stokeygirl

Botswana Dec 2011- Duma Tau, Tubu Tree & Kwara

103 posts in this topic

I have just returned from a trip to Botswana, using a combination of the Wilderness "6 countries special" and the Kwando "5 rivers special". My trip started on 2 December, and my itinerary was:

Duma Tau 4 nights

Tubu Tree 3 nights

Kwara 5 nights

My reasoning behind picking these camps was really to target specific animals, particularly predators, that I wanted to see. My favourite is the wild dog, and the Linyanti region is well known to be excellent for wild dog. Duma Tau was my choice of Linyanti camp.

Tubu Tree has somewhat of a reputation for leopard.

Kwara is known for cheetah (amongst other things).

Lions I was hoping to see at any of the camps, but mainly Duma Tau and Kwara.

 

If you're of an impatient disposition, feel free to pop over to Tripadvisor for an abridged version, but I am intending to post a day-by-day account of my trip (with photos) inside.

 

OK, I'll start on Day 1 straight away.

 

I arrived in Duma Tau later than I’d expected. Arriving in Maun it had taken a while to get the 20 or so Wilderness guests organised and onto the 2 planes. Then we took the scenic route to Chobe airstrip via Mombo, Duba Plains and Selinda. On the plane I met a very talkative chap from San Francisco who was on a mammoth 29 day tour of about 8 different camps, and it sounded like this wasn’t by any means his first trip. Now there’s a man whose trip reports I’d like to see.

 

So by the time I got there it was 3pm, with only time for a briefing and a quick application of sunscreen and re-organisation of camera equipment before tea and game drive number one. I was one of only 3 guests in camp that night, the other 2 being a lovely honeymoon couple from Chicago on their very first safari and their very first game drive, having arrived a few hours before me. Our guide was Ron.

 

I’d come to Duma Tau to see wild dogs and having read all the recent Wilderness Reports of the various packs and their run ins and movements, I was still none the wiser as to where they were likely to be or whether I would be in luck. Not to worry, as we had already seen the snoozing Linyanti Pack on the way from the airstrip, doing what dogs do in the heat of the day ie not much. Still, they weren’t going anywhere and we came back at the beginning of the game drive to check up on them.

 

The Linyanti pack is large- 18 dogs, including 9 6 month old puppies. Having had a recent run in with the neighbouring Zib pack they had lost their alpha female, although Ron seemed to have an idea of which lady dog would be next in line. A couple of them had radio collars as the pack is one being followed by researchers.

 

The dogs were still snoozing.

 

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We decided to come back later about 5:30 when they might start thinking about doing something, like maybe going hunting. So we left the dogs for a bit to head off on the drive. The nice thing about being on safari with first timers is their enthusiasm for everything, so we spent some time looking at impalas and giraffe, and some nice lechwe doing what lechwe do best- bounding through water.

 

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A highlight for me was coming across a bat eared fox den, with the parents and 2 young ones. Having only fleetingly glimpsed a couple of these timid animals once in Ruaha, it was an exciting sighting for me. Unfortunately they are quite shy and we couldn’t get close enough for a really good photograph but nonetheless they didn’t bolt immediately so we watched them for 5 minutes or so before it was time to head back to see what the dogs were up to.

 

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The adults were still determinedly snoozing but the puppies had got bored of napping and had found something to play with- the remains of last night’s kill, and they were squabbling over a warthog’s head.

 

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The downside of being on safari with first timers, is that they don’t necessarily appreciate what a rare privilege it is to see wild dogs, but Ron and I set about educating them on “why wild dogs are so awesome”. The adults finally stirred themselves and joined the puppies, and we saw some great behaviour of whistling greetings, submissive behaviour from the puppies and territorial marking from the adults. It’s this sort of behaviour that makes them so fascinating to watch (when not snoozing) and in general it’s their social patterns that makes me warm to them so much. The loss of the alpha female, although sad, would hopefully not disrupt the pack, unlike lions where the loss of the pride male will be devastating for any cubs when a new male takes over. Also, unlike lions, dogs will always let the puppies eat first at a kill.

 

This old guy is the oldest male in the pack- he used to be the alpha male-

 

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After watching the dogs for quite some time, they weren’t seeming inclined to go anywhere and it was getting late so we headed off to enjoy our sundowners down by the water.

 

Over sundowners, we quizzed Ron about the next few days’ vehicle arrangements. The honeymoon couple were only staying 2 nights whereas I was there for 4, and 7 new guests were arriving the next day. Despite this, Ron said no new guests would join our vehicle, and I would have him and the vehicle to myself for the last 2 days of my stay. I was surprised and impressed to hear this. It would have been very easy to bundle me in with some of the new guests to cut fuel costs.

 

There wasn’t much of a “night drive” after sundowners- we just drove back to camp, bumping into the dogs again on the way. The spotlight didn’t even get plugged in. However, it was still nearly 8pm when we got back. I guess that’s the longer summer days for you!

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Ooops, I'm linking thumbnails. Too much wine with Xmas lunch.

