Dec 292017

A Daily Dozen Post

That means 12 photos from our day . . . out of the 551 we took. Plus 29 videos. Yes, I counted. This is our second day in Chobe National Park, which should make it easy, right? Because we saw it all yesterday. What could possibly be left?

Kudu (and Impala)

Kudu male, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Winner of the Best Antelope Horns Award

Kudu: The antelope with the milk mustache and pince-nez.

Many antelope have cool horns, but kudu have the coolest of the cool horns. They are popular decor items, as is, or incorporated into lamps and furniture. They are also hollowed out and polished into musical instruments and signal horns—a horn horn. Mind you, they’re not like antlers that fall off annually. Horns are on the animal until it dies . . . or is broken off, which happens.

Impala with broken horn, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Whoops! Crap, I’m going to be reminded of that mistake forever.

The barely-there stripes on the kudu’s back are either camouflage or frosting drizzles to make them more appealing to lions and leopards. Or maybe they’re . . . oxpecker (ahem) residue.

Male kudu with oxpeckers, Chobe National Park, Botswana

How the kudu got its stripes

The frequency with which we see oxpeckers on kudu makes this last explanation the most likely.


Wonder how that impala might have broken his horn? I have an idea . . .

Sparring impala, Chobe National Park, Botswana

It’s only fun until someone loses a horn

Or maybe he was kicked by a giraffe.
Or maybe he tripped over a log, got his horn stuck in an ant hill, and had to break it off to extricate himself.
Or maybe a croc bit it off while the impala was drinking.

We’ll just have to keep wondering, I guess.

And speaking of crocs . . .

Croc and Spur-winged Goose

Spur-winged Goose and Crocodile, Chobe National Park, Botswana


Tiptoeing past the crocodile on the bank. Silly goose.

We saw a ton of crocodiles! Huh. I was speaking figuratively, but that’s probably literally true, as well.


Waterbuck, female, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Heart nose + Target tail = Waterbuck

A cow waterbuck. That seems like an oxymoron, and “bull waterbuck” seems redundant. Can’t we just call them waterboks, like steenboks, springboks, gemsboks, etc?

The “water” part of the name comes from the fact they they don’t wander far from permanent water sources, needing to drink daily. Apparently, they are also decent swimmers and will take to deep water sometimes when threatened. I’ll bet the crocs love that. We have, indeed, always seen them around water, but we’ve never seen them swimming.

Don’t you love the white heart around this lady’s nose?

Why are waterbucks always invited to birthday parties? So attendees can play Pin the Tail on the Waterbuck! Why do you think that ring is there? Du-uh!


As we cruised the Chobe floodplain, I recognized a dead and down tangled tree that I’d noted yesterday. It’s the kind of tree a gal can play on for hours, the kind of tree that ought to house some sort of animal, or perhaps an entire family.

I was so excited to see the tree, I might have missed . . .

Young male lion, Chobe National Park, Botswana

It’s a boy!

. . . the lion outside my open window!

Luckily, Mike spotted him.

We’d just been glassing across the river to where a single lion remained, tugging on the now flat, hardly visible elephant carcass. Yesterday, Mike wondered aloud how long that elephant might last the lions. We have our answer: one day.

This lion was probably one of the four “lionesses” we watched through the binoculars yesterday, but—surprise!—it’s not a lioness: It’s a young male lion. His mane is starting to come in.

Male lion licking paw, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Still a bit muddy

As we watched him, another lion—a lioness—strolled down from the brush and sprawled out near him, in the open. It was a coolish, somewhat cloudy day, so shade wasn’t imperative.

Snoozing lioness, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Check out those giant paws

We didn’t find the two small cubs.

Lion on camera, Chobe National Park, Botswana


And we totally forgot to get a picture of that super-cool tangled tree, which I was asking Mike to do when he spotted the lion. Sigh.

Elephants, at Last!

Elephant pulling tail, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Get back here, you! I’m not finished!

Ha! Found ’em! The elephants are on the west end of the park just now. It’s greener out there.

The ones closest to the road were youngish sparring bulls. So much pushing and pulling and harumphing, but all in rather slow motion.


When we were here three years ago, I occasionally found myself feeling worn out, saturated, overwhelmed with wildlife sightings. I couldn’t process them all.

