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.
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.
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.
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.
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, which are the peaceful, long-haired hippie antelopes.
A bit farther down the road, we came across this:
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.
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 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 . . .
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.
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?!
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.
On the Way Home
The bumpy ride home continued to offer up wildlife sightings.
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.
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.
Then we spied our first-for-this-visit warthog. The tusks are less than impressive, but those sideburn whiskers more than compensate.
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!”
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?