Jan 072018
 

While exploring the west end of Chobe National Park, we lucked into a pack of African wild dogs, aka painted dogs in Zimbabwe, the name I much prefer.

I’d love to have the job of painting them! Does anyone know how one gets that job?

African painted dog, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Pretty painted dog

Toward the end of a delightful day of wildlife viewing, we crept along a sand track, enjoying a group of zebras. We didn’t pay much attention to a safari vehicle that was stopped on a parallel track, but then the driver hollered and waved at us. My first thought was that he needed help. After some hollering and huh?-ing, we understood they’d just seen some wild dogs, and this friendly fellow was eager to share that news so we might go see them.

He appeared to be a guide/driver, and his vehicle appeared to be full of lodge staff rather than guests. I think he was going through withdrawal, seeing something so special and not having guests with whom he could share it.

As I’ve said over and over here, part of the fun of wildlife viewing for us is discovering the animals ourselves, so I don’t love being guided to game, but I wouldn’t want to miss this, either. I took the information pretty well, due, in part, to the fact that we were the only two vehicles on the scene.

At first, the pack of nine painted dogs were some distance from the track, moving toward a herd of zebras. Some crouched down as if hiding while scoping the scene, or maybe getting ready to pounce; although, there wasn’t anything close enough to pounce on, if you ask me.

African wild dog pack, Chobe National Park, Botswana

All nine dogs in the pack are here. Can you see them?

I scanned the zebras to see if there were any vulnerable babies in the group. Then about eight zebras peeled off from the back of the herbivore group and walked straight toward the dogs. One lagging zebra (left in the image below) trotted to catch up with his brave pals and to add his striped skin to the defensive team.

Zebras confront African wild dogs, Chobe National Park, Botswana

The zebras were having none of the wild dogs’ shenanigans

By golly, the dogs backed off.

That surprised me. The whole thing: that some zebras would act so deliberately, and that such action would deter a pack of dogs; there were more dogs to play offense than there were zebras playing defense. Surely the pack could get around the defensive zebras to reach the rest of the herd. But the dogs gave it up, left the zebras, and headed our way.

Next, the painted pooches set their sights on a lake where a dead elephant sat half-buried in mud and water and a couple of live hippos were hanging out.

African wild dogs consider dead elephant and hippo, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Psst . . . how long can an elephant hold its breath?
Do you think we can take a hippo?

The wild dogs spent some time puzzling out the elephant and deciding it wasn’t an option. Then they turned to one of the hippos, which had turned its attention to them. The second hippo couldn’t be bothered; it stayed submerged, mostly facing away from the dogs.

The dogs paced back and forth, checking out angles and distance, consulting one another.

The hippo roared and splashed, “You want a piece of me? Come and get it!”

African wild dog vs hippo, Chobe National Park, Botswana

African wild dog vs hippo

Really, the dogs didn’t want a piece of that hippo, but they sure gave it a good long look, which gave us a good long look.

Pretty painted dog, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Prettiest girl in the pack–the one with the white on her shoulders and a very muddy hind leg

When they finally gave up, they trotted up toward our truck, around it, and off into the wilderness on the other side. Not one of them expressed any interest in us or the safari vehicle. We watched until the dogs were a fair distance away again.

As we drove away, we passed a vehicle headed to where we had just been. How lucky we were to be there at just the right time. I hope that other vehicle lucked into something cool of its own.

Jan 042018
 

A Daily Dozen Post

Twelve photos of our day, selected from 616 photos.

Last time we were here in Botswana, we didn’t spend a lot of time on the west end of Chobe National Park. This time, we’re spending several nights out here, so we can explore this area more thoroughly. We’re farther away from the Chobe River; the flood plain is now a plain plain, where zebra and giraffe play.

One theme of the west end is “fewer,” in a “less is more” sort of way:

  • There are fewer tracks to explore. Mike figured it would be a shorter day today. Mike was wrong.
  • There are fewer animals. Fewer than a gazillion, however, is still a lot.
  • There are fewer people. Awesome! In fact, we didn’t see another car until late in the day when we came back to the main track, and then we saw just a few.

Gate 1

The fun started as we signed in at the two gates. Not one, two.

The first gate is on the paved road connecting Muchenje to Kasane. It’s the main thoroughfare, but it goes through the park. The two officials stood outside the hut, and when we pulled up looking clueless, one pointed and made hand signs indicating we needed to go inside the hut and sign in. Mike and I both understood the signed message. I nodded and waved back.

Inside the hut were four books clearly marked to sign in or out; one set for residents; one set for tourists. The two workers remained outside while drivers self-served. I was alone when I entered the hut, but I met a crowd as I came out. They were all going the opposite direction; none were coming into the park.

I had to register and sign in again a very short distance away at the park. I also had to pay 290 Pula (Botswana currency). I asked if they had change; although, I was pretty sure I knew the answer already. They did not have change. Yep, that’s what I figured. So I plopped my Ziploc of change on the counter. Two of the three people in the building gasped and asked simultaneously, “Where did you get that?!”

In this place where I am dazzled by multi-ton elephants and hippos and two-story giraffes, the locals are stunned by a bag of change. I pretty much always have a change bag on hand, even at home. It comes in handy, especially in remote places. I’d been collecting change during our three weeks in Maun.

As a woman filled out my permit, a man counted out 90 Pula in change to go with my 200-Pula bill. He deflated when I tried to thrust 20- and 10-Pula bills on him, and I asked, “You’d rather have the change?” He brightened and said “yes,” so I took the small bills back and let him count some more. That put a major dent in my stash, but we’re headed to Namibia next and won’t need Pula for a while.

