Safari Self-Drive #3

For day trip #3, we headed northwest toward the Moremi Game Reserve again, but instead of turning off to the South Gate entrance (possibly my favorite out-of-town road), we continued along the main (sand) route toward North Gate. We didn’t anticipate getting all the way to the North Gate; we were just checking out the road and seeing what we’d see.

This is the rainy season. The first week of December, however, we didn’t get a drop of rain. The second week of December, we had rain on four days, from just 2mm on one day to 19mm on another. During week three, we saw rain almost daily, as much as 31mm. Afternoon or evening thunder showers, with the rain pouring down hard, seem to be the norm; the rest of the day it’s sunny or partly cloudy. It’s rather convenient, really.

Drive #3 was an opportunity to test our mettle with puddles and wet sand roads. By local standards, it was probably like cautiously testing out the bunny slope, but to each his/her own comfort and experience level. The 20-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser we’re driving is just plain awesome. It seems to prefer the rough sand roads to the paved road, which I find endearing.

Our first wildlife sighting was pretty spectacular. We saw several animals on the road from a distance and stopped to ID them before scaring them off the road with an approach. Hyenas? Jackals? Something else? Through binoculars and blowing up long-distance photos, we concluded: African Wild Dogs.

African Wild Dog lying in the sand.

African Wild Dog. Check out those crazy, cooling ears and that beautiful coloration.

Mike doesn’t like the name; he thinks it sounds too common for an uncommon animal, as if they’re just feral dogs or something. They are not. They are a species unto themselves, and we think they’re a rare treat to see. We certainly weren’t expecting to see them.

They were running about on and beside the road, and we crept closer and closer. Safety Girl in the back of my mind whispered, “Open windows. Rabies.” Roger that, Safety Girl.

African wild dogs jumping on each other, playing.

African Wild Dog pile!

But the Wild Dogs (is it more dramatic if I capitalize the name?) paid little attention to us; they appeared to be killing one of their own. That’s what I thought, anyway. They were all ganged up on one poor pooch.

It turns out they were playing, or perhaps they were all harassing and vying for a radio-collared female who might have been in estrus. She and a male peed and pooed, and then she proceeded to roll in it. How’s that for dramatic?

If the embedded player doesn’t work for you, the video is on YouTube here. It’s 25 seconds long.

This isn’t the not-a-fight scene we came upon, but it’s similar.

Again, if the embedded video doesn’t work, you can see the video on YouTube. it’s also about 25 seconds long.

The Wild Dogs stuck around for fifteen or twenty minutes. Long enough for three other vehicles to come, watch a bit, get bored, and leave. Eventually, they raced off down the road, still jumping and playing.

“We could go home right now and call this a spectacular day,” Mike said. But, or course, we didn’t.

We came to an elephant graveyard . . . or to where one elephant died some time ago. The bones were huge. I picked up what I guessed was a leg bone. It extended from my waist to my head, and it was really heavy, heavier than moose antlers. Maybe it was waterlogged from rain, but still. Elephants can legitimately claim to being big boned.

Jen with elephant bone

Part of a hip bone, perhaps? Criminey, it’s HUGE!

Not far after this, we saw a sign that said “Water” with an arrow pointing down a not-especially-well-used sand track. We had water, thanks, and we’re avoiding not-well-used tracks. Shortly thereafter, we came to this:

Sand road under water

The road comes into the pond on the left, and you can see where it comes out toward the upper right.

We’d been driving through puddles all morning, but nothing like this. “End of the road,” I said. “We’re not going through that.” Mike didn’t argue, but he was curious while I was NOT AT ALL curious. Several vehicles had passed us, going this direction, so we kinda figured they’d gone through, but I wasn’t convinced. If Mike wanted to push it, he was going to have to wait for another car to go through or walk through to convince me the car wouldn’t totally submerge. It looked like a pond, for Pete’s sake. There were things growing in it and ducks swimming on it! No way, Jose.

It turns out that was a smart choice. (Well, du-uh!) No one goes through that. That little “water” sign meant “Water ahead, take this detour.” Or so it seems based on info from a local. He did encourage us to go ahead and take that piddly little track next time, though. Hmmm. We’ll see. You can call me chicken; I call me Not Stranded in the Bush in Africa, thankyouverymuch.

Besides, wait ’til you see what happened next on our adventure when we decided to turn around.

Re-tracing our route, we decided to take the road to South Gate when we got to the Y. It was still quite early. We saw so much on our first drive there, and it’s a great, shady road. Key word: shady.

First up:

Drooly water buffalo

What a cutie, no? Water buffalo.

Buffalo! Not the plains buffalo of the US, but water buffalo, a group of twenty or so, just off the road.

Water buffalo with an oxpecker sitting on her back.

A buffalo and her oxpecker.

Now buffalo, it seems, can be quite cranky, belligerent, and dangerous, or so we’ve read. The books say to be especially wary of lone males. Perhaps they, too, know there’s safety in numbers. This group got up and faced us—reminded me of muskoxen—but they didn’t seem too disturbed.

