Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.
We were up early and at the gate at Manhango when it was to open at 6:00 a.m. These parks are all about the game drives. There’s no swimming, no hiking; in fact, we’re not allowed out of our car except in designated areas, which tend to be few and far between. Sometimes these designated areas are fenced to keep the likes of us safe from predators and grumpy herbivores, but sometimes they’re not. Go figure. I wonder how not-fenced okay-to-get-out-of-your-car areas are selected. Not that it matters to us. We’re always alert and watching.
Some people who visit the parks don’t drive around on their own as we do but take guided game drives in safari vehicles. These are open vehicles with canvas roofs. There is no protective metal between guests and the animals, and they’re watching the same elephants, giraffes, hippos, and lions that we are. If people are safe in open safari vehicles, I’m not worried about being in our truck with the windows down.
Since we’re never allowed to drive at night, early mornings are our best shot at seeing a predator which are mostly active during the cooler hours of the day, which means night. The primary predators in Africa are the big cats: lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Hyaenas, jackals, and painted dogs are also predators.
Having seen a few lions now, we’re thinking about leopards and cheetahs. Leopards prefer cover. They’re secret sauce for hunting is stealth. They sneak up on their prey and pounce. On the other hand, cheetahs’ secret sauce is speed. They run down their prey, so they tend to hang out in more open country.
Mahango has trees and brush. It’s leopard country. In the early morning hours, we have leopards on the brain, and we’re talking about them. Suddenly I lunge forward from the backseat. “Stop! Leopard! Left! Back up!”
Mike was incredulous. It’s impossible to be talking about leopards and how much we’d like to see one and then in that same moment actually see one. People spend weeks and months in Africa and never spot a leopard.
But it was true. I spotted a leopard, and it was still there when we backed up. In fact, it remained in sight for a while as it wandered through the brush parallel to the road.
It was an insanely lucky sighting, even though she was just a few feet off the road. She was well hidden under a tree with branches hanging down around her. I just happened to be looking her way, focused on the right distance. What I saw in that instant was her whole face: eyes, ears, nose, and spots. It registered immediately. There was no doubt.
We followed her in the car for a while and got glimpses of her through the brush. She even stretched out on a log for a photo or two. Unlike lions and cheetahs, leopards are climbers and are sometimes found reclined on horizontal branches. This branch just happened to be on the ground.
I have to say, while I love lions and hope we see many more, leopards are way more striking and beautiful. Those spots are gorgeous, and the slinky way their low-slung bodies move is cool, if a bit menacing. I love and am grateful for all our animal sightings, but this one took my breath away.
We could have turned around then and called it a spectacular day. A leopard. Wow! But we didn’t. And yes, you’re getting just two leopard picture because I’m limited to twelve, and I have other important things to show you, like this:
A dung beetle. Yep, I chose a dung beetle over another leopard shot. Look at that thing; it’s cool! This is an action shot: The beetle is rolling the ball of dung backward. That’s how they do it. The front feet walk backward, and the back feet roll the ball. They lay eggs in dung balls, then bury the balls. They help clean up the messes left by cattle which, in turn, reduces the breeding ground for annoying, gross flies. I prefer dung beetles to flies, even if the dung beetles are terrible fliers that occasionally bump into me and freak me out. They’re huge, dung beetles, like 2–3 inches long. I like ’em just fine but don’t need them crash landing on me, thankyouverymuch.
We also saw a troop of chacma baboons. Big ones, little ones, playful ones, hungry ones. And this one, a seemingly thoughtful one.
Mahango boasts some large baobab trees. I wasn’t terribly excited to go to the giant baobab viewpoint, but once there, I changed my tune. Indeed, that’s an impressive tree. I’m in that picture. Did you notice? Yeah, that’s a huge baobab.
More vervet monkeys.
What a lovely little park this is, and we have it virtually to ourselves. There might be three or four other cars visiting today. I know that we’d see more animals during the high season, but honest-to-dog, I’d rather see four zebras on our own than see herds with dozens of other cars lined up behind us.
We saw a good-sized herd of buffalo. They’re rumored to be some of the grumpier herbivores and potentially dangerous, but we’ve not seen evidence of that.
See the oxpecker on the shoulder, with the red eye and yellow-and-red bill? They were all over the buffalo, pecking in their ears, eyes, and noses. It’s no wonder the buffalo are grumpy.
We took a road away from the Okavango River to some waterholes that appeared to be dried up. There wasn’t much wildlife compared to the roads nearer the river, but the little wildlife we saw made it worth the effort.
We saw a family of ostriches. This is the male. With him was a mature brown female and seven chicks. I had no idea that had that many chicks! The chicks were about the size of the adults but were less feathered.
Ostriches are fun to watch. I can’t help but think of ballerinas when I see them. They have long, skinny, naked legs—the males wear blue tights, females wear beige. Their feathers are concentrated around their middle, like a tutu, and they have long, thin necks. Their “hair” is kept tidy and close to the head. When they run in earnest, they sometimes open their wings and flutter, just like a dancing ballerina.
That said, their feathers can appear tattered and droopy, as though they’ve seen better days. Having worked in the theater, I know that costumes sometimes take a beating, so even this may be true to ballerina life. I just prefer tidy feathers.
Also on this away-from-the-river road we saw our first—and only—sables of the trip. They’re a large antelope, the only black one; although, only the males are black. Females and young are brown. The scimitar-like horns are on both males and females, but the females’ horns are significantly smaller.
It was a herd moving out. They weren’t running away, they were simply going somewhere. Perhaps to the river? We got several views of the group as they paralleled the road then crossed it.
And then they were gone.