That’s how I felt today. We drove through the entire park, east to west. After camping in Kasane as we explored the east end of the park, we pulled up stakes (literally) to camp in Muchenje while we explore the west end of the park. Today, we enjoyed nine hours of cool wildlife, beautiful scenery, and rough roads. Exhausting!

During the last stretch, when we thought we were past all the fun stuff, we happened upon a giant eagle-owl. Then, as we hurried to find our way in the last light of day to a not-well-signed place we’d never been, something ran across the road. We knew from the movement of the silhouette what it was, and of course we were going to stop and watch.

Muchenje leopard, Botswana

The thrills keep coming, even outside the park

But it was already hunting, watching the woods intently, never once looking our way. Then it dashed out of sight. We were okay with that; truly, it was enough.

Dec 252017

A Daily Dozen Post

We know wildlife is a gamble. Always. But if you had asked us what one animal we felt fairly sure of seeing on the Chobe riverfront, we would have said “elephant.” Last time we were here, we saw hundreds of elephants.

Well, surprise!

We saw no elephants! Actually, I need to qualify that: We saw no live elephants. Our friends, Ali and Mark, have never been to the Chobe riverfront and not seen elephants, so I guess that makes this trip unique and us . . . lucky?


It does, however, give me a theme for the Daily Dozen photos: I’m going with the unexpected.

Rock Python

Ten-foot rock python, Chobe riverfront, Botswana

Ten feet long!

At first, Mike didn’t agree with my ten-foot-long estimation, but as we got closer, he came around. We figured a 12-inch circumference, at least, at the widest part. Note how quickly the tail tapers to nothing.

“Mike, go lie down next to it so we have a size reference.”


There is no zigging and zagging for locomotion, just undulating. Check it out below or at YouTube. The video is seventeen seconds long.

Helmeted guineafowl

Helmeted guineafowl, Botswana

Helmet heads

These clowns, with their colorful heads, are seemingly everywhere. This is a species that lead-footed bus drivers slow down for (along with goats and cows—but not donkeys, who are, apparently, reliable) because they are prone to sudden stupid, panicky movements when wandering along roads. They need to wear helmets.

Because “helmeted” sounds like “helmet head,” I just call them “helmet heads.”

The red, turquoise, and spots are lovely, though, aren’t they?

Cape Glossy Starlings

Adult starling feeding young, Chobe National Park, Botswana


If this bird has never been hunted or farmed for its feathers—or followed closely as it’s preening—I don’t know why. They are iridescent and gorgeous, perfect for fashion and decor, and worn best by those with yellow/orange eyes.

This adult has no time to preen, though, with hungry offspring to feed.

Slender Mongoose

Slender mongoose, Chobe National Park, Botswana

I spy with my little eye . . .

What do you call an overweight slender mongoose? No, I don’t have the answer; I’m asking you.

These guys appear weasel-like to me, but apparently they’re more closely related to cats and hyenas.

Marabou Stork

Marabou stork perched in tree, Chobe riverfront, Botswana

Not exactly a perching bird

It cracks me up to see these long-legged birds—nearly 5 feet tall!—perching in treetops, and they do it a lot.

Of course, they’re also beautiful . . . to their mothers.


Tortoise, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Look at those spiny tortoise legs!

Say “tor-twa,” not because it’s right, but because it’s fun.


Beautiful warthog, Chobe riverfront, Botswana


I love these guys! (Okay, yes, I love most of the animals we’re seeing.) They just look so . . . interesting! I think someone had some fun with the “liquify” filter when designing the species, grabbing and stretching the animal’s cheeks in several places.

Many of our photos show the upper tusks, but this one shows the lower, smaller tusks, too, which I think adds to the whole smiling look.

You probably know that elephants and rhinos have been and are hunted for their ivory tusks. Well, these guys are, too. Warthogs, however, aren’t an endangered species. I still think the ivory looks best on the living, snuffling warthog.

Vervet Monkey

Vervet monkey, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Sure it looks cute and friendly here . . .

We have some experience with habituated vervets, and we are resolutely determined to make sure they don’t get the best of us, even if it means keeping the truck windows up in 100-degree temps, and that’s exactly what it means.