I’ll grant ya, Muchenje is some distance from a bank, but it’s no farther than Glacierview, AK, is from Palmer. And no one has change. They didn’t have change at the Park office on the east end—and there are banks there in Kasane. I’m willing to cut the west end some slack, but not having change on the east end is lame.

The Park!

And then we were in the park, exploring all the sandy and rocky 4WD tracks on the maps and our GPS.

We started with all the usual suspects: Impalas, warthogs, kudu, birds, etc. Just because I’m not showing pics of them doesn’t mean they aren’t important or appreciated, but the self-imposed 12-photo limit means I can’t show everything, so I’m sticking with the coolest and most important stuff. For instance, I’m sure you don’t want to miss this:

A Dead Giraffe

Dead giraffe, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Haven’t seen one of these before

Watching animals die in predator/prey situations can be traumatic, but once an animal is dead, I find the carcass interesting. I was thrilled to discover this dead giraffe; I hoped it would satisfy my urge for a good size assessment. I keep hoping one will stand close beside the truck—or beside me at something like an Elephant Sands for giraffes.

But this didn’t work at all to satisfy that urge. It turns out a prone giraffe does not present a good idea of the size of a standing one. Would someone please stand this thing up for me?

It was still fascinating, though, to see it so close. I’m thinking this one just up and died on its own, as opposed to being killed by a predator. The neck and legs were uneaten, and I would expect a prey animal to be pretty well consumed. But I’m just guessing.

Did you ever think that maybe an animal carcass could make a nice house?

No? Then I suspect you’re not a skink.

Striped Skinks

Striped skink in giraffe skull, Chobe National Park, Botswana

“Mornin’, Ralph.” “Mornin’, Sam.”

I have to say, I like the idea of a picture book with characters that live inside a skull, go to school in a rib cage, and so on.

Based on my animal guidebooks, these appear to be two male striped skinks in bright mating colors.

Double Dung-Beetle Balls

Dung beetles on dung ball, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Teamwork?

Say it out loud: “double dung-beetle balls.” It’s fun to say, no?

You met Sisyphus, the dung beetle, in a recent post. We see a good many dung beetles, and have been known to turn them over when they get stuck and flail about on their backs after crashing into lights or other mishaps, but today we saw dung-beetle pairs. This photo isn’t a one-off. We saw a dozen or more of these today: two dung beetles on a baseball-sized dung ball. In every case, one dung beetle did the handstand and rolled the ball while the other rode the ball, round and round, wobbling this way and that, and sometimes being rolled beneath the ball.

What is up with that?!

Are these mated pairs? Just friends? Will these dung balls feed twice as many young? Is the rider navigating? Do they take turns pushing?

Inquiring minds want to know, right? As a result, I think there will be a solo, more in-depth post all about dung beetles. Although, I don’t suppose the local in the parking lot of Spar (grocery store) who scolded me for turning a dung beetle right-side-up will care to read it.

I’m not the only one who thinks dung beetles are all right . . .

Banded Mongooses

Banded mongoose family, Chobe National Park, Botswana

They can’t see me—they can’t see me—I’m pretty sure they can’t see me . . .

. . . banded mongooses think they’re yummy!

None of these are actually eating a beetle in the photo, but all of them would.

You know who else dines on these giant beetles?

Lilac-breasted Rollers

Lilac-breasted roller, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Such cool colors!

Yep, these beautiful, bright birds snarf down dung beetles. I imagine that, like the mongoose, the bird doesn’t eat the crunchy exoskeleton, but rather breaks into the soft insides.

Ground Hornbill

Ground hornbill, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Down the hatch

Now check out this ground hornbill. See the black blob near the front of his open maw? This guy is throwing back a dung beetle, exoskeleton and all. Nom-nom-nom. Gulp.

Jackal

Jackal with prey, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Mmmmm, a delicious rat!

Since we’re on the subject of yummy food, including elephant poo . . . .

This is one of three pups following a mama jackal across the plain. The three little ones stopped for a few bites of fresh elephant poo, and mama kept moving right along. She disappeared in some brush and was gone for a while, returning with a long-tailed something—probably a rat—in her mouth. She dropped it on the ground in the vicinity of her offspring and trotted off again.

I don’t know how the three pups decided which one would get the rat—I didn’t see any rock-paper-scissors going on—but it was not shared.

Note: This also goes down as the first rat we’ve seen in Botswana! I wish I knew exactly what kind of rat it was.

Kudu and Babboon

Kudu and babboon, Chobe National Park, Botswana

“You kids kudus get offa my lawn!”

Okay, that’s just funny. Imagine this kudu in the babboon’s yard, browsing on lovely ornamentals.

This is a tiny babboon, not a giant kudu. I think the babboon looks Photoshopped in, but it’s not.

Hot Croc

Crocodile on the grass bank, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Hot croc

Not a hot pot or a crock pot, just a hot croc. The open mouth is a cooling action, but I have to believe it’s not as effective as submerging in the river, which, yanno, is Right There.

Giraffes

Giraffe standing, giraffe sitting, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Giraffe and a half

When it rains, it pours. Here’s another sitting giraffe! Did my book lie to me? Is this not as uncommon as the book made it sound? I’m watching, and I’ll let you know how often I see giraffes sitting. This is twice now, four giraffes, total, which, given the number of giraffes we’ve seen, isn’t all that many. Huh. Maybe my book didn’t lie, after all.

Get a load of the giraffe head, looking up from under its chin. It looks a bit like a puffer fish, don’t you think?

Zebras

Zebra stripes, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Plain stripes

Such cool patterns!

Babboon Baby

Chacma babboon baby, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Awwwwwwww

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.

Impala

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

Shhhhhhhhh!

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

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!

Lions

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

Click

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.

Enough!

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.