 

Wake up was at 5am- long summer days again. Distressingly, at breakfast I stepped on something that initially felt like a fruit of some sort but turned out to be a baby squirrel which had fallen from the thatch. I rather hope it was mainly the fall that killed it and that me stepping on it just finished it off.

 

Although the dogs were still in the area, we headed off in search of lions. A large pride of 15 (the Selinda pride) had been around the area and we headed out in the direction of their last sighting. On the way, the camp manager radioed and said the dogs had just come through camp, but lions were on the agenda so we carried on. I didn’t say anything, but as we followed more and more day old tracks with no sign of anything feline or any recent activity, I increasingly had the feeling we should have taken the pack of wild dogs in the hand over a pride of lions in the bush. Still, I suspect Ron felt the others had had their fill of wild dogs and were keen to rack up at least one of the “big 5”.

 

We saw some nice hippos having a fight, and a lonely zebra- unexpected at this time of year when the vast zebra herds have all headed down to Savute Marsh. However, the lions remained elusive.

 

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Back close to camp, we found signs of the dogs having headed out in our direction- plenty of tracks and the leg of a baby impala which was dropped from the sky by a fish eagle. We had a scout around but couldn’t find the dogs. Plenty of tracks, as well as those of a big male leopard, but by this time we knew they had probably retired to the shade and were lying low. So back to camp for brunch followed by a much needed shower and time to download photos and write this report.

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In the afternoon, much to the excitement of my vehicle mates, we finally saw some elephants. Now people had told me that the elephants move away from the Linyanti in the wet season, but I hadn’t banked on the exodus being quite so total- we’d gone a whole day without a single one. Also, it was very early December and there hadn’t been that much rain so far. Still, we found a herd just heading away from the water, where you could see from their wet skin, they’d been having a bit of a swim. One of the young ones had a very short trunk- Ron said it had probably been bitten off by a croc. However, we then saw another young one with exactly the same length trunk. It seems quite unlikely that two youngsters in one herd had both had the same accident- any thoughts? Could they have been born that way? Sorry, I didn’t take a photo but the trunk was less than half the length it should have been.

 

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Later, we caught up with one of the other vehicles which had found the dogs again, and they again put on a lovely display, with the puppies chasing each other around. The pack had obviously recently eaten, from the look of their pink faces, and the puppies were harassing the adults for regurgitated food. A couple of the adults also decided to have a bit of a soak in the water.

 

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That evening just as we were retiring to bed, we heard a lion calling. He was close, and the next morning the staff told us he had come through camp. Perhaps today we might see some lions, thought I. So in the morning we headed out on another lion hunt. We followed the tracks of the male which headed into a large roadless area of mopane, and didn’t emerge from the other side. Ron said this was the last area the pride had been seen in on the morning we arrived, and their last tracks showed they had been following a giraffe. A few vultures and bateleurs circling led Ron to the conclusion that the pride had caught their quarry and had hunkered down to feast on it. Even for a pride that size, a giraffe would probably last them a couple of days. One of the other vehicles had also spotted the dogs in the area, mobile and hunting, so there was also a chance the dogs were around. Not to be deterred by the lack of roads, Ron set off on an off road mission into the mopane. Ploughing down small trees and over dead trees we headed relentlessly in the direction of the circling birds. Suddenly after about half an hour when my insides were dreading the thought of getting back, we came across a road. The search was abandoned. Again we saw tracks of the dogs, but by this time it was warming up and they would probably have gone to ground. Time for tea then a gentle drive back to camp. Not the most successful of mornings.

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Excellent start. What a nice boxing day surprise.

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After brunch I said goodbye to my vehicle mates- they were off to Vumbura then Mombo, then Cape Town and Sabie Sands, so I was certain they would find their lions somewhere. For me, I still had 2 more nights at Duma Tau to go. Hopefully time for the pesky felines to finish their meal and come back out of the bush.

That afternoon I set off on my own with Ron. As I was on my own, he asked me what I’d like to do, and I said I was more than happy to see more of the dogs. As they were unlikely to get active for a bit, I suggested checking out the bat eared fox den and said I wouldn’t mind trying some more bounding lechwe photos. So we headed to the water, where the lechwe were scarce, and then to the bat eared fox den, which was empty. So we headed to where one of the other vehicles had located the dogs, in the same area they’d been seen in the morning, close to the water. The adults were snoozing but as ever the puppies were full of energy and playing around. So we had to be patient, and we settled in with a can of Stoney each to watch the puppies and wait for the action.

 

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It is an incredibly fascinating thing to watch, when the pack finally decides it’s time to hunt. It starts with one or two getting up, repositioning themselves and lots of yawning. Some might get up and stretch- doing the “downward facing dog”.

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Then suddenly the whole pack become hyperactive, running around, greeting each other in huddles with much squeaking and submissive behaviour from the youngsters. More stretching, some marking of territory and a general melee of activity. Some went to the water’s edge to drink, or just splash about a bit. Some of the youngsters get distracted by sticks.

 

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look at me I'm being submissive.......

 

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sick me up some food, dad..........

