Soon after I returned to Colombo from Botswana in August, I began to plan for my next trip to the same destination. Thus I was back there in October with my son Ishanga. With Stevan’s help I arranged a mobile camping safari from 23rd October for six nights camping at three locations in Moremi Game Reserve and a further three nights at Nxai Pan National Park. Steven agreed to be our driver/guide for the tour.
On the 22nd October 2004, Ishanga and I arrived in Maun on a flight from Gaborone. After an overnight stay in Maun, Steven picked us up the following morning in his 4×4 Land Rover. There were three more guests who joined the tour, a gent from UK and a couple from Italy. Steven was accompanied by a lady who acted as a translator for the Italian duo. It took about two hours to reach the entrance of the Moremi Game Reserve by road from Maun. The MGR covers an area of 3,900 sq km, and covers the central and eastern areas of the Okavango.
The first camping site was at Xakanaxa, in the heart of the MGR for two nights followed by a further two nights at a site close to Xakanaxa and the last two nights at a camp site facing the Khwai river.
It was my first mobile camping experience. A small tent was provided per person or for a couple. A hanging water bucket of 4 gallons capacity to shower and a bush toilet was available for all to share. The food served was basic but under the circumstances, it was pretty good. On most occasions we had a picnic breakfast during the safari drives inside the jungle and came back to the camp for lunch. The afternoon drive started around 3pm and we returned to the camp before dark as no night driving was allowed inside the reserve.
During our stay at Moremi Game Reserve, we had the thrill of seeing the African Wild Dog. We came across a pack of Wild Dogs after a meal, resting under a tree. On another occasion, we chanced upon a pride of Lions crossing the river Khwai, in pursuit of a large herd of buffalos. It was rare to see lions in water. We had another sighting of a pride of Lions with very small cubs, after a heavy meal near a baby elephant carcass, where vultures were busy cleaning up what was left over by the lions. Also in Xakanaxa, close to the lagoon, a male Lion carrying a head of a buffalo caught the attention of my camera.
At Xakanaxa, we went on a motor driven boat in the lagoon in search of wild life on the banks of the lagoon. A major attraction here is a vast nesting colony of Storks. We found Yellow-billed, Marabou and White-necked Storks with their young. It was a lovely sight and the birds kept my camera busy. If not for digital technology, I would have had to change at least 5 rolls of 36 shot films on a film camera. On the return trip, we met Mad Mike, the renowned wild life photographer with a tour group having a picnic breakfast on the bank of the lagoon. Just before disembarking we saw an elephant frolicking in the water, which again had us clicking away on our camera equipment. In an afternoon safari, I was able to spot a leopard at a distance as it climbed a tree. Steven steered the jeep close to the animal, which gave the rest of the group the opportunity to see the leopard at close quarters. The park does not allow vehicles to go off the road.
We came back to Maun on the 29th October for a night while the rest of the guests took a domestic flight from Xakanaxa for another tour. After spending 6 nights in the jungles of the MGR my first priority was to have a good long shower, as our baths at the camps were limited to a bucket of water. I also made it a point to call my wife at home since it was our 33rd wedding anniversary, the first time I had been away from her on our anniversary.
On the 30th October, as planned Steven came to pick us up from Maun to continue our safari at the Nxai Pan National Park for three nights. Because it was the dry season most of the animals were in the vicinity of the Nxai Pan, where water was drawn from a nearby bore hole, driven by diesel pump, maintained by the park authorities. Nxai Pan is a large salt pan topographic depression, and thanks to the irrigation arrangement it does not go dry even during the height of the drought. Although the park covers an area of 2,100 sq km, according to Steven, the Nxai Pan area was the best location for wild life viewing and photography in the park. There was a pride of Lions with small cubs, always hovering around the water hole, while Impalas also cautiously approached the water body to drink without falling prey to the waiting predator. Elephants come in the morning and the evening to the water hole from the surrounding jungle, to drink water as well as to keep their bodies cool. On one instance, I was able to capture photos of a large male elephant chasing the lions away from the pan.
During our three day stay at Nxai Pan NP, we also found a pack of Wild Dogs resting on the road side. They later chased a herd of Impala, but it was too dark to see the results of the chase. We also had a glimpse of a Cheetah during our stay there.
We returned to Colombo via Johannesburg on the 3rd of November. After this experience, I agree with Steven that a mobile camping safari gives far greater photo opportunities for wildlife photographers than when staying in regular camps and lodges.