Grumpy hippos and playful lions
Never forget that wild animals are, well … wild. For instance, we were sitting in a small boat watching and photographing a particularly playful pod of hippos. The play fighting between the young males became more intense until some submerged, nothing unusual there. Then four of them, including the largest male resurfaced, cutting the distance to us by half. Time to go! As they kept on coming our escape was stalled by the propeller being stuck in the lily pads, forward backward went the prop trying to get free, tensions rising, onward wallowed the hippos. At the point they got uncomfortably close and it was all too obvious how huge the alpha male was, then the prop came free and we were on our way. Our guide said they wouldn’t have attacked the boat, he never looked worried, they just wanted us gone. A close enough encounter for us though and a reminder that wild animals need to be treated with respect.
We had 6 nights in the area on and close to the Chobe river, which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia in the area known as the Caprivi Strip. Three days were spent on the Chobe Princess 2, a 4-cabin houseboat (officially on the Namibian side) and 3 days at Muchenje Safari Lodge. Muchenje is located in the Chobe National Forest, just a few minutes outside the 10,700 square Kms of the Chobe National Park.
The comfortable houseboat cruised the Chobe river, providing many opportunities to see the abundant wildlife, but the main safari activities were conducted on smaller boats. The knowledgeable guides took us out three times a day, to get up close and personal with the creatures that call the river and its banks their home. For serious photographers one of the boats was equipped with swivel chairs and camera mounts (instead of tripods) to accommodate camera bodies and bazooka sized lenses (boat needs to be requested). The animal encounters were too numerous to mention but aside from the hippo excitement mentioned above, the most memorable was with a solitary elephant and a fish eagle. The elephant had decided to wade into the river and snack on the water lilies, ripping up vast quantities with its trunk. As it slapped the bounty against the riverbank to dislodge the mud and roots, he inevitably and comically covered himself in some of them. You’ve got to smile at a Lilly decorated pachyderm. In close attention on the bank was a huge crocodile, stealthily contemplating the chances of taking a colossal meal, but he slipped passively into the river when the elephant wandered over to him and ended the contest before it had begun.
Fish eagles are plentiful along the river and, having been invited to take spare seats on the ‘camera boat’ with my modest camera, I was delighted to capture this majestic bird in full flow as its talons touched the water to snatch up its prey.
At Muchenje lodge there are number of options for game drives, all delivered via a Land Rover style vehicle with raised seats. There are 3 shorter drives each day, plus the option for an all- day drive which allows guests to travel further into the park and a spell on a boat on the river. At this time of the year there will inevitably be some rain at some part of the day, so lined ponchos are provided to keep you as dry and warm as possible. Again, we were fortunate to see so many fabulous animals and colourful birds. Highlights included multiple encounters with lions, with one walking so close to Linda that another stride to the left would have had the lioness sitting in her lap. Both lioness and Linda held their cool. On another occasion an adolescent male wanted to engage in a game of peek a boo (see picture). Baboons were plentiful in the park and in the last hour or so before dark we would see vast troops of them scoping out the area they would use to sleep for the night. Many of the mothers would be carrying young babies on their back and some with another slung underneath their belly. They always amused me as they sloped off the track into the bush, they would look (seemingly resentfully) over their shoulder at us. It was hard to choose which birds would rank as our favourite with so many gaily coloured varieties to select from but backed into a corner I’d have to go for the Lilac Breasted Roller, not least of which was that he patiently posed for his picture as proud as can be of his bright plumage.
Let me give the final animal mention to the hyenas, jackals and vultures. Perhaps not top of most people’s list to see, but lovely in their own right and performing a vital ‘clean up’ roll in the park.
Combining the houseboat and the lodge proved to the perfect way (for us) to have an unforgettable experience in this area of outstanding natural beauty. Quite apart from the animal sightings, the scenery is worth taking time to stand still and contemplate, particularly at sunrise and sunset. A chilled glass of sauvignon blanc at the back of the Land Rover or on the deck of the houseboat is a very civilised way to ‘drink in’ the natural beauty and symphony of wildlife sounds.
The staff on the houseboat and at the lodge were polite and attentive, plus the guides were extremely knowledgeable and accommodating. We would love to come back to this area again in the dry season and would have no hesitation in using both again.