See the red-billed oxpecker standing on this one’s shoulder? It feeds on ticks, dead skin, mucus, saliva, blood, sweat, and tears. Yum! The buffalo/oxpecker relationship has been considered mutually beneficial, but some scientists are questioning this and seeking research to back it up or refute the claim. Here’s a fun rabbit hole for my nerdy, birdy friends to explore. I wouldn’t mind having Phineas Ndlovu’s job.

When we finally tore ourselves away from the ear-flapping, tail-swinging, hide-twitching buffalo, we got into a traffic jam with three other vehicles all enjoying a look at a rock monitor in a tree.

Rock monitor

Rock Monitor on a tree, not a rock.

Once again, I’m skipping over most bird sightings to reduce the length of this post and give the birds their own show (someday), but I’m sure the oxpecker has whet your avian appetite, so it only seems fair to give you one more really good one.

Marabou stork.

Marabou stork. Pretty lady, isn’t she?

These storks can be almost as tall as I am. Males have a “pendulous throat pouch” that connects with the nostril, fills with air, and helps produce a guttural croak, which the dames find alluring.

We saw a number of storks in different places, and enjoyed a good long look at them. There was a whole parade of them marching through a swamp, and we even saw them flying.

Seven or so marabou storks.

Marabou stork parade. Note the pendulous throat pouch on the far-right stork.

Marabou stork in the air.

Hollow leg bones may not be anything new, but the marabou storks also have hollow toe bones which, apparently, makes it a little easier to get that large frame off the ground.

Then there were some giraffes. Six of them, to start. A little farther on, six more. Then a few more. And more. And ohmygosh they’re everywhere!

Two giraffes on the road.

Two giraffes cross the road in front of us.

Those horns on their heads are called “ossicones.” They’re ossified cartilage covered with skin and hair. “Ossified” means “turned into bone or bone-like material,” so the ossicones are more like antlers than horns, if you ask me. I was noting how cute the ossicones are when there’s hair standing up on the ends, as there often is. They appear to have neat little crew cuts.

Giraffe head with a good view of the ossicones.

Giraffe ossicones with tidy crew cuts.

Sometimes, however, the ossicones are bald, and when that’s the case, the animal is probably male. He’s rubbed all the hair off his ossicones while sparring with his relatively tiny weapons. This is why there are no giraffes in Alaska: The moose laughed them off the continent when the giraffes showed off their shiny, sharpened ossicones.

At this point in the day, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, exhausted, and stuffed, like a glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Seriously, I didn’t need another wildlife sighting; I couldn’t digest all we’d seen. Plus, it was getting to be time to turn around so we could be home to buzz the staff out of the gate. We turned around and headed home.

The wildlife, however, refused to cooperate.

Baby impala nursing.

Baby impala nursing.

A nursing impala? Yeah, we have to stop for that.

Zebra with extra-wide dark stripes.

A zebra with extra-wide dark stripes. It looked significantly darker than the others.

A zebra that stands out from the others because its stripes are just a bit wider and darker. Yeah, that’s cool. Some zebras have striped bellies and legs while others have white bellies and legs, too. Have you noticed? Another stop.

Jen in the truck; an elephant outside the window

Look, this place is rotten with elephants, giraffes, warthogs, buffaloes, tortoises, and more.

Another elephant. “Close your eyes and drive!” We don’t have time, and I can’t stand to see any more.

But there’s a warthog. And another! (No pics, thank goodness.)

A whole bunch of water buffalo.

The twenty we first saw turned into a herd of 100+ on the way back.

That group of 20 or so buffalo is now a group of 100+. Yowser! Yes, we need a picture. But then close your eyes and drive.

Elephant behind an ant hill.

Oh, just another elephant.

I think you’re making an elephant out of an ant hill.

And while we looked at the elephant, what should meander up beside the truck?

Mountain tortoise on the ground.

Watch out for the elephant, mountain tortoise.

A mountain tortoise.

Enough! Close your eyes and drive!

But wait. There’s more. Just before the buffalo fence (to prevent the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease amongst cattle and wildlife), there’s one more.

Tortoise hustling across the sand road.

I think this is a parrot-beaked tortoise, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it.

I think it’s a parrot-beaked tortoise, but we don’t have a picture of the beak.

Whew! What a day.

“You know,” Mike said, “these drives can’t keep getting better and better like this. At some point, there’s got to be a downturn.”

I don’t think I’ll mind.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel

7 replies »

  1. No kidding, Scott! Although, we haven’t actually been in the game reserve yet, just around it. I wonder what it will be like when we go in. It can’t be better, can it?

  2. You’re welcome, Tom, and right back at you: Thanks for reading and sharing the experience with us! Sharing makes it more fun, that’s for sure.

  3. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your adventure in Africa. I’m curious, though…and perhaps I missed it in an earlier post…?…why are you there? I think I read something earlier about you’re house-sitting for friends? Wow! Those must be some amazing friends! I’m really enjoying your photos and excellent writing. All I know about Botswana is what I’ve learned from Alexander McCall Smith’s book series which starts with “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.”