 

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drinking........

 

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sticks are fun......

 

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Then they are ready to go, and head off, purposeful and alert.

 

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We follow as they head along the floodplain, and get ahead of them and they pan out and spot a lechwe and start to chase it. The chase is brief as the lechwe dives into the water and swims for the other side.

 

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The dogs, scared of crocodiles, give up and the whole pack gathers at the water’s edge to watch their prey escaping.

 

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The lechwe reaches the other side and runs away along the far bank. The dogs follow on their side, which seems a futile exercise, as they are never going to risk the crossing.

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Some remain behind and we stay with them- the light is beautiful and golden.

 

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Eventually the others return.

 

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They rest a bit and play, with two youngsters fighting over a feather.

 

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Then they head off again and we follow but the pack heads into the mopane and we follow and pick up a dog or two but eventually lose them. Perhaps they have killed something in there somewhere. It’s getting late and time to head back to camp.

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That evening over dinner, a storm starts and it rains all night. In the morning it still seems to be raining but when I go to breakfast I find the rain is very light and mostly it was water falling from the trees onto my roof that had made it seem heavy. I don’t hold out much hope for a good morning, but I couldn’t have been more wrong........

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We drive out and after not long, Ron hears on the radio that the dogs are headed towards camp, so we turn around. When we get nearby he tells me to look out. I spot one running and we follow. More appear and we see another vehicle. Both vehicles are following the pack- they are hunting. We follow them round the back of the camp by workshop areas and the “back of house” and then see the other vehicle parked. The dogs have just made a kill of a baby impala. The pack are tearing it apart and fighting over legs and heads. It’s very overcast and the light is poor for photos but the sighting is fantastic.

 

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Not all the dogs seem to be present, and a baby impala isn’t enough of a meal for a pack and it doesn’t last long, so soon they are off again. They stop to drink, play and wash themselves in a large puddle in the road.

 

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Then we find the rest of the pack who have also killed themselves a baby impala which by this stage is nearly finished. The whole pack rests a little. One male gets a little frisky with a female although it was hard to tell what he was more interested in- her or the portion of impala she had managed to snatch. The pack started moving and again, stopped to play in a puddle. Again, the light was bad and unfortunately my shots are somewhat dark. I was purposely underexposing to keep them sharp but think I overdid it and even when brightened up they are still a bit blurry.

 

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We decided to leave the dogs to their hunting. Not long after we left them, we rounded a corner to find a big male lion just sat in front of us on the edge of the road. This was totally unexpected but typical luck- I had just about written off the lions and there was one right in front of us. This was the remaining one of the two Selinda brothers. I had read about his brother’s recent demise on the Wilderness blog- he had fought with a male named Romeo in the Kings Pool area, and been killed.

 

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Ron radioed the other vehicles and we sat with the lion for a bit until he got off and headed into the mopane. We followed, on another off road mopane-crushing marathon. At one stage we had to stop to tow the other vehicle out of a tight spot wedged on top of a mopane with wheels that had spun and dug themselves deep into the wet sand. I thought we would have lost the lion but we continued and spotted him very quickly as he had stopped for a rest. He sat for a while and eventually flopped into sleeping lion pose, so we decided to leave him.

 

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Driving around, Ron pointed out several sets of hyena tracks and then we headed off road again. Suddenly we came across a very decomposed elephant carcass with one hyena standing by it. Ron said the elephant had died over a month ago. There wasn’t much left but bones and some very leathery skin, but apparently rain softens this up so the hyenas are often found there after heavy rains. The hyena didn’t stick around for longer than it took me to take a couple of quick snaps.

 

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We then headed over a wooden bridge to the other side of the channel and drove along, generally following the channel. Suddenly, right in front of us was a lioness lying under a bush. Ron explained that she was a lone female, originally from the large Savuti pride which had split. This lioness and her mother and aunt had separated from the rest but the other two had died and left this lioness, known as the “Savuti female” all alone. She is an impressive hunter, and successfully raised two cubs to adulthood alone. Unfortunately for her they were both male and eventually were chased away by the Selinda boys. However, she has recently been mating with the remaining Selinda male and Ron thinks she may be pregnant, so in a couple of months she may have more cubs. Hopefully some daughters. I will be visiting Selinda camp in April so I look forward to hearing the news and maybe even seeing them, as she does cross into the Selinda area sometimes.

 

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Time for tea and then back towards camp. On the way, we heard that the other vehicle was following leopard tracks and we headed off road again. I think we were attempting an approach from the other side, but we couldn’t find the leopard. We did, however, find an African Wild Cat which resolutely refused to pose for pictures.

 

Having started out with low expectations, this had turned out to be the best drive so far. I also had plenty of time to quiz Ron about the area, the other neighbouring camps and the various packs of dogs and where they were likely to be seen, as well as where and when they den. I was partly trying to get an idea for future planning but also to get a feeling for what might be around in Selinda in April. My parents are coming with me and I’d love for them to have the same quality dog sighting as I have had at Duma Tau.

 

Interestingly, we passed a Kings Pool vehicle and