Private Safari Trip Report: Botswana, July 2014

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 4 Comments

Can you imagine seeing African wild dogs finish off an impala even before arriving at your destination?

Well, this is exactly what happened to my guest and I on our recent private safari to the wilds of Botswana!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

On our way to Kings Pools Camp, a part of the Wilderness Collection of lodges, we encountered some highly stressed impala. Instinctively my guide and I knew that something was up. Impala react this way only to one predator, their absolute worst nightmare, the Painted Dogs! We continued for a few hundred meters and there they were.

They had killed a female impala minutes ago and were actively feeding. We had not even arrived at Kings Pool Camp and here we were with one of the most endangered large carnivores of Africa on a kill. What great fortune, what a way to start our private safari!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

I had hand-picked our local guide for this 10 day safari. Yompi Diye used to work out of the Linyanti Concession and recently moved to Mombo Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta. He is a professional in every way and a pleasure to work with. Having him with us for our entire stay at the Wilderness Safaris Camps was such a treat.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

The area surrounding Kings Pools, known as the Linyanti, really comes alive during the dry season. As the water starts to dissipate in the Mopane woodlands animals have no choice but to quench their thirst from the Linyanti River. The woodland on the banks of the river is unbelievably beautiful! Nowhere else have I seen larger Ebony’s, Apple-Leafs or Leadwood’s. I wish these age-old tree’s could talk, could you imagine the stories they would tell!

As we wound our way through these giants along the banks of the River we encountered many large herds of impala, as per usual the dominant antelope species around. Kudu, bushbuck, Giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo and zebra are also common and often found out and about. As “common” as what these animals are they are important to an ecosystem and contribute in their own unique ways.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Predators abound in the Linyanti during this time of year, often spending their days prowling along the edge of the river.

My guest had a special place in her heart for leopards. Yompi and I too love these spotted beauties and so a lot of our time here was spent looking for them. True to his outstanding reputation, it did not take Yompi long to find us our first leopard. The young male was rather shy of the vehicles and allowed us but a fleeting glance of him before moving off and out of sight.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Our excitement had barley settled when we spotted a second young male at the base of a large Leadwood tree. Two leopards in less than 15 minutes!! The young male sat quietly in the warming sun. His behavior suggested that he may have had an encounter with the slightly older male we had seen earlier, but he soon relaxed and gave us an absolute show for over 2 hours!

We returned in the afternoon to find that he had moved from where had had left him. A search around the area produced another surprise.

Alerted to her presence by a noisy tree squirrel, we found his mother resting in a tall tree engulfed in a thorny Wooly Caper Bush. She had no intentions of moving and we decided to spend our afternoon with her until she would decide to give us a better view. The sun had barely set and she was up. She deftly descended the tree and immediately moved in on a herd of impala she had spotted from the height of the tree she was in. We lost sight of her in the darkness, but what an unbelievable day we had had!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

The lions of the Linyanti gave us a slightly harder time. Yompi and I had tracked a pride for an entire morning but eventually had to turn back to camp. They moved several kilometers into the thicker Mopane jesse, and it would be too far to return in the afternoon.

We did however encounter an old lioness on one of the days. She had clearly weathered some battles and seemed to be more nomadic in nature, not belonging to a specific pride. New territorial males have upset the balance of things within the resident lion prides and this old lady was affected too. Seeing her walk along the banks of the Linyanti River was special though and something I wont forget.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

I absolutely love this eco-system. It is a real gem of Africa, a place that sadly does not get enough credit in my honest opinion. The lodge we stayed at, called Kings Pools Camp, is fantastically situated on the banks of the Linyanti River. The service, food and fantastic atmosphere in this camp makes a visit to the Linyanti just that much more special!
One of my favourite things to do is to enjoy the early hours of the mornings next to the fire, long before the guests arrive. There’s a special quality to this time of day for me.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

From the Linyanti we flew across to the infamous Okavango Delta. We looked forward to a week in this paradise with our first stop being the magnificent Vumbura Plains Camp.

The camp is well situated and during this time of year is surrounded by water-filled channels.
This adds such a great dimension to safari as you are constantly crossing through these long shallow channels, something one is not always accustomed to.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

The lodge itself is breathtaking! Styled in a very modern manner it seems to appeal to a general audience., both young and old enjoying the modern influences. There’s something for everyone here.

The shower was striking and massive! I am sure I would have been able to fit an entire elephant under there!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Vumbura offered a great variety of wildlife. It is not completely surrounded by water and therefore attracts animals such as Sable Antelope and African Wild Dog. These are animals not often scene on safari, both equally striking in their own right.

On one particular evening we watched as the dogs were out hunting in some large open clearings. The grass was rather long and the pack spilt due to lack of visibility. Watching them regroup was fascinating as always!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

I clearly recall another great safari spent in the company of a lone lioness.

We followed her for almost 4 hours as she searched for her missing pride members. We found her early in the morning and just stuck with her. Her lack of regard for deep water was amazing to witness. Lions in general don’t like water all that much but she had no choice but to adapt. Water is such a big part of a lion’s daily life out here in the Okavango Delta and they have adapted accordingly.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

A large male lion was also hot on her tracks. We would find him almost everyday, and his agenda never seemed to change. He wanted to catch up with the pride and the above-pictured female in particular. It could have been that she was in estrous and ready to mate, making him more determined than usual.

He was part of a coalition of 2 male lions. Their calls could be heard every morning and never far from camp.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

These “high profile” animals are obviously at the top of the list whenever people come on safari. I have been on safari several times with this particular guest of mine and having enjoyed many quality sightings together in the past, we loved focusing our attention on some of the other inhabitants. There’s so much to see out here. The diversity and beauty of the landscape will undoubtedly capture your heart.

