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A PHOTO SAFARI ADVENTURE:
FOLLOWING WILD DOGS IN BOTSWANA
by Ted Cookson
Published in November 2004
"'Whiskey delta' on Hyena Alley," whispered Andre, our photo safari guide, into his two-way radio. "We're following nine adults!"
Although he could boast 17 years of experience in animal conservation and guiding in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, 41-year-old South African-born Andre Joubert was as excited as were we early on the morning of September 10, 2004.
After a three-month absence, a pack of African wild dogs had returned to the flood plain around Zibalianja Camp near the Selinda Spillway, on the eastern edge of northern Botswana's game-rich Okavango Delta.
The 15,000-square-km Okavango Delta is well-known to informed African safari enthusiasts. Seasonal flood waters rising in Angola flow south into arid Botswana, creating the world's largest oasis. This unique ecosystem plays host to a large variety of African game animals and birds. Since good game sighting opportunities attract tourists, the Delta is also home to a great many safari lodges and camps. Until June 2004, guides from Zibalianja Camp ("Zib") and neighboring Selinda Camp had frequently sighted wild dogs, which are also called "Cape hunting dogs" or "painted dogs." In fact, Zibalianja means "place of the wild dog" in the local Sesubiya tongue. However, as the flood plain had dried up and the game had thinned, the pack had moved away. Working co-operatively to bring down small animals such as impala, packs of wild dogs typically hunt over extensive and ever-shifting territories.
Our photo game drive had begun uneventfully that morning. We had photographed some elephants standing among trees on the flood plain as we had driven away from Zib. Then Andre spotted the footprints of a leopard which had crossed the dirt jeep track during the night. In following those leopard tracks, we came upon a sub-group of nine wild dogs hunting in tall grass. Strung out in a long line while attempting to flush out game, the dogs employed their seemingly oversized ears to their best advantage, listening carefully for the sound of potential prey or for a call from another member of the pack.
As we followed behind the dogs in our open Land Cruiser, we were joined by other vehicles from Zib and Selinda camps, whose guides had all heard Andre's radio announcement of the sighting. It soon became apparent that the dogs were returning from a morning hunt to the pack's den, which was now situated above the flood plain on a tree-shaded mound.
After parking our Land Cruiser and studying the dogs' activities at the den over a period of 45 minutes, we counted 16 month-old pups and 14 adults. In each pack of wild dogs it is customary for the alpha male to mate with only a single alpha female. In this case it was apparent that the alpha female's litter had been comprised of 16 healthy pups.
Our two-week African safari had commenced in Zambia, where we visited both South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park before flying via Lusaka to Livingstone, Zambia to view the magnificent and mighty Victoria Falls. There, adventurous tourists can choose to overfly one of the world's natural wonders in a small airplane, by helicopter or even in an ultralight. World-class white water rafting is also offered on the Zambezi River.
In years past more exciting adventure activities at Victoria Falls had been available from the Zimbabwe side than from Zambia. However, with Zimbabwe's growing political isolation and increasing economic difficulties, many tourists to Victoria Falls now prefer to stay at Livingstone on the Zambian side. The multitude of activities and breadth of accommodation currently on offer in Zambia are a reflection of the recent surge in tourism to that country.
From Livingstone we flew in a five-seat single-engine charter aircraft just across the border to Kasane, Botswana. After quickly clearing Botswana immigration formalities in Kasane, we continued in our light aircraft directly to a small dirt airstrip midway between the safari camps of Zib and Selinda. As we descended to land, we photographed hippos, elephants and herds of various antelopes, all of which were clearly visible on the plain below.
Intimate Zibalianja Camp, only a 15-minute drive from the airstrip and unusual in catering for a maximum of only six guests, features a unique bar overlooking a nearby water hole. The camp's four twin-bedded safari tents, raised on wooden platforms, are equipped with solar lighting. Each tent has a shaded cover as well as a mosquito net with zipper. Solar power allows for hot showers, and a modern bathroom with flush toilet is attached to each tent. There are wonderful views of the surrounding plain from the raised viewing deck. All meals and laundry service are included.
Daily activities include an early morning game drive followed by brunch. After relaxing around camp during the day, one's late afternoon game drive gradually turns into an evening drive when a strong hand-held spotlight is used for game spotting on the return to camp. Finally, a communal dinner is topped off by drinks around a campfire. Accompanied game walks, seasonal fishing in Zibalianja Lagoon and participation in monthly full moon night game counts are also possible. Wild dog, elephant, hippo, leopard, lion, cheetah, hyena, red lechwe, zebra, wildebeest, sable and other plains game have all been sighted at Zib and Selinda.
PRACTICALITIES AND SUGGESTIONS:
Botswana is unique in offering a combination of excellent game, small camps and open vehicles for game drives. In addition, a visit to nearby Victoria Falls can be combined easily with a Botswana safari. Beginning in November 2004, nonstop flights from Cape Town to Maun, Botswana will permit direct access to northern Botswana, eliminating the need to change aircraft in Johannesburg. Maun is the departure point for most small aircraft flights to the many safari camps located all across the Okavango Delta.
An ideal, if high budget, southern African experience might consist of a visit to Victoria Falls plus stays at both a wet camp (for canoeing) and a dry camp (for game viewing in vehicles) in the Okavango Delta, followed by four nights in Cape Town. South Africa's so-called "Mother City" should be savored for a minimum of three full days in order to include a visit to the nearby Cape Point Nature Reserve, the wine country surrounding Stellenbosch and Paarl, and Cape Town's own highlights. The latter include Table Mountain, Robben Island and the many shopping opportunities at the Waterfront and Greenmarket Square.
The Southern Hemisphere winter months of April through October are the best time to visit the Okavango Delta. September is an excellent month as then the grasses are low, making game viewing easy. During the period from November through March, when there is rain and the grass is high, the Okavango Delta boasts a profusion of bird life.
In early October 2004 round trip airfare from Cairo to Cape Town on Kenya Airways was approx. EGP 5,200 (USD 838). Round trip airfare from Cape Town to Maun, Botswana is expected to be approx. EGP 3,600 (USD 580). Consider asking your travel agent to construct a safari package which includes three nights of accommodation at Zibalianja Camp plus airfare from Maun to Zib and then from Zib onward to Livingstone, Zambia in order to view Victoria Falls. If your budget allows it, since Kenya Airways also services Lusaka, Zambia, open jaw international airfare could be arranged, as follows: Cairo-Nairobi-Johannnesburg-Cape Town plus Livingstone-Lusaka-Nairobi-Cairo. Frequent commuter-type scheduled charters operate between Livingstone, Zambia (at Victoria Falls) and Lusaka.
ABOUT TED COOKSON: Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world! He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club). A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi. Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at: Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301. Fax 2359-1199. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.eptours.com.
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