African Ebony or Jackelberry, Baobab, and the aptly named Sausage tree, which has large fibrous pods hanging from it that look, for all the world, like great big whole salamis!

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We’ve seen a laundry list of game, birds, and predators, including a cheetah. Since we hadn’t seen a cheetah yet, I really wanted to tick that off. There are lots of hippos, large herds of buffalo, and elephants. The birding has been extraordinary with storks and cranes and other water birds adding to the raptors, seed eaters, and bug eaters. I’ve been learning to identify many of them and it’s great fun. Another fun thing is that it’s baby season. The rains are just starting and the impala have begun giving birth. Baby impala are adorably cute as are the warthog piglets. We even saw a newborn wildebeest take its first steps. I will tell a few of the game drive stories as I add the pictures.”

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A very muddy bull elephant.

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Impala

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One thing that amazed me about our time on safari in both South Africa and Botswana was the ability of the guides to deliver what we wanted. Perhaps we were just lucky or maybe we have good karma. At any rate, we saw a tremendous amount of wildlife with many spectacular and dramatic sightings. When we got to Chitabe Gordon asked what we wanted to see. I mentioned a cheetah as I hadn’t seen one in South Africa. Cheetah can be a hit or miss proposition but Gordon pulled it off. In fact, in Botswana we saw several over the course of our time there. The lightest of the big cats, they are long and lean and build for speed. They are the only ones whose claws do not retract in order to give them better traction while maneuvering in the chase. Here are some photos of our first encounter.

First spotted in the distance under the tree.

First spotted in the distance under the tree. Look closely!

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The termite mound he’s lying on gives him a better view of his surroundings.

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Marking his territory by spraying a bush.

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He decided to move to another termite mound and we followed.

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The claws.

The claws.

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Nap time!

Nap time!

You can see the cheetah on his mound in the background.

You can see the cheetah on his mound in the background.

In my next post I will continue with more photographs and a few stories from our game drives. Thanks for reading!