This is one of many monkeys at a rest area in the park, one of very few places (the only place?) visitors are invited to get out of their vehicles and picnic. We didn’t see them at first, but they crawled out of the woodwork the instant we got out of the car. The windows were open, and we both moved to defend our sides as a dominant male lunged toward the car. It was enough to fend him off, but only just. When I made a big move to try to scare him off, he then fake-charged at me instead of running way. The cheek! Of course, that just ticked me off, but let’s be honest, who wants a nasty monkey bite? On the other hand, I am human, hear me roar—or in this case, hiss.

Mike managed to get the key in the ignition and the windows up before any monkey could zip past either of us, and they didn’t have the guts (thank goodness!) to have a go at the back when we got fresh beverages out of the fridge. One was on the roof, checking out the side windows, while we were at the back, though.

Monkeys doing their wild things are cute, habituated nuisances . . . not so much. Well, maybe they’re still a little cute.

Camouflaged Giraffes

Camouflaged giraffe legs, Chobe National Park, Botswana

What do you think, effective camouflage or no?

Camouflage at work! Interesting, no? How many giraffes do you see here?

Muddy Lions with their Quarry

Lions on elephant kill, Chobe riverfront, Botswana

Muddy lions with their elephant quarry

Here it is: The only elephant we saw on the Chobe riverfront. A young one. Dead. Killed during the night by these mud-covered lions. You can’t see them in the picture—which is shot from far away—but the feline dining crew includes two small cubs. One swung, carried, and played with the detached elephant’s tail. From our distant vantage point, it appeared to be a group of four lionesses and the two cubs. Other than the one playful cub, they were quiet, still, and undoubtedly full.

Jacana and Hippo

Jacana and hippo, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Um . . . excuse me . . . Sir? . . . Are you awake?

If you had asked me what second animal we were most likely to see here on the Chobe riverfront, I would have said, “hippo.” They did not disappoint.


Ever wonder where the Greeks came up with the Sisyphus story? Wonder no more.

Watch this video here or at YouTube; it’s less than a minute long.

Chobe Riverfront

Chobe Riverfront, Chobe National Park, Botswana

The swamp sausages are out on the Chobe riverfront


 Posted by  Africa 2017, Travel
Nov 282017

What do you do when you have hundreds of photos of hippos?

That’s not a joke. I’m asking.

Here’s what I’m doing with a few of them. Yes, Mike, just a few. You’re welcome, everyone else.

Hippo Habitat

Hippo habitat, Khwai River, Botswana

This is the Khwai River. It comes off the Okavango River and forms part of the northern border of Moremi Game Reserve. It’s not a very big river, at lease not here, but it seems like a good and reliable water source.

You can camp here in a community-operated campground, in actual designated campsites, but there are no amenities. We stayed here three years ago, but only for one night. I would stay here again for several nights, but I’m not sure it’s on the agenda this time around.


Hippo, zebras, waterbucks, egret, Khwai River, Botswana

According to one source, hippos are the third largest land mammals, with elephants and rhinos out-sizing them. However, another source counts giraffes as larger than hippos. I’ll just say they’re enormous.

Multi-species photo: Hippo, egret, waterbucks, zebras

Hippo Hero

As in the hero of our tale.

Model hippo on land, Khwai River, Botswana

“Hippopotamus” comes from the ancient Greek for “river horse.” The Greek adjective follows the noun, though, so it’s “hippo” that means “horse,” not “potamus.”

River, yes. Horse? Hmm . . . I don’t think so, ancient Greeks.

More like τελμα λουκανικο, or telma loukaniko, or telmaloukaniko. According to Google Translate, that’s “swamp sausage” in Greek! Although, technically, I think it would be λουκανικο τελμα.

Howling Hippos

Hippo hollering at no one, Khwai River, Botswana

Okay, probably not howling. Singing opera, perhaps. Actually, I don’t know if this one is vocalizing at all; it very well might be standing there with its mouth open. They do that. Apparently, facing another hippo with your mouth open is a sign of submission. (So I’m likely to be seen as no threat when I get face-to-face with a hippo, right?)

But perhaps I should point out that this one isn’t facing anyone. It might be looking at us, or not. It is walking from Pool A to Pool B.

