Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tailor made guided tour from Walvis Bay to Livingstone, December 2005. More rare sightings and lions under the road.

After meeting our guests from the St Helena cruise ship in Walvis Bay this tour took in the Namib Desert, Etosha National Park, Chobe National Park and Livingstone.

The highlights were undoubtedly the hostile environment of the desert, very good sightings of Cape Mountain zebra, excellent close lion encounters and views of the extremely rare pangolin in Etosha.

On our journey from Swakopmund to Windhoek we took the infrequently used Khomas Hochland Pass road. Our journey took just over four hours, passing through stunning scenery with wildlife viewed en-route. It was a pleasure to travel without seeing another vehicle during our whole journey.

The gradual change, from barren vegetation near the coast to the semi-scrub terrain close to the ‘escarpment’, provided interesting and varied wildlife. The usual ostrich and springbok were encountered regularly, but on two occasions herds of Cape Mountain zebra were seen close to the road. This small zebra is highly adapted to the terrain and is not usually evident in such numbers. No doubt some early rains and good pasture had tempted them to the area.

Etosha never fails to impress with its lion population. One pride has taken to hiding during the day in water culverts under the road and at Nebrownii waterhole we timed our visit to perfection. We parked our vehicle just above the culvert and a few minutes after our arrival eight lions decided to come out to drink at the waterhole. We were within five metres of them as they emerged from the culvert and, as this was our first game drive in the park, it provided a very exciting introduction to Etosha.

There were more excellent lion viewings, often at very close quarters. On our drive up to the Andoni Plains we were lucky enough to see lions sitting within a few metres of the road at Stinkwater, as well as two beautiful black maned males crossing the road at Andoni.

Earlier, on the drive to Stinkwater, we found one of the animals that is rarely seen in Africa, crossing the road - the pangolin. Due to the fact that they are almost completely nocturnal those in the group are amongst the very few people who have seen this creature whilst on safari and it contributed to making a truly memorable trip.

Windhoek to Victoria Falls tour November 2005 – Close up to leopards, more lions and even an aardwolf.

On our November tour Etosha, once again, provided fantastic sightings of leopard and lion, as well as the very rare aardwolf.

There is no doubt that leopards are being seen much more often in Etosha on our tours and a further sighting of our favourite leopard two days running provided excellent close viewing.

The small female, who frequents the area close to Noniams and Goas waterholes near Halali, again decided to show herself very close to the road. Our guide Alan Baird spotted her just sitting by the side of the road in a damp pool, caused by a rainstorm earlier in the day. She was no doubt trying to cool herself down in the heat of the afternoon, but as we approached in the vehicle she was completely unconcerned and decided to settle down to sleep, very close the roadside. This provided some wonderful photographic opportunities and full headshots were possible, even with small lenses. After watching her for an hour and a half we decided to move on and leave her in peace, but the astonishing thing was that the following afternoon we found her in exactly the same place. This time she was even closer to the vehicle and seemed to revel in having her photograph taken. This was incredibly exciting and we think she is the same leopard that we have been seeing in this area for the last six years.

Lion sightings were also numerous in Etosha and on a number of occasions we found full prides with cubs. After viewing some distant lions on our way back to camp we had the incredibly lucky sighting of the normally nocturnal aardwolf. This termite-feeding animal is rarely seen and, as it was a quarter to seven in the evening with the camp gates about to shut, we had to rush back to Okaukuejo.

Luckily the rain that had fallen did not deter the black rhinos from visiting the waterhole at Okaukuejo at night. Moringa waterhole at Halali also attracted rhino, as well a lone lioness. After the lioness had been drinking for a while three spotted hyenas joined the scene and a major confrontation seemed likely until a black rhino charged the hyenas and caused them to scatter.

On our journey through to Livingstone we stopped at Popa Falls and enjoyed game drives in the nearby Mahango Game Reserve. This quiet reserve is remarkable for its almost guaranteed sightings of roan and sable antelope and we were once again not disappointed. Although the predators are not often seen here we had the good fortune to see a male and female lion in the early morning, before they disappeared into the bush.

Botswana, Namibia and Livingstone tour October 2005 – Over 50 lions and a leopard as well.

Lion and leopard sightings proved to be the highlight of our Botswana, Namibia and Livingstone tour in October.

Over 50 lions were sighted in Etosha National Park in only 5 days, but the undoubted pinnacle of excitement was the excellent sighting of leopard during daylight hours, near to Noniams waterhole.

Alan Baird (the tour leader) found the leopard, which was just sitting by the side of the road at around five o clock in the afternoon. It was a small female and probably the same leopard that is often seen in this area hunting near to the road. She was completely at home in the presence of the vehicles and proceeded to walk along the road side and settle down in the shade of a bush, less than 10 metres from the vehicles. This provided excellent viewing and photographic opportunities, as she lay resting, before a nights hunting.

Etosha was very hot at this time of year and little rain had yet fallen. This led to excellent sightings at the floodlit waterholes in the evenings. Okaukuejo waterhole was visited by up to seven black rhino at any one time and elephants, which were intent on claiming the waterhole as their own, often joined them. There were also some tremendous sightings of black rhino during the day, close to Goas waterhole.

Lions were seen throughout the park but in one instance, just before the plains of Andoni, they were found feeding on a mature male giraffe. It was unclear whether they had killed it or it had died of natural causes, as this is a particularly stressful time of the year due to diminishing water and food. Whatever the cause of death the lions were making the most of their bounty and were laying, with very full bellies, in the shade.