Monday, 20 January 2014


2nd - 6th Jan 2014

The sort of creature that was seen after several of the more bibulous evenings at Battledore Farm.

Next off on a 'day trip safari' in Botswana. It involved an hour's drive by minibus to a weird 'crossing point' on the Zambezi into Botswana at the town of Kazungula at the south west corner of Zambia. This place shares a common border with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana ( and only a few miles from Angola ). To begin with it was pissing down with rain. This did not bode well as I imagined all the wild-life would sensibly be shacked up for the day and not on display as meant to be.

After a rather cursory stamping of passports we quickly crossed the river in a sort of speedboat; a tourist bonus. There were four of us initially and we were due to meet up with other intrepid explorers and big game hunters on the other, Botswana, side.

Can't think why they don't have a bridge here as long queues of cars and lorries were waiting to cross on a small, one lorry capacity, ferry. The bridge project has been planned but, apparently, Mr Ebagum, the elderly, charming and ever so slightly bonkers Prez of Zim has vetoed the idea. Some of the HGVs wait many days at the border to get across.

Met on the Botswana side by a guide in another minibus, it was still peeing down, and we had to endure another immigration procedure before going on to the town of Kasane, a short distance away. Fortunately it then stopped raining. We were given a decent breakfast, waterproof ponchos, but no guns, so seemingly no chance of bagging my souvenir leopardskin rug. 

It was then onto a boat which set sail up the river Chobe, a tributary of the Zambezi, to observe the wildlife in and around the water.

The boat had a very shallow draft to enable it to run into the banks so we could get a close look at whatever was lurking there. The disadvantage was that it was somewhat unstable and we were explicitly warned not all to rush to one side or the thing could tip over. I dread to think what would have eaten us first if we landed in the water.

Left: This tree has an eagle sitting in it. We were told what kind ( African Eagle? I've forgotten. Who cares. ) but as I have frequently pointed out there are really only three types of bird in the world; spuggies, craas and shitehawks. This was definitely a shitehawk.

Right: A monitor lizard lounging on a log. These creatures, up to 6ft long, look rather unattractive. I'm not entirely sure what their purpose in life is and I expect, if provoked, they would probably bite you. Most things around here would probably bite you given half a chance, some with greater enthusiasm and more lethal consequences than others. They are omnivorous, which means they will eat anything they can get in their mouths. Not dissimilar to many people I know.

Left: Vervet monkeys, which are in great   numbers everywhere. They live in gangs, sleep up trees and the males have bright blue bollocks. These are the little bastards which steal cream cakes from people's dining tables. I suspect they are on the menu themselves for any toothsome animal which is quick enough to catch them.

Right: A Nile crocodile, of which we saw many. This one, on the shoreline, remained totally motionless while we gawped at it. A bloke standing next to me reckoned it was a stuffed replica put there to be photographed. I agreed and suggested he throw something at it to test his theory. Just as he was about to do so it launched itself at lightening speed into the water. We then reckoned it was pulled in on the end of a string. As a point of interest, do you know the easiest way to tell a crocodile from an alligator? The pair of lower fangs fourth back from a croc's snout overlay the top jaw. Alligators' fangs stay in the mouth. This could be very useful knowledge while you are being dragged into the water. I also believe alligators normally choose to live in Florida and rarely venture to Africa.

Left: A very rare creature; a one-eared impala. This is either a specific breed or is just a normal impala which unwisely put it's head to the ground too close to the water listening for crocodiles. There were many different types of antelopes and 'bucks, boks, beests' etc. on display. As with the birds I only differentiated between little ones, medium sized ones, large ones and ones with bloody great pointy horns on. A particular type, we were told, is the 'red lechwe' which likes to graze on islands mid-stream. It has long horns and it's back legs are much longer than it's front ones. This has something to do with swimming to and from the mainland although, given the proliferation of crocs, I can't imagine why they bother.
Right: Hippos were present in profusion. These timid and harmless creatures tend to spend most of the time in the water because they are very fat and it takes the weight off their feet. You would have thought this idea might have caught on amongst more of the British population. Their noses are almost permanently under water. This poses them no problem because, as you are no doubt aware, they breath through their ears.
Some smart-arses believe that they leave the water at night to go grazing on the lush meadows lining the river. What nonsense! They eat fish. This is the reason why salmon and trout are in such short supply in the Chobe river. They do not appear bothered by the crocs, probably because they are so fat a croc can't get it's mouth around them.