Open-mouthed hippos, Khwai River, Botswana

I’m unclear what constitutes an aggressive yawn and what constitutes a submissive open mouth.

Hippos sparring, Khwai River, Botswana

These two definitely seem to be sparring.

Hippo Hissyfit

Hippopotamus scooping water, Khwai River, Botswana

“Water scooping” is another common behavior that is said to be an aggressive display.

Hippo water scooping, Khwai River, Botswana

That’s a big scoop splash! Is this an exceptionally grumpy hippo?

A Fine Hippo How-Do-You-Do?

It started like this:

Two hippos traversing land, Khwai River, Botswana

Two pals strolling along . . . or so it seems

A Tale of Two Hippos turns into A Tail of One and A Tale of Woe.

See if you can make out what’s happening before I explain. Mike got a series of still photos, and I managed to make a bad (but mercifully short) video. In my defense, I was filming something else and had to swing over to this action while something else entirely was also screaming for my attention. Seriously, three things happening at once. It’s a wonder I got anything at all.

The still photos:

Hippo dung showering, Khwai River, Botswana

Can you see what’s happening here?

Fifteen-second video of the same, which you can see full-screen on YouTube.

Want to be a hippo?

Scientists have decided to call this “dung showering.” We have to call it something because it’s a common behavior. That’s right, everybody’s doing it, on land and in the water; although, not always in someone’s face. Sometimes they shower in solitude. Some people report watching two bulls standing head to tail do this to one another, and others have witnessed territorial males meet at a shared border and exchange excrement.

As always when it comes to animal behavior, we can only theorize about why hippos do this, but let’s do that, okay?*

  • to demonstrate dominance
  • to mark territory or announce one’s presence
  • because hippos that did this survived, and hippos that didn’t do this died
  • freedom of expression through exterior design

Hushed Hippos

Hippos resting peacefully, Khwai River, Botswana

All quiet on the hippo front. Huh. This may be the most rare sighting—and photo—of the lot.

*I might be joking about one of these.

Nov 242017

Our second day trip from the Maun homestead was to the Khwai River. We headed out toward the South Gate road, on the horrible, headache-inducing corrugated and soft-sand road, but went right at the Y instead of left and then continued on a good deal farther.

Getting There

Our first wildlife sighting was a parade of 13 elephants, marching one-by-one across the road, with the tiniest calf smack dab in the center of the procession.

African elephant crossing sand road, Botswana

Elephant crossing

As a species, African elephants are classified as vulnerable, with their numbers increasing. In this particular area, though, they are abundant. When we’re not seeing elephants, we often see elephant signs, like broken trees and tree crumbs strewn across the ground.

African elephant and broken tree, Botswana

Elephant and elephantized tree

When we were here three years ago, I marveled at surviving 4.5 months and I-don’t-know-how-many thousands of miles on rough roads and rocky/sandy non-roads without getting a single flat tire.

This time around, we didn’t survive two relatively easy out-of-town drives. The main sand road is rough, to be sure, but it’s sand. And the flat occurred after backing up in soft sand to look at an elephant.

Flat tire in Africa

Mike gets to work changing the flat

Thankfully, Mike is a champion tire-changer. If you ever drive with him up the AlCan or across the Lower 48 or around Alaska, he can and will point out the many places he’s had a flat. He’s done a lot of driving, and often on less-than-ideal American tires. African tires, by the way, are a cut above American tires, built to withstand extreme heat and tough road conditions. Notice, too, that there are two spares on this safari vehicle.

Now, don’t go thinking I didn’t help. Who do you think took the picture? And who do you think was watching out for lions and leopards? That’s right. I had an important job to do, too.

With two spare tires, we didn’t hesitate to continue on.

And then there were . . .

Waterbucks, Botswana

Waterbucks, the shaggy antelopes

. . . waterbucks, which are the peaceful, long-haired hippie antelopes.

A bit farther down the road, we came across this:

Dead elephant along the road, whole

What is that?

This thing was close enough to catch our eyes and be clearly visible without binoculars, but far enough away that we didn’t immediately know what it was. My first thought was that it was a giant gray rock, but there were no other such rocks around. “Is that a dead elephant?” I asked. “I think so,” Mike answered.

