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.


 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.