Safari at Savuti Camp, Botswana
After our morning safari on our last day at Duba Plains Camp we headed to Savuti Safari Camp. Still in Botswana, but away from the Okavango Delta and closer to Chobe National Park. Our arrival was timed such that we'd have time for a bite and then make it for the afternoon safari drive.
Safari Day 5: Evening
With a new camp came a new guide named Lets who was dedicated to us. Again we had good timing as we were at Savuti in between periods when the camp was otherwise full which would necessitate the sharing of jeeps.
Our first outing here had us come across buffalo that were on the opposite side of the channel that we were on. Eventually 9 more emerged from the grass into sight. Lets was certain that they'd cross, but after waiting for a bit they failed to do so. And wouldn't you know, while driving away they started to cross so we hurried back for the photo opportunities. And when I say hurried I mean really hurried. I've had taxi drivers in New York City drive slower!
When we left the buffalo for good we happened upon elephant that also looked like they might cross the channel. Sure enough after some waiting additional elephants appeared and the crossing began. Our guide, having anticipated the crossing, had positioned us in a perfect spot.
On our way back to the camp we saw a hippo out of the water. A good sight, but not picturesque given we were looking at the hippo from behind.
Safari Day 6: Morning
We discovered that mornings in Savuti can be quite cold. To keeps us warm on the drives we had heated water bottles or bush babies as they're affectionately known in the area. These were really needed especially to keep my hands warm in between taking photos.
This day quickly became known as family day. Almost immediately we were seeing herds of zebra, families of warthogs, and herds of impala. There were even a couple of wildebeest hanging out with the zebras — they get along because one eats the short grasses while the other eats the long grasses. Not to mention that there's safety in numbers.
The sightings were otherwise a bit slow to start and it was cold at first too. But as we were learning, a little patience goes a long way and sure enough we began tracking lions after spotting some tracks. Before we saw the lions we saw 6 vultures on a tree. As we approached it became apparent what they were after — a dead kudu with quite a bit of meat left, but with the ribs clearly visible.
The Savuti Pride female was eating, but her two sons weren't. Eventually they all went to the water to drink which made for good photos. After a bit to drink, the mother continued to chew on parts of the kill. We also learned that this female was pregnant.
Safari Day 6: Afternoon
The drive started out with sightings of hippos out of the water — the light was good enough to get a photo too. We then returned to the lion kill from the previous day, but the lions had moved on and in their place were numerous vultures. The bones were picked clean.
It turned out that the lions had parked themselves not too far away from the kill and refused to budge from that spot despite our waiting around for a while. While we waited a crocodile approached us in the water but nothing more than that.
We also came across an abandoned termite mound that was now the home for a family of grey mongoose.
There was one last bit of excitement as our return to camp was delayed by a large elephant that wouldn't move off the road.
Safari Day 7: Morning
We heard a lion roar early in the morning. Combined with tracks that our guide found and we had enough to begin tracking. We spent a good amount of time tracking, but to no avail even after close to 1.5 hours. We paused for a quick break and or timing was great because just at that moment a lion let out a territorial roar — enough of a hint for our guide to more or less pinpoint the lion's location so we headed there right away.
After just a few minutes the male lion (our first male of the trip) came into view. It was on the move patrolling his territory, but would occasionally pause. After an hour or so the lion parked himself and after observing it for a bit we headed out. Our guide estimated the age of this lion to be 6 to 7 years old.
Safari Day 7: Afternoon
We headed out with the plan of watching zebras in an open area. Along the drive to our destination we passed many elephants. Sure enough when we arrived at our destination there were no zebra, but there were more elephants. While positioning ourselves for some viewing we saw an African wild cat — too skittish to photograph, but cool nonetheless to see.
While you might think that seeing elephants over and over again would get boring, you'd be wrong. Every sighting brings with it new behavior and so we were happy to watch. During the entire ride we surely saw at least 150 elephants.
After watching the elephants we headed out to where the Savuti channel ended. A group of hippos were hanging out in this area constantly submerging and surfacing as hippos are prone to do. It took a bit of patience, but eventually one opened its mouth wide, turned its head back and revealed its tusks — and it was all caught on camera!
Safari Day 8: Morning
This morning was quite cold — glove weather. The drive started out with promise as we quickly came upon both lion and leopard tracks. Our guide confirmed that the tracks were fresh and so the chase was on.
We entered an open area that we had been to the night before where we watched elephants and spotted an African wild cat. After a quick loop through this area we were driving past a termite mound with a male leopard perched on it. Unfortunately it didn't remain and there was time for just one or two photos.
We tried to follow this leopard and even used the warning calls of the frankolins to help, but to no avail. And then much to our surprise we came across another male leopard. Our guide was certain this was a different one and anyone not immediately convinced became so when it was possible to see both leopards at the same time.
One leopard was encroaching on the territory of the other and the encroachee began to move away from the other leopard and the home leopard began to track the encroachee. Our guide opted to follow the leopard doing the following as he was known to be less skittish. The chase continued through dense brush and grasses. At one point we went passed impala that were bleating their warnings and startled a buffalo at one point as we emerged from the brush (truth be told it startled us too). At times we lost track of the leopard, but then found it again. Photos were tricky throughout this adventure, but the leopard provided some good photo opportunities with a couple of charges to the jeep.
Eventually our guide radioed 2 other jeeps in the area to share on the find and upon their arrival, we departed so as to not have too many jeeps in the same location. After we broke away from the chase we found a spot for a quick break and a couple of folks disembarked from the jeep to “mark their territory”. Wouldn't you know it, the leopard appears in the distance having changed directions once again. Fortunately everyone made it back!
These leopards were 3 and 4 years old. While there are more leopards than lions in Savuti, the leopards are more elusive and thus harder to find.
Safari Day 8: Evening
Our final evening safari took us to a section we had not been to before heading east from the Savuti Camp. The drive itself was very picturesque with a good mix of tall trees, water, and reeds. Our first sighting was of some elephants that happened to position themselves head to head which made for a good photograph — the good lighting from the setting sun helped too.
Not too far from the elephants was of a group of hippos that we spotted in the distance but made their way closer to our position on the channel bank. One was nice enough to do the hippo yawn thing.
Moving from the hippos we caught a glimpse of an African wild cat — our second in two days. And shortly thereafter a steenbok — the smallest antelope in the area. It posed for a few photos but then shot off like a rocket into the brush — quite possibly the fastest animal we've seen running on our safaris.
Our next sightings were mostly zebra with a wildebeest tossed in for good measure.
After this we started to head back all the while admiring the sky which, for the first time while we were at Savuti Camp wasn't hazy — the colors were spectacular with a very gentle gradient of yellow, orange, red to start followed by blue and purple as the sun descended.
Safari Day 9: Morning
Our last safari of the trip. We were eager to squeeze one more drive in before the long trip back to New York! On the walk out to the jeep I spotted a hyena. Our guide hurried us along so we could follow it which we did. We also went by a hyena family's burrow that was below an old termite mound. Here we saw the female hyena who was none to happy to have a male so close. There were also a couple of pups. The female left the burrow to chase the male away while the pups remained behind. A great ending for our safari as we had not seen hyenas up to this point!