PART II: Feedback from the four days spent at Savute Elephant Lodge on a recent Tusk Photo Botswana Overland Tour.
After having photographed numerous different leopards and a pack of wild dogs in Khwai during the first four days of the tour, we were desperate to find lions, and what better place to look for them than Savute!
Lions on our first drive! (PM drive – 9 May 2016)
We arrived at Savute Elephant Lodge shortly after midday and by 15:30 we were itching to go on drive. We headed north towards Harvey’s Pans and found loads of elephants drinking in the scenic series of natural pans. Close by, the Northern Pride of lions were resting in the thickets, but before long their cubs became restless and moved into a small clearing where we could watch them play. There were ten cubs in total, but only five made an appearance…
Mating members of the Marsh Pride (10 May 2016)
Our mission for the morning was to locate the legendary Marsh Pride – Savute’s elephant killers – and to get our first photos of adult lions for the trip. But first we came across a massive herd of Cape buffalo quenching their thirst at a waterhole in a large clearing. Thirsty buffalo steamed in single file for well over half-an-hour and we estimated the herd to be over a thousand animals. The sounds and smells were captivating and the scene as stunning as you’d expect from this part of Africa.
Soon after, we found two of the March Pride’s members – an adult male and female busy mating. The light was good and the cover sparse, so photography was a joy. They mated every 20-odd minutes and we had four opportunities to capture the action before we had to turn back to camp.
In the afternoon we headed back to Harvey’s Pans, not to photograph lions, but to witness hundreds of elephants coming down to drink. Multiple herds rushed down to the water’s edge from all directions leaving the air filled with dust. Some even walked in deeper so that they could flop over and submerge themselves entirely. It was clear that the bathing elephants were having as much fun as we do cooling off in the swimming pool on a hot summer’s day…
Catching up with the rest of the pride (11 May 2016)
Finding all thirteen members of the Marsh Pride together was still our main goal, so we set out early again and headed straight for the marsh. En route we bumped into the honeymoon couple again and had a few more opportunities to photograph them mating. With our goal in mind, however, we set off looking for signs of their family further south-east.
After criss-crossing the marsh for about an hour we eventually spotted lions on the horizon. It was the rest of the pride and they had just failed to take down a buffalo. We caught up with them just as they headed into a mopane thicket, but knowing their location gave us hope for the afternoon drive.
We rejoined them at about 16:30, where they were resting in a patch of very tall grass right on the edge of the marsh. After patiently waiting for an hour and a half, they finally got up to socialise a bit just as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. The two tiny cubs played on a fallen tree stump and even posed for us in the two-track road, before the whole pride started moving north. Unfortunately for us, it was time to head back to camp…
Cubs in golden light! (12 May 2016)
Having still not had our lion fill, we decided to head straight back to where we had left the Marsh Pride the previous evening, and fortunately they were close to the same spot. The two cubs were playing on a fallen tree trunk again, this time in breathtaking golden light! One of the young males even joined them at some stage, not so much to play, but to scan the surroundings, which were dominated by tall grass.
The lions eventually disappeared deeper into the marsh where we couldn’t follow them, but through our binoculars we could see that warthogs were on the menu. In the afternoon we took some time to photograph Savute’s many lilac-breasted rollers. The hope was to get one in flight and, after two or three attempts, most of us were successful.
Back at Harvey’s Pans we enjoyed another afternoon with thirsty elephants. There weren’t nearly as many as a couple of nights earlier, making for a much more tranquil scene and experience. We decided to have a drink ourselves, admiring the large grey beasts from a safe distance and starting to think about the last leg of our journey on the Chobe River…
Ending on a high (AM drive – 13 May 2016)
After hearing lions roaring north of camp, we headed straight to Harvey’s Pans with the hope of finding the Northern Pride of lions. Luckily for us, all ten cubs were out and about, playing in open pockets between the mopane thickets. Getting into position to photograph them was tricky, but every now and again we got an opportunity to see them play or drink. Three of the adult females even made an appearance for a short while, but quickly disappeared again as the day heated up.
Reluctant to leave Savute, we checked in on the Marsh Pride one last time before heading to camp, and found the mating pair still together, this time on a large open plain.
Savute had lived up to its reputation as one of the best places in Africa to see and photograph lions! It was now time to pack up and head north-east to another one of Botswana’s wildlife jewels – the Chobe River…
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