Further scrutiny confirmed that notion.

Dead elephant, head labeled

Can you make it out now?

Oh, how I wanted to walk over and get a good look. The skin and bones looked desiccated, so it wasn’t a fresh death or kill, but it was just far enough away, and there were just enough trees and brush around, that we didn’t feel completely comfortable walking away from the truck. (Lions and leopards, y’all. Remember?) I know there’s not a lion under every bush or a leopard in every tree. I walk around in the AK Bush where there are bears. But still. We didn’t go.

Now, if Ali and Mark had been there and thought it was okay, I’d have been out there in a heartbeat. Without running, of course. Whatever you do, don’t run. But we played it safe and enjoyed the view we had.

Just down the road, the stench confirmed again our conclusion, if you harbor any doubts.

A Certain Spot on the Khwai River

Soon, we arrived at our destination: a particular stretch of the Khwai River, which is a smallish river. Here, we found lovely scenery and a variety of wildlife.

Multi-species scene in Botswana, zebras, waterbucks, wildebeest

Lovely scenery and mingling species

Multi-species photos are quintessential Africa to me. Maybe you can make them out, or not, but this group is comprised of zebras, wildebeest, and waterbucks, with an egret in the foreground. And that’s just the background of the scene.

In the foreground, we have . . .

Hippos, Khwai River, Botswana

Hippos doing what hippos do

swamp sausages! Also known as hippos, or maybe hippopotami.

Enormous (up to 13 feet long, 5 feet tall, and weighing 3.5 tons), cranky, and fierce as they are rumored to be, they crack me up. The my-mouth-opens-wider-than-your-mouth posturing is awfully silly, don’t you think?

Twice as we watched the hippos, something somewhere startled the smaller, more distant ungulates. (Hippos are ungulates, too.) Several impala and a single lechwe charged right past us in their panic.

Impala individual, Botswana

Look at that skinny neck and head!

All right, this one’s not charging in this particular moment.

While we watched the hippos and enjoyed lunch, Mike considered reminding me of the close encounter we had three years ago with an elephant right on the curve ahead of us. Before he got the words out, though, an elephant strolled up, not too far in front of our parked truck. Do you suppose it’s the same one?!

Elephant drinking at the Khwai River

She dumps out the water from the top of her trunk

She just wanted a drink. Between each squirt-gulp, she dumped the last bit of water from her trunk. You know, like dumping remains from the bottom of the glass. It makes sense to me: Who wants to drink the water that’s been way up in your nose?

We pulled ahead to the next bend in the river, leaving this lovely lady to do her thing. When we turned around to leave not long afterward, we might have had another close encounter, but we spotted Ms. Ellie browsing on the road and took a detour.

One the way out to the main (awful) sand road, we passed an impala nursery and a few female kudu.

Impala nursery, Botswana

Nursery charges in front, adult supervisors in back

Kudu at the Khwai River, Botswana

Female kudu. See the frosting drips down her back?

On the Way Home

The bumpy ride home continued to offer up wildlife sightings.

Bateleur, Botswana

A bateleur, a medium-sized eagle

First there was a bateleur, which is a nicely colorful, medium-sized eagle. It’s endemic to Africa and parts of Arabia. Its French name translates to “street performer,” which I haven’t yet connected to any behavior. In fact, this is the first time I’ve had a decent view of one.

Ground hornbill, Botswana

Ground hornbills dining on something dead

At first, I thought these ground hornbills might be doing a sort of mating dance, but it seems they are merely eating. If bateleurs are street performers, then ground hornbills are dinner-theater performers.

Warthog, Botswana

A warthog who opted for whiskers over tusks

Then we spied our first-for-this-visit warthog. The tusks are less than impressive, but those sideburn whiskers more than compensate.

Roan antelope, Botswana

Roan, ready for action

And, finally, we drove past several special antelopes. They’re special because we saw them only a couple of times during our last visit. I recognized them immediately, but couldn’t get through the detritus in my brain to say their name. So I just bounced in my seat, flapped my hands, pointed, and said “eh-eh-eh.” Mike caught a glimpse, and in his excitement rattled off the antelope names on his mental list, top to bottom.



