Kicking off with a bang in Khwai!

PART I: Feedback from the first four nights at Khwai River Lodge on a recent Tusk Photo Botswana Overland Tour.

From 5 to 15 May this year, Brendon Cremer and I hosted a Tusk Photo Botswana Overland photographic tour. In this blog, I look back at the highlights from the first four days, which were spent in Botswana’s Garden of Eden – the Khwai Community Concession on the edge of the Okavango Delta.

Let the game drives begin! (PM drive – 5 May 2016)

One of my favourite photography spots in the Khwai Community is the Letchwe Plains and, fortunately, it’s a stone’s throw from Khwai River Lodge. We headed straight there on our first afternoon game drive and had five very photogenic species to photograph: two monstrous Nile crocodiles basking in the sun on the bank of the Khwai River, an African fish-eagle perched close by, an old elephant bull relishing the tall grass along the edge of the river, two endangered wattled cranes and of course, a whole herd of red lechwes.

We watched the sun set behind one of the herd’s dominant bulls as we sipped G&T’s and breathed in the fresh Okavango air, excited about everything that lay ahead in our Botswana Overland Tour.

Crocodiles lying on grassy riverbank
Lechwe lying in grass at sunset

Setting the pace… (6 May 2016)

We reached the local spotted hyena den, which consist of a number of large holes in the ground, before sunrise and watched in amusement as two of the clan’s youngsters played next to one of the entrances. Their interaction seemed to attract some of the adults that had been resting nearby and before we knew it, six hyenas were passed out right in front of us.

Hyenas with Safari Vehicle in background

As we made our way to the river, we passed a small herd of Cape buffalo – a species that is actually not that common in Khwai. They were nervous and reluctant to stand still, constantly huddling together and moving away from our vehicle without actually running. We decided to push on and before long we bumped into a few big elephant bulls feeding along the river – a classic scene in the area.

Panoramic image of Elephants in the Okavango

Later that afternoon we found another massive bull, but this time he was taking a mud bath in one of the numerous pools of natural water left by a late spell of rain earlier in the year. He was intent on rubbing his backside on the edge of the muddy Jacuzzi, gaining some relief from whatever was causing the itch.

Shortly after sunset we found our first leopard of the trip – a young male busy stalking impalas near Magotho Community Campsite. We left him in peace and headed back to camp, knowing that there was a good chance of finding him again the following morning.

Leopard luck! (7 May 2016)

Our mission for the morning was to find the young leopard male from the night before, but before the sun had even peeked over the horizon we found another instead – a leopardess named Lakgarebe. She’s also known as the blue-eyed female and holds a territory around Khwai River Lodge.

Lakgarebe is usually a little bit shy of vehicles, but on this morning she couldn’t care less about our presence. She was busy stalking impalas. For the next two hours we watched her slinking through the tall grass, getting extremely close and then repositioning once the impalas shifted. The tension was tangible and the sighting unforgettable. In the end she was spotted by the prey before she could pounce, forcing her to throw in the towel and head back into the thickets.

Side Profile of Leopard in Grass

Our leopard luck hadn’t dried up by the time we reached Magotho in the afternoon and with less than fifteen minutes of searching we had relocated the young male leopard that had had his eyes on the impala the night before. This time he was meandering through a dramatic landscape dotted with gigantic camel thorn trees – both upright and fallen.

He posed in golden sunlight on fallen logs and even in the treetops, making for the perfect afternoon of leopard photography, which lasted just over two hours!

Leopard running in grass
Leopard lying on fallen Branch

Try to keep up! (8 May 2016)

After spending so much time with leopards, we headed out with high hopes of photographing wild dogs. Because they weren’t denning at the time, finding them was always going to be tricky, but we gave ourselves the best possible chance by sticking to the areas they like most.

By 07:15 we had found one of the area’s two resident packs, consisting of seven adults. Four of the dogs trotted along the edge of an open plain and then spotted their buddies in the distance. The greeting was brief and energetic, and before long the whole pack was looking for breakfast.

On the menu was a young waterbuck and numerous impalas, but every attempt resulted in failure. Keeping up with the bolting dogs was nearly impossible and every now and again we lost them completely, only to bump into them again where the impalas were giving alarm calls. After an exhausting hour, both the dogs and us gave up.

Black and White image of Wild dog
Wild dogs on dirt road

But the excitement wasn’t over yet. Before dinner we had seen three more leopards – all individuals we hadn’t seen on this trip before. One shy female stalking impalas close to the river and Matsebe and her sub-adult cub, both very relaxed and happy to be photographed. This brought our leopard tally to five individuals in three days!

Impala for breakfast (AM drive – 9 May 2016)

All good things must come to an end, but luckily for us, ours was followed by yet another – four nights in Savute Elephant Lodge in Chobe National Park. Before heading north we had one last game drive. We spent most of it with the pack of seven wild dogs, which had killed an impala lamb right next to the lodge.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) we reached them after all the action had taken place, so we watched them finish off scraps and cleaning their faces.

Pack of wild dogs after kill

Khwai had produced some of the best leopard photography opportunities I had ever experienced in Botswana, and seeing wild dogs twice was a real treat. Look out for Part II of this three-part blog series, where I share some of our Savute sightings.

You too can join us on safari. Simply visit Tusk Photo and find the destinations and dates that work best for you. We look forward to seeing you!