It just keeps getting better!
Feedback from Machaba Camp, Okavango Delta – Part II
Taking out a new group of guests after having just spent four days with another is tricky, not only because their expectations are usually high (most keep a close eye on the ODP Safaris Facebook updates), but also because, in a way, you have to erase what you’ve already seen from your memory and start from scratch. None of your new guests have seen the early morning sunrise over the Khwai River (which you’ve seen four times already) or the lilac-breasted roller (of which you have 500 photos) that always poses proudly right outside camp. Everything you see is a potential awesome photograph in the making… again! So it’s a good thing we love what we do.
This is what we saw between 27 and 31 May with our second group of Tuskphoto Safaris clients:
An unbeatable drive (PM drive – 27 May)
It’s always great to start with a bang, but I never imagined the bang would be this big! We headed straight to Matsweri Pan, one of the most scenic spots in the Khwai Consession, and learnt from another guide that a pack of wild dogs had just left their den just around the corner. Our guide, Moreri, was convinced that the pack would make their way to the pan, so we switched off the engine and waited…
After nearly half an hour there was still no sign of the stunning painted canines, so we quickly checked the area between the pan a branch of the river that they sometimes use as an alternative route. Within 15 minutes we were back at the pan and, just as Moreri had predicted, the wild dogs were already busy drinking. They must simply have taken their time to come down to the water. Not only were we able to photograph them in golden afternoon light, but we also followed them until the sun disappeared behind a dusty horizon.
We were happy to return to Matsweri Pan to stretch our legs and relive the excitement with a G&T in hand, but the drive was far from over. Further east, near Mogotho Campsite, two young leopards had been found sitting on a fallen tree, just out of reach of two marauding hyenas. We skipped sundowners and made our way straight there and pulled in just before the last light disappeared, and were able to take a few evocative photos of the two apprehensive cats. What a start to the safari – wild dogs and leopards on the first drive!
A leopard in camp! (28 May)
Soon after we left camp we came across fresh lion tracks heading downstream along the Khwai River. It appeared to be a single male’s tracks. No – two males. Wait – three! There were three sets of lion tracks and we were less than 20 minutes behind them.
The three brothers stayed ahead of us for over an hour, all the way to Mogotho Campsite where they must have seen people camping under a clump of camel thorn trees. Their tracks turned away from the river and into a thicket and then made a 180-degree turn back in the direction where we had just come from. Minutes after discovering this, we found them – three mean-looking young males with short, scruffy manes. They walked back in the direction of camp, stopping here and there for the odd sniff and occasional roll in the grass.
Seven hours later, just after we’d left camp for the afternoon drive, a call came in from camp manager, Shaun.
“There’s a leopard in camp!”
Matsebe, the relaxed Machaba female, had just been spotted by a staff member near room 9. We returned and watched as she strolled past the tents, past the staff houses, and through the parking area before disappearing into a thicket too dense to follow her into.
“We believe she’s got cubs”, said Moreri, “but no-one has seen them or knows where she’s hiding them”.
Wouldn’t that be an unforgettable sighting, we all thought to ourselves as we headed off to the Letchwe Plains where we photographed these graceful semi-aquatic antelope in backlight, before enjoying the neglected G&T’s from the previous afternoon’s drive.
More lions at Mogotho (29 May)
After spending an hour searching for Matsebe in the vicinity of Sable Alley, we experienced a solid dose of déjà vu when we came across fresh male lions tracks, only this time there were only two sets.
These brothers were slightly larger than the ones from the previous morning, with larger, darker manes, but still not fully-grown. Although we followed them from a different area, they also made their way to Mogotho Campsite, which seemed to be a hub of animal activity during our whole stay. Watching them walk below and past gigantic camel thorn trees in this very picturesque area was a real treat, and of course we got some great photos as well.
In typical Machaba fashion, a pack of wild dogs diverted us from our route back to camp and kept us entertained for another half and hour on the eastern boundary of the concession, where Khwai and Chobe National Park come together.
They were still in the same spot in the afternoon and despite a few half-hearted efforts (and the intervention of a gutsy herd of zebras) they couldn’t catch any of the kudus they’d set their sights on.
Where are the wild dogs? (30 May)
We spent the morning at the wild dog den, where the alpha female and a few of the other dogs popped out of the thickets now and then for a photo or two. In the afternoon, however, we had less luck. The call came in again that the pack had just left the den, but this time our patience at Matsweri Pan was rewarded with nothing more than a pair of wattled cranes. The wild dogs chose a different route to their hunting grounds and never came past the pan. It was only slightly disappointing though, not only because we got a handful of good photos of them earlier, but also because we got the opportunity to capture some lovely images of water birds, like jacanas and fish eagles, at the edge of the pan instead.
The highlight of our trip! (AM drive – 31 May)
Near Sable Alley Campsite, which is just north of Machaba Camp, we came across a relaxed old elephant bull that walked down the road. After taking a couple of photos of him we continued on and immediately spotted fresh leopard tracks over his tracks, which meant that she was close. Very close!
Soon after we had started tracking, we heard her call. Within minutes we had located Matsebe, Machaba’s most relaxed leopard female, and boy, was she on a mission!
We followed her for nearly two hours, through Kalahari appleleaf shrubland, mopane veld and a couple of open patches, to a very dense thicket a stone’s throw from camp.
And there, in a hollow tree stump on the ground, were two tiny cubs not even a month old.
As one would expect, the area was nearly inaccessible, but we were able to park in such a way that everybody eventually had a glimpse (and in the case of a lucky few, a photo or two) of the little ones. The cubs were in and out of the hole and playing all over their mother who lay patiently on the ground beside the tree stump.
Finding out that Matsebe’s cubs were still alive was the highlight of our trip. If all goes well, we might even see them again one day when they too start hunting along the river and in the thickets of the magical Khwai Concession.