“Gemsbok! (Say “hemsbok.”)


And, then, just in time to prevent my head exploding and my hands flying off and out the window, he came up with “Roan!”


Beautiful roan antelope.

Roan, the superhero antelope

Roan are the superhero antelope. See their superhero, identity-hiding masks? And then there are those ears. Those gigantic ears! Those are another superhero feature. Roan have super hearing, and I’m pretty sure they can fly with those things.

And in Summary . . .

The flat tire was a bummer, and that shortened our time with the hippos, but what a day!

I call hippos “swamp sausages” because that’s what they look like on land. More on that soon. What nicknames come to your mind for any of these animals here?

Nov 182017

My Favorite Out-of-Maun Road

We are again house- and pet-sitting in Maun. While here, we aim to get out once a week for a day trip, what I call a “safari self-drive.” We don’t have to go far out of town to feel like we’re on safari. Wild animals are literally just around the corner—or even just beyond the garden gate.

We headed to what we call the “South Gate Road,” my favorite out-of-Maun road. It’s a sand road that leads to the South Gate of Moremi National Park. We don’t go into the park; we just drive to the gate and turn around. As with National Parks in the US, there are no fences, and the animals roam anywhere they choose, not distinguishing park land from non-park land. Last time we were here, we saw heaps of wildlife along this road, both a wide variety of animals and significant numbers of them—by our standards, anyway. Mind you, African wildlife guides may have different opinions.

Three years ago, we didn’t know what to expect from a day trip out of Maun, and we were blown away each time we ventured out. I’m sure our expectations were higher this time around.

Ch-ch-changes From Three Years Ago

This year, we’re here a bit earlier, more on the tail end of the dry season. Animals may still be congregated around reliable water holes in the park, rather than wandering farther afield. What were semi-permanent puddles along the South Gate Road three years ago are currently dry mud pans.

In addition, the grass, brush, and trees on the first half or more of the drive were recently burned in a wildfire. The terrain is black and barren. I suspect new grass will spring up in profusion when the rain comes, as fireweed does in Alaska, enticing grazers from miles around, but we’re not there yet.

So there wasn’t much wildlife on the whole first half of the drive. Disappointing? Sure. But it was also exciting to see what is now familiar turf, recalling animals we’d seen on previous trips.

And then the scenery turned green. The first large animal to make an appearance was . . .

Male ostrich, South Gate Road, Botswana

Male ostrich outside Moremi NP

. . . an ostrich! Three of them, actually. This guy had two females with him.


Ostriches are cool—and funny, in my experience. Skittish, so we’ve never been especially close. Some seem to have a hair-trigger panic button, which we’ve seen cause comical escape scenes. I think running ostriches are inherently funny. We’ll try to show you. These guys didn’t panic, though.

On the other hand, ostrich necks are a million times more flexible than a giraffe’s neck. They have an admirable grace sometimes. I imagine giraffes have neck envy, and then my brain takes off, making up silly stories where giraffes take ostrich yoga classes, hoping they can one day bend down to drink without splaying their legs. Or I imagine a gorgeous, sweet giraffe joining an ostrich dance troupe and being the much loved but gawky klutz of the group.

Three years ago, I don’t think we saw ostriches here, so this was a nice surprise.

And then there was a pair of . . .

Steenbok male and female, South Gate Road, Botswana

A pair of steenbok

. . . steenboks. These are small antelope, not the smallest of antelopes, but the smallest we’ve ever seen, just 22 inches high at the shoulder. That’s tiny! Imagine even smaller ones—ones half this size.


Steenboks are generally solitary, except during breeding season. That must mean they’re super-brave, right, to be tiny prey animals who forego the safety of herd numbers? And while the female here is looking scruffy, they’re generally sleek—friction-less for great speed. I love the dark lines in the ears that look like veins in a leaf. Lots of antelope have those ear lines.

And then there were the lovely but chronically undervalued impala, rendered common and un-special by their vast numbers and frequent presence. They can be like caribou in Denali NP.

Impala, males, South Gate Road, Botswana



But these guys are very cool, too. They wear their hearts on their ankles, for one thing; although, you’ll have to wait until we get a better picture of that particular feature.

What’s a safari without . . .