For a photographer it can’t get much better and more unique, offering you the opportunity to capture animals in different environments than the norm.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

The big bull pictured above looked so peaceful and striking within this open floodplain. The scenery here is stunning and makes for great photographic opportunities.

As is customary for me, the fireplace is where you will find me in the morning before I meet my guests.
The early morning view and stars from Vumbura’s fire-pit was like few I have seen before. It is here that I get to sit back with a steaming cup of coffee, and get to reflect on what I have experienced, on that which mother nature has sent my way.

I realize how privileged I am to lead this life. It sure has its ups and downs but it is in moments like these that the “downs” all seem fade to the away…

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

The time had come to leave Vumbura. After spending 4 days in a place like this is never easy. Fortunately for us our next destination was only 10 minutes away and had a massive reputation. It would be my third visit to this stunning camp and as per usual, Mombo did not disappoint.

We were greeted by all the lovely faces we had come to known so well. It is one of the most striking aspects of this camp. You can have all the bells and whistles money can buy, but genuine and sincere friendliness comes from the heart. You can feel when someone is genuinely happy to see you, and arriving at Mombo really feels like being home!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

I can’t think of a single time when some kind of animal was not within your view whilst having lunch, or perhaps sitting on the deck of your amazing room. The teeming wildlife on this island within the heart of the Okavango Delta is obvious.

On safari at Mombo Camp one can almost expect to see everything and at any time. As I mentioned before there’s life around just about any corner.

Mombo Camp became real famous after Dereck & Beverly Joubert started filming some of their wildlife documentaries here. They have filmed larger than life award-winning films for National Geographic and really put Mombo on the map. Many places have similar reputations but few, in my opinion, have the ability to live up to it like this place can!

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Hot on our agenda was a leopard we had seen on our previous safaris to Mombo. My guest and I had a special place in our hearts for a leopard here known as Blue Eyes. He was a magnificent specimen. He proved hard to find at first and in his absence Mombo provided us with plenty of other sights.

Most notably would be the rather famous lioness roaming this island. She is no ordinary girl.

Due to excessive testosterone at birth she has developed a large dark mane. Yes, believe it!
She is the same shoulder height as the other lionesses in the pride, but undoubtedly more muscled! Researchers have done studies on her in the past and found that even though she is perfectly healthy, she is unable to bear young. In her 11 years with the pride she has added much value though.

Along with the pride male she forms on the outset a formidable force to any other rival males. At times she has been on the wrong end of fights as rogue males confuse her for another pride male, but from a distance her excessive aggression and bold demeanor have dissuaded males from approaching the pride and their territory.

When the pride is feeding she also looks like a male to hyenas. Hyena are well known for aggressively chasing lionesses off of kills once the numbers have built sufficiently. They however will not dare challenge male lions. With her present at kills hyenas seem to keep their distance allowing the pride to feed in relative peace.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Pictured above, she is the lion closest to me. Notice how much larger the had of the male lions behind her is.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Our good fortune with lions continued.

On our second morning we hardly left the lodge’s turning circle when we encountered a pride of lions, lazily lying about the lodge entrance. They must have been there for some time, watching as guests leave their rooms to head out for morning tea, completely oblivious to the presence of the large cats.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

We noticed a small herd of impala feeding close to the main deck of Mombo Camp. A lionesses had her eyes on them and seemed rather intent on catching one. She was patient though and we could see from her behaviour that she wanted to find for the right moment before making her move.

As the impala moved closer to the lodge structures she made her move. She knew exactly what she wanted and how she was going to go about it.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

She silently stalked up to the lodge’s gym and from there slipped away below the boardwalk and out of view. We knew it would only be a matter of minutes before she would be right on top of the unsuspecting impala.

The rest of the pride paid little attention to the hunting lioness, instead enjoying the warming sun.

All of a sudden impala burst in every direction and we could only just make out the tawny shape of the lioness at high speed and in pursuit of a young impala. within second it was all over and she silenced her prey.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

That is the magic of Mombo Camp!

This is no isolated incident but something regular guests and lodge staff have become rather accustomed to. The lions know that animals such as impala, bushbuck and buffalo seek shelter within the boundaries of camp. They use the structures of the lodge as cover and are remarkably successful here.

Mombo Camp itself is so special and strikingly beautiful. One could almost be forgiven for wanting to skip a safari here and there to spend time leisurely relaxing in your room or up on the deck overlooking the floodplain.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Only one thing was still missing, something my lovely guest really wanted to see one more time before heading back to London.

On our last morning we caught up with an old friend. Blue Eyes was on patrol and was crossing from one island to another. He was simply incredible. His confidence out in the open was remarkable. Leopards prefer to stick close to the edges of woodlands where the safety of large trees would not be far away.

Seeing him one more time before we had to depart was incredible and the best way possible of ending our ten day private safari to Botswana.

wild eye, marlon du toit, botswana, photo safari, private safari, travel

Seeing Africa and its amazing wildlife destinations on a private safari is something I sincerely wish more people could experience.

Yes, it is expensive.

That said, it allows the Wild Eye team to customize a safari to your needs and wishes. This safari to Botswana had such an impact on my life and no doubt on my amazing guests’s life too. We got see parts of Africa few ever will, and in the luxury and comfort of the Wilderness lodges.

Thanks for taking the time to read through my Botswana adventure.

It would be an absolute privilege to have you join me in the future!

God Bless,

Marlon du Toit

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Comments 4

  1. Susanne Krüger

    What a great trip you had, Marlon….
    Reading your blog transported me into the bush for a whole. Love your photos!!!

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  2. Glen Weaver

    Great photos, and I think you captured the quintessential Vumbura Plains and Kings Pool experience in this blog and photos. VP and KP are my favorite camps in the delta. The guides (Kahn, Ban, etc.) are also fabulous.

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