Right: Another shy and retiring creature is the Cape buffalo. They normally live in herds, but when an individual animal commits some antisocial act  it is banished, as has presumably happened to this poor chap. In this case they tend to get a bit lonely and sometimes seek out the company of humans, often with their heads down at 80mph.  I'm sure they don't mean any harm but as their eye-sight is notoriously bad they occasional fail to stop in time and can cause injury to those not within easy reach of a stout climbable tree. This one is making friends with an egret, before eating it.

Left: There were some very smart houses along the river. The 'safari' business must be doing a good trade.

After a very good lunch we set off again, this time in an open-air Land-Cruiser ( with comfortable seats ), to tour the neighbouring Chobe game reserve.

Elephants were in evidence here in great numbers. There was one behind practically every bush. It was Elephant City. Their staple diet is buns which they shake off the indigenous  African bun trees. We were told that they too are harmless, unless they feel threatened or are in 'musth', i.e. very randy. In which case they flap their ears, make loud honking noises and charge. This one ( right ) started to do just that. We were told it was only doing a 'mock' charge. I suppose you only realise it's not a mock charge when your jeep lands upside down and you are speared or trampled to death. 
It reminds me of the occasion when an acquaintance of mine, on a game drive in Kenya, got out of a land rover and 'mooned' at an elephant which then, understandably, took offence and charged. The poor chap, facing the wrong art with his trousers around his ankles, grinning and oblivious to the impending danger, was not well placed and slow off the mark despite the warning cries from his 'friends' in the vehicle. He only just made it back on board and away in time.

Left: Also common is the giraffe, or African slope-backed humpless camel. Being rather tall they eat the bits on the tops of the trees which the elephants can't reach, as well as small rodents. Their colouring is of the sandy crazy-paving design which is good camouflage on many modern paved patios and tasteless swimming pool surrounds, which is why you don't often see them there.
They run deceptively fast and have a powerful and lethal kick. It is therefore unwise to take them by surprise from the rear.
We were told they have no natural predators and you are definitely not allowed to shoot them. Like pandas, they don't feature on many international menus.

There were several 'lie-ons' around which live in prides and sleep for 23 hours a day. Right: This photo shows a lie-on sleeping in the tall grass. 

Contrary to popular belief, lie-ons catch their prey ( anything on two or four legs except  hippos, elephants, giraffes or indeed pandas ) by hiding in the branches of trees and dropping on it as it passes underneath. The only time they do this sweaty 'running about chasing things' is to impress wild-life documentary camera crews, or the likes of David Attenborough, when they are visiting.

Left: A baboon watching some impala ( or it could be some other antelope type for all I know ), with evil intent. Baboons are particularly horrid creatures in my opinion. They have large dog-like snouts with long sharp discoloured fangs. They also display those revolting looking swollen red and purple backsides. Good grief, if I ever had the misfortune to develop an arse like that I would be straight down to the nearest clinic, toot sweet.
There were many baboons lurking around Livingstone. They sort of approach you, rather arrogantly, along paths with their tails in the air. I was told they would try to snatch any bag containing food you might be carrying, and bite you if you hung onto it. I was also told that they might back off if shouted and waved at by a man but would not be frightened away by women. Not sure what to make of that and I didn't have cause to put it to the test.

Right: A warthog, or maybe bush-pig, looking it's handsome best. Lots of these around too, often crossing the main roads with several hoglets in tow. They stick their tails in the air possibly to warn unsuspecting motorists. I didn't see any road-killed warthogs but as they are built like mini-tanks I suspect the cars come off worst.

We were told that many of these animals could do 'nought to eighty in three seconds, or thereabouts ( including hippos I think ) which is how they either caught their victims, or avoided being caught. I suppose the lucky targets could do 'nought to eighty in two seconds'.  Either that or they are good climbers, or can fly. I wonder how fast David Attenborough can run.
Left: Another speedy buck/lope/bok/beest or whatever. 

Some of our party were due to stay for the night, camping, or even longer. I met a couple later, back in Livingstone, who told me they had seen lots more lie-ons with their cubs and even a leopard killing a baboon ( well done the leopard ). I was due to return to the wild-life in Livingstone so back through all the immigration, across the river by speedy boat and home.
A most enjoyable and educational trip.

Left: A small lie-on kipping at the Waterfront in Livingstone. I mean, it's only a matter of scale really.

I hope I have passed on some useful and well informed observations on African 'game'. I expect the BBC will be calling on me for advice in future.

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