Elephants under a tree, South Gate Road, Botswana

Ahhh, blessed shade!

. . . elephants? Especially here in Botswana.


Do you suppose that it’s still cooler in the shade when you’re smooshed together with a bunch of hot elephants? I suppose it must be or they wouldn’t smoosh like this. Most animals seem willing to smoosh for a bit of shade. The sun can be brutal.

Elephants under a tree, South Gate Road, Botswana

That calf is in good hands . . . or trunks

There were four calves with this group of cows. That seemed like a lot of young ones for a relatively small group. Then again . . .

Elephant cows and calf, South Gate Road, Botswana

Elephant cows and calf

. . . maybe we weren’t seeing the whole group of cows.

How to hide an elephant, South Gate Road, Botswana

How do you hide an elephant? Like this!

At home in Alaska, I’m amazed when a thousand-pound moose disappears in the brush. Here, we’ve got multi-ton and two-story animals disappearing in brush. How crazy is that?! It doesn’t seem possible, but time and again we see it happen.


Just before the park gate, five zebras stepped out of hiding to round out our day. These are two of them.

Zebras, South Gate Road, Botswana

Zebras make an appearance

I love those piano-key manes!

The highlight of the day, however, came between the ellies and the zebras.

Sitting giraffe, South Gate Road, Botswana

It’s sitting down! On the ground!

A giraffe. Sitting down!

And not just one giraffe sitting down. In all, we saw four giraffes, three of which were sitting on the ground, legs folded beneath them; although, we couldn’t get all three in a single shot.


Two giraffes sitting, one standing, South Gate Road, Botswana

Two giraffes sitting, one standing

This is special. For starters, we’ve never seen giraffes sitting down. More significantly, they don’t do it very often, at least not in the wild. As with drinking, when they have to splay their legs to reach the ground, giraffes are vulnerable when they sit or lie down because it takes them some time to get up—time that is precious when a lion or leopard is pouncing.

As a result, giraffes spend little time sleeping and even less time sitting or lying on the ground. In the wild, giraffes average 30 minutes of sleep per day, usually getting only a few minutes at a time, and often standing while sleeping. Young giraffes get more sleep, of course. In captivity, a mature giraffe might sleep as much as 4.5 hours while sitting/lying down, head resting on its rump. Those lazy, coddled giraffes!

These giraffes sat for a long time; though, they weren’t sleeping. One was sitting when we arrived, sitting when we left, and still sitting after we’d gotten to the end of the road and turned around. We were probably with them for 30 minutes, at least.

Sitting and standing giraffes, South Gate Road, Botswana

One up, one down

We got lucky again. Not only did we get to watch the long and labored (not really) stand-up process, we caught it on video, so we can share it with you. Check it out—here or on YouTube. It’s 20 seconds long.

And there it is. A relatively slow wildlife-viewing day on a road that was 50% torched.

I can stand being disappointed like this. I wouldn’t mind being this disappointed for the next three-plus months!

Nov 132017

Eating elephants. Elephants eating. Say what? Watch and see! The video is less than five minutes long.

If the embedded video doesn’t work for you, you can watch on YouTube. You may want to do that anyway for a bigger image.

More on the Boro River

As I mentioned in the previous post, we got crazy close to some of these elephants—far closer than we would have gotten had Mike and I been on our own—that’s the benefit of traveling with experienced and knowledgeable friends. But the Boro River is narrow—at least it was on this day—so in some cases, closeness couldn’t be avoided. And, of course, we simply moved slowly and quietly and paid attention to the responses of the elephants, which is what we do around any wildlife. If the animals showed signs of discomfort, we moved on. If they didn’t care, we hung out and watched a while.

Man and elephant, Boro River, Okavango Delta, Botswana

It’s Right There! And it’s HUGE!

Up Close with an Elephant’s Trunk

Even though we were so close, I spent time watching the elephants’ mouths and trunks through binoculars. Those trunks are incredible! An elephant trunk has over 40,000 muscles, which scientists somehow divide further into 150,000 individual units. Compare that to human bodies that have a total of just 639 muscles—and no trunks at all! A human hand, which is wonderfully dexterous and maybe the most comparable thing we have to a trunk as it’s used here, does its work with just 34 muscles.

