Chobe National Park
Twice charmed by Chobe
I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Chobe, once on the first leg of the safari and the second after we had joined our new group. The first trip was an all-day game drive followed by a cruise along the Chobe River. As we entered the park and got to a clearing on top of a small hill, I saw the park spill out overlooking the picturesque river and was taken with its beauty. Already I could see lots of elephant and hippo along the water and was excited to explore.
Chobe's main attraction is definitely the riverside; that's where the main loop is for the safari trucks and it's a great open expanse allowing one to see as many animals as possible. Often, there were three or four different animals in our field of vision and it was impossible to get bored. The river route also allows you to get really close to the animals (if they'll let you) and we were able to see a lot of the animals as they came to drink. Some of the highlights for me were seeing warthog, giraffes drinking, a bird fighting with a monitor lizard as he hunts for her eggs, two spotted hyena skittishly trying to hunt antelope, and both male elephants and impala play-fighting to improve their skills. We also saw the rare Sable Antelope, a giant dark beast, twice as a large male ran to join his family. The other animals pictures are a Lilac-Breasted Roller (Botswana's national bird), a leopard tortoise, and a fish eagle.
After a few hours of enjoying the animals and beautiful views the park has to offer, we took a boat out on the Chobe River to look for animals and relax on a cruise. We didn't see as much as we did on land, but there were plenty of buffalo, elephant, hippo, and crocodiles near the boat as we sailed along. A group of us brought our own cooler filled with local beers and ciders and had a great time knocking back a few with friends. At one point, we all swear we saw a lioness on shore and pressured the captain to change course and head for land. It was later determined that we most likely saw an antelope and the captain chided us, saying that's what happens when you've had a few beers! A few of us, myself included, maintain that we really saw a lion... but I guess we'll never know!
On our next visit to Chobe a week later with our new tour group that would take us to Nairobi, we had a slightly different and exciting plan. We went on a game drive in the lat afternoon, camped in the middle of the park overnight, and went on another game drive early the next morning. This was my first time sleeping in a national park commingled with all the exotic and dangerous animals- I was so excited! Our afternoon game drive more or less similar to our first drive shown above and I enjoyed it just as much. The one big difference was what we saw near the end of the drive right before we were about to drive to the campsite. Earlier in the day, our driver pointed out lion tracks on the dirt road and wondered how fresh they were. Just as dusk was falling, we spotted three lionesses lounging on a rock about 100 yards away. It was a little hard to see them but our guide knew their habits well; we drove what seemed to be away from them. A few minutes later, all three lionesses started walking towards the brush next to us and walked right in front of the truck! I swear I locked eyes with one of them nearest to me and it was a very special moment. This was the closest I'd been to a lion and I could not have ended the night happier.
The night spent in the park, which was devoid of fences so we were totally immersed in the wild, was pretty uneventful except for a delicious local dinner and an early bedtime. The next morning, after driving around for about an hour, we stumbled across the most amazing sight. A pack of African Wild Dogs, one of the most endangered and rarely seen animals in Africa, had just killed a Kudu and were busy enjoying their big meal. I had resigned myself to not seeing the dogs- they're seen in Chobe once or twice a year on average and it's a big park, the odds are just not in your favor. Yet here they were, right in front of me, and with a fresh kill no less! African Wild Dogs are some of the most successful hunters, much more so than lions or cheetahs. Please enjoy the abundance of photos here, I'm still way too excited about seeing them that I have to share them all.
While some of the dogs were eating, a few were standing guard surveying the area and trying to ensure the pack could eat in peace for as long as possible. Almost immediately, we noticed a brown hyena skulking around some bushes a few meters away from the dogs. Each time he inched closer, his fur puffed up to appear bigger, the dogs chased him away before he could grab a scrap. It wasn't long before a jackal appeared as well as well as a steady stream of vultures and it got harder to defend the carcass from all sides. At this point, the dogs had noticeably full bellies and took to lounging on the road near the truck or playfully gnawing on legs and bones while the other animals picked at the scraps.