Rob and Dee Overland in Africa 2014 – 10,000 miles – 4 months – 10 countries

lion

We’ve had a few interesting elephant encounters lately here in Botswana. Our adventures stared in Chobe National Park where we were staying in a riverside campground that is located on a lighted waterhole. In the evenings you can watch the elephants come to drink under the dim glow of a few orange floodlights. Sitting on the camp’s veranda having a cold beer and watching a herd of 20 or more elephants only 40 meters away is a thrilling experience.

However it gets even better as the campground has dug an underground hide or blind only a few feet from the waterhole. The hide is mostly buried except for a two-foot high front wall that has small window slits cut in it for viewing and photography. There is only room for eight people at a time in the hide and it is entered via a 100-foot long underground and very dark tunnel.

Usually the elephants come to the waterhole from the forest on the far side but our second night camped there Dee was sitting alone in the hide when about a dozen elephants approached from right next to the hide giving her an excellent view of them from only 20 feet away.

Later that evening Rob was in the hide with five others when a second herd approached the water as usual from the far side opposite the hide. As the group began to drink one angry female continued to trumpet and chase away both the baboons and a few of the other elephants. She was easy to distinguish from the rest of the herd as she had only one tusk, the other likely broken off in fight.

At one point she chased a juvenile male across the waterhole and directly towards the hide. They stopped about 10 feet from us and both elephants suddenly smelled us and stopped their fight to probe with their trunks towards the open slits in the hide. As one trunk came within a foot of my window I leaned away and grabbed my camera. They continued sniffing but could not reconcile the human smell with the dirt-covered structure they were seeing. Eventually they returned to drinking and spraying themselves with water.

Seeing how close they had come I took stock of my bearings and checked out the construction of the underground room we were in. I could see the roof was concrete and there was a steel framework under that. On top was piled about 3 feet of dirt and the entire thing was lined with corrugated tin roofing. Being that this is Africa I wondered if anyone involved had considered engineering it to withstand the weight of an elephant. Doubtful.

Over the next half hour the angry female frequently trumpeted and often chased other elephants away from her. Then at one point she charged another elephant and chased him again right towards the hide- this time they were both running directly at us at full speed. Suddenly everyone in the hide was leaping backwards from the windows and several people fell off of the high viewing stools knocking them over in the process. The elephants both came right up to within a foot of our viewing windows then fortunately they decided the two foot high front wall was too high and they each made a high speed 90 degree turn running along the front of the hide with their toenails only inches from our noses as the female continued to chase the smaller male. In a second they were past us and out of view- the danger was over but it was certainly a bit too close for comfort.

Chobe South

Driving around the game reserves is a fascinating experience and we have come within feet of lions and leopard who do not view us a food as long as we stay inside our truck. The elephants are another matter though- the rangers routinely warn us that they are really the only animal that is a danger to you even inside your vehicle.

Yesterday we had a very long and difficult day of driving in deep sand all day. Even with four-wheel drive and our tire pressure lowered to 15 psi we had gotten stuck and been forced to dig ourselves out. Sometimes we might dig and dig only to move a few feet and get stuck again as the truck sunk up to the differential in the soft sand.

We were headed to an area outside the Park where we had been told we could camp near a village. It would be bush camping with no facilities nearby but were fine with that. The dirt track we were following was just two ruts with very tight turns twisting in and out around trees. Late afternoon sun was casting horizontal shadows across the road making it hard to see as we wound in and out alternating dark shadows and bright sunlight. We were only going a few miles an hour but as I rounded one tight bend Dee shouted, “STOP”. I slammed on the brakes even before I could see why she was shouting and by the time we skidded to a stop and I could see ahead an elephant was directly in the road and I was so close to him I could only see his legs and body. The top of the windshield cut off my view of his head and angry bellowing trunk.

I rammed the gearshift into reverse and floored it trying to use my side mirror to gauge the tight turn I had just come through and keep us on the road. I had almost made the turn when there was a crunch from the rear end as I bounced off the base of a tree which fortunately catapulted us back into the road.   Now I looked ahead and could see the angry and startled elephant shaking his head, flapping his ears and stomping his feet which is the behavior they do just before they charge. I took a deep breath and carefully but quickly backed up another 50 feet then paused. He had not chased us so I got out to assess the damage. I could not see any bent metal so I concluded we had only hit the tree with our tire – how lucky. After waiting a few minutes to let the elephants feed and hopefully move on we continued another half mile to pitch camp under a huge Mopani tree. Time for a little Jack Daniels to settle the nerves.

 

Oh… also met this guy yesterday.

moremi lion 4a

 

 

 

moremi lion 2a

 

 

 

 

Rob


Selfie with lion

Selfie with lion

We spent today exploring Ngorongoro crater.  The light was pretty overcast so the big scenic vistas were not very photogenic.   Fortunately that type of lighting is excellent for portraits so I concentrated my camera on close-ups of some of the regulars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


After the “small world” experience of running into our friends from Boulder, Colorado at the Swaziland border (look under the> Countries>Swaziland tab to read that post), we realized we were both going to be camping in Kruger Park at the same places for a few nights and arranged to share a brai (BBQ).   The first night together was spent drinking and catching up- especially hearing about their experience at Afrikaburn— the Continent’s version of Burning Man which Dee and I had originally planned to attend but did not.

 

The next morning we set out hoping to see some big cats. Of the big five we had already seen many elephant, rhino and cape buffalo but so far lion and leopard had eluded us. We drove for nearly two hours only seeing the ubiquitous impala and one rhino.   Kruger is a busy park but most of the cars stick to the paved roads and we were now deep in the bush on a rough dirt road. When we sited another 4×4 coming towards us we stopped to compare notes on what each had seen. The driver told us he had seen nothing at all in the direction we were heading. We pulled away and had not gone 50 feet when I spotted something moving near the edge of the road—I pointed it out to Dee and we crept forward a few feet. It was a huge male leopard- a loner. We continued to watch it in silence for the next 15 minutes until my attempts to get closer eventually drove it off. It was a magnificent creature and we enjoyed having the special moment to ourselves.

Male Lion

Male Lion

 

Lone male leopard

Lone male leopard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next post I’ll write about the awesome nighttime game drive we shared with our friends from Boulder.

 

Rob

 

 


Just a quick note to say we had an awesome time in Kruger National Park.

Especially our night game drive where we saw leopards mating– 4 times in about 10 minutes —  (could make some of us feel a bit inadequate); also saw lionesses with young,  rhino, giraffe,  three huge male lions, hippos, buffalo, rhinos,  etc, etc.

Pictures to follow.

Off to Zimbabwe tomorrow so probably no internet access for several days until we get to Malawi where we will visit friends of friends from Salida.

 

Rob