See? Calling a trunk “incredible” is not exaggerating.

Elephant trunk grabbing lilies, Boro River, Okavango Delta, Botswana

I’ll take this batch, thank you.

What we got to see was the trunk selecting batches of grass and/or lilies under water, yanking them out of the earth, aligning them, further preparing them by swishing and slapping them in the water and against their trunks, and then placing them into the mouth. I wonder how often an elephant bites its trunk. You know it happens, just like we bite the insides of our mouths.

Sometimes a trunk stripped roots off a grass bunch or leaves off lily stalks. The elephant at the end of the video ate the whole lily plant, roots, stalk, leaves, and all. Obviously, elephants have personal preferences, but that’s hardly surprising. Show me an animal that doesn’t.

Elephant Teeth

I’ve read that the “washing” is to remove dirt and rocks. Maybe that action is motivated by taste: Elephants don’t like the taste of dirt. Or maybe it’s hardwired: Elephants that do this survive and pass on their genes. Or maybe it’s something else: Cows like bulls that wash their food? Okay, I’m pushing it with that one. 🙂 One result of the action, though, is that the elephants’ teeth are not worn down by grinding dirt and rocks while eating.

Elephant swinging grass, Boro River, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Quit playing with your food!

Elephant teeth are also interesting. They generally rotate through 26 teeth during life. Two incisors, the ripping and tearing teeth, become tusks; the rest are molars or pre-molars, flat chewing teeth, used to grind vegetable matter. Four molars (or pre-molars) occupy the mouth at a time, two on top, two on bottom, so that means an ellie cycles through six sets of four molars in its lifetime.

I’m confused about what the “pre-molars” are. It seems to me that they refer to the first three sets of molars, but in a human mouth, pre-molars are present with the molars, in front of them. My understanding is that the first three sets of molars (12 teeth) take an elephant through the first 9–15 years of life. The latter three sets of teeth, then, must last the elephant the rest of its life, which could be another 50–60 years. They can’t afford to wear out their teeth chewing dirt, sand, and gravel.

Unlike human teeth, which grow upward and downward out of the jaws, elephant teeth grow forward from the back of the mouth. It’s like a conveyor belt of teeth.

Digging Up Roots

Some elephants used their feet to dig out the roots of the lilies. We could see them shuffling their front feet while grabbing with their trunks, and then pulling up a wad of white roots, like a pom-pom. I would expect them to use their tusks to dig, too, but maybe they don’t want to dunk their heads in this case. They certainly dunk them when swimming and cooling off, so it’s not unheard of.

Humans here also harvest lily roots, which are called “tswee.” I’d like to try them, but we’ve never seen them available in a store. We’ll have to look for them elsewhere.

Do you suppose that humans saw elephants harvesting the lily roots and decided to try it? Or might elephants have seen humans harvesting lily roots and decided to try it? Maybe an elephant scared away a human while she was harvesting lily roots and got to eat the ones she left behind, discovering they were delicious. Or do you suppose humans and elephants decided to try lily roots independent of each other, both concluding they were delicious? So many questions! And I have no answers.

Elephant in spray, Boro River, Okavango Delta, Botswana


Blog Comments

I love it when you comment and ask questions here! Thank you for that! I’m sorry I was slow to respond to the last batch; apparently, I turned off email notifications for comments, but I think I’ve turned them on again, so I should see them sooner. And I’ll just pay more attention—or Mike will, anyway; he’s good at that. If there’s something in particular you’d like to know or see, don’t hesitate to ask.

Once you’ve had a comment approved here on this blog, your future comments will appear immediately, but I do have to approve your first one.

Many of you already know (Allen, I’m looking at you), but I should say it more than I do: Most photo credits go to Mike. He’s King Photographer, and he has sold photos professionally to the likes of National Geographic and Sierra Club, but it’s not a career he pursues. Some photos will be mine, but even then, at least a little credit goes to Mike because he taught me all I know about photography. I often shoot video while he shoots stills, but one of the clips in this series is from a video he shot. I don’t distinguish who shot what; sometimes we don’t know, and we simply don’t care. We tend to think of it this way: Words are mine; photos are Mike’s. But, really, you can’t be 100% sure in either case.