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.



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.



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!


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.


A bachelor herd of impala.


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A bateleur

A bateleur


A vervet monkey

A yellow-billed kite

A yellow-billed kite

Crocodile amongst the flowers.

Crocodile amongst the flowers.


Cape buffalo


Red-billed oxpecker

Red-billed oxpecker


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.


The males watch as the female closes in.


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.

Chitabe Lions and Onwards

The weather was a mixed bag while we were at Chitabe Camp in the Okavango Delta of       Botswana. We had expected it to be very hot but it really wasn’t so bad. In fact, while we were there, the rains started, so we had a few game drives where we pulled out the raincoats and ponchos. This cooled things down considerably so we never really felt scorched at any time. One morning after following the wild dogs for a while, we went off amidst drizzle and found lions. There was a male and two females who had eaten recently and were lazing about resting with full bellies. They were a bit muddy but otherwise didn’t seem too disturbed by the rain. The male had found himself a very small tree to act as a sort of umbrella for his head.

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Waking up with a yawn

Waking up with a yawn

Cleaning time

Cleaning time


Muddy girl

Muddy girl

After we left these lions, the drizzle let up and not very far down the track we came across some more male lions, also lazing about.

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There were other fun sights on our rainy game drive as well as the usual stop for tea. We even drove past a baby impala that had been “parked” by it’s mother in the remains of a dead tree. This is the preferred method of safe-keeping when they are too small to keep up with the adults. If baby stays very still, predators won’t see it.



A tsessebe


Tea time!

Gordon making tea 



I think these might be pink-backed pelicans

Mom is probably in the background with the herd.

Mom is probably in the background with the herd.

So cute! And he never moved.

So cute! And he never moved.

After the game drive and breakfast on our last day at Chitabe, we were driven to the airstrip to meet a small plane that would fly us north to our next camp – Vumbura Plains. The plane was small but the weather was fine. Our pilot suggested he take the scenic route and fly up the river. It was fantastic! We had the best view of lots and lots of hippos, some with young, and elephants and other animals as we flew over the landscape. It was a smooth flight and when we landed at the Vumbura Plains airstrip, we were met, as per usual, by a cheerful staff member in a land rover.

Our plane coming in to pick us up.

Our plane coming in to pick us up.



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Vumbura Plains is another Wilderness Safaris camp located in the northern part of the Okavango Delta in an area where both land and water based activities are available. There is more water than at Chitabe and the landscape was subtly different. Vumbura Plains was a step up from Chitabe in luxury which seems incredible, but there you have it. As at Chitabe, there was no WiFi or internet so I wrote a bit about our experience without posting. In my next installment I’ll post that passage and more pictures of this amazing place!

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.


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.





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.”


A very muddy bull elephant.




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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!


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



Marking his territory by spraying a bush.


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

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The claws.

The claws.


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!

Botswana Here We Come!

Dear gentle and patient readers,

Sorry for the hiatus in posting. The holidays, winter illness, and life in general have slowed me down. However, I do promise to finish the tale of our journey in Africa.

The day we left Cape Town bound for Botswana we rose early and collected a packed box breakfast from our hotel since we were too early for the served breakfast. The drive to the airport was easy and fast, and the car rental return was both close by and quick. Cape Town’s airport was refurbished and updated when South Africa hosted the World Cup soccer championship in 2010. It is of a good size and modern without being too big. Because we had rather a lot of luggage, a porter helped us into the terminal from the car rental return which is in the parking garage adjacent. He was quite a character! He was the #2 porter at the Cape Town airport and had been working there for at least fifteen years. I am sorry that I did not write down his name. The porters have numbers that are given to them when they start work, so there was only one other porter who had been there longer. With his assistance we found the VAT Refund desk, took care of our business and located the check in counter for our Air Botswana direct flight to Maun, Botswana. The re-packing of our luggage after showing purchases to the VAT desk was a bit comical! I quickly determined that it wasn’t all going to fit in our suitcases. So we found a luggage shop and bought a cheap duffle bag. This solved the space problem but we still spent some time on the floor of the airport with all our bags open rearranging things to protect the fragile stuff. A rather bemused ticket agent looked on. Sometimes when you find yourself in an embarrassing situation when you travel you just have to suck it up and accept it.

Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time to accomplish all this and had no trouble checking in for our flight and finding the gate area. Unfortunately our flight was delayed. They never told us why or for how long. We just sat there until they finally called us for boarding. It turned out they had decided to switch equipment and use a smaller plane. Even so, it wasn’t totally full. The bad part was that after a delay to board the flight, the smaller plane took at least an hour longer to make the journey (prop vs. jet). So in the end, we arrived in Maun, Botswana quite late. Maun is a small town with a tiny airport that serves as a gateway to the Okavango Delta and its safari lodges. The lodges in the Delta are mostly accessed by small plane so Maun is where you pick those up. After clearing customs in Maun we were met by the staff of Wilderness Safaris. They were quick to take our extra luggage for storage, give us bottles of water, and stand in line for us to check in for their flight to Chitabe, one of their lodges in the Delta and our first destination. They hurried us along through security and out to the waiting plane with one other couple. The weather was looking a bit iffy with a thunder shower headed our way and clearly they had been anxious to get us out of there. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat with Michael and the other gentleman behind in two seats and the other woman in the back seat. You couldn’t have fit any others the plane was so small! We taxied and took off just as the rain started. Lightning flashed occasionally and I wondered if little planes ever got struck. To his credit, our pilot did a masterful job and we flew away from the storm and over the flat landscape about 20 minutes to the landing strip near Chitabe.


Do I look nervous?


Tiny plane! We made it!

The landing was smooth, the sun was out, and there was a Land Cruiser waiting to take us to camp. Jonas, a guide in training, welcomed us, handed us the personal, chilled, reusable, stainless steel water bottles we would use during our stay, and drove us to camp. Along the way we had our first taste of safari in Botswana – open plains, savanna woodland, water, and lots of animals! Just on the drive to the camp we saw zebra, giraffe, impala, elephant, and baboons.


Still some clouds nearby.

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When we arrived at camp we were greeted with singing and warm hospitality. We were a good deal later than they had planned, but they still had tea waiting for us and we sat down with one of the camp managers to get oriented and learn the schedule. Then we were shown to our tented “room” to freshen up and urged to return soon to go out and join the afternoon game drive which was already in progress.

Since there was no WiFi or any access to the internet at Chitabe, I was unable to do any posting while there. However I did write a passage about our time and will share that along with more photos in my next post.