The 25th of May saw the first of our Botswana Wilderness safaris get underway. This safari combines 3 of Wilderness Safaris’s camps in various parts of the Okavango Delta with the aim of exposing our group of 4 guests to the full range of habitats and environments that the delta has to offer. In terms of the timing, we were right on the shoulder of high season in the delta and have been able to take advantage of the significantly discounted rates afforded to SADC residents before the high season.
The first stop of this 9 night itinerary was Chitabe Camp which situated south-east of Chief’s Island in a concession known as NG31 – an exclusive wilderness area of 28 000 hectares (69 000 acres). This concession borders the Moremi Game Reserve in the north and the east while the Santantadibe River and the Gomoti Channel are its western and eastern boundaries respectively.
Even though it is very flat and made up of homogeneous Kalahari sand, Chitabe Concession has large variations in habitat patterns over relatively small distances. Seasonal or permanent presence of water is the major driver of habitat types here: Small changes in elevation of just 1-2 metres represent large differences in the frequency and duration of flooding, which creates gradients from permanent rivers and lagoons and permanent swamps with reeds and papyrus, to seasonally flooded grasslands, occasionally flooded grasslands, riverine woodlands and dry woodlands.
In short. The ideal place to start our photographic journey into the Okavango delta!
A short flight from Maun put us on hr ground at the Chitabe airstrip and, after a short drive to camp, our excited group of guests checked in and settle down at camp.
As with all photographers, as nice as the rooms and lodge were, we wasted no time in getting out into the field. Our guide, Lesh, suggested we head to an area where a cheetah had been sighted earlier that morning and, after a bit of searching, we found our target. A narrow window of soft light gave us the first of many memorable photographic opportunities of the safari.
The bar had been set high on the first afternoon and after chatting to Lesh we agreed that our morning drive would be dedciated to searching for the pack of wild dog which had been moving aorund the northern regions of the concession. Our search for the wild dogs provided us with regular enounters of Tsessebe, Elepehant, Impala and Zebra but not even a single fresh track for the pack.
What started off as a quiet drive turned aorund pretty quickly when we rounded a corner and found a beautiful female leopard at a small pan.
The rest of the morning was pretty much dedicated to watching this female as she called regularly in an attempt to locate what we assume must have been a youngster which she had left in the area.
Overall, we spent close on 4 hours with this beautiful specimen with no pressure to move out of the sighting or get back to camp. Each of the guests commented on how special this was considering how vehicle traffic in many other conservation areas often limit the amount of time one gets to spend in a sighting.
That was certainly not the case here.
With leopard and Cheetah in the bag and no sign of the wild dogs, we headed out in search of lions on our second afternoon at camp and were once agin not disappointed. A bit of tracking and luck combined to provide us with a lovely late afternoon sighting of two young lioness as they awoke form their slumber.
The pair were staring intently across a shallow lagoon towards a wooded island and for a moment we thought we were about to witness an iconic Okavango Delta scene with the pair strolling across the shallow channel to get to the other side.
It was not meant to be but we were still treated to some great photographic opportunities as the playful pair bonded in the fading light.
One of the key deliverables for me when hosting a safari is to help my guests get the most out of each and every sighting and, despite the sun having set and the light being almost nonexistent for most of this sighting, with a couple of quick adjustments my guests were still able to capture a range of images.
So far, each and every drive had delivered something special and our next morning was no different.
With sightings of all of the charismatic cats in the bag we headed out in search of the pack of wild dogs and it wasn’t long before one of the other vehicles found them on the edge of the airstrip.
We followed the playful pack for some time, making the most of the back and side lighting provided by the early morning sun before following up on our playful lioness’ who had managed to kill a warthog earlier that morning.
The rest of our time at Chitabe provided numerous other photographic opportunities over and above the large and charismatic big cats and wild dog.
The Chitabe Concession’s total bird population is estimated at 345 species, comprising both resident and migratory birds, and varying throughout the year, depending on water levels and season. Raptors are abundant here and include African hawk eagle and hooded vulture, which often nests on the island or seen following packs of African wild dog in search of any scraps after a kill.
Late rains in the region meant that the region was still fairly well vegetated with long grass and many of the natural pans still holding water. This didn’t have any negative on either the photogrpahic opportunities or game viewing though as we worked with what we had and made the most of the beautiful scenery as much as possible.
Our last afternoon was spent as the only vehicle at an active Spotted Hyena den site. As the sun sank low on the horizon the den site, located at the base of a Jackalberry tree, seemed to have been lit up by a set if stage lights casting a beautiful deep, dark shadowy background against which to capture the clan members.
I think I speak for each of the guests when I say that the combination of game viewing and hospitality of the staff at Chitabe left us sad to leave. The melancholy feeling associated with our departure was eased only by the fact that an entirely new adventure and habitat type awaited us as we flew 45 minutes north-west to the Jao Concession and Pelo Camp.
Here we would bid fairwell to dry land and explore flooded waterways of the Okavango Delta by boat and Mekoro.
More on that in part two of the Trip Report for our Botswana Wilderness Safari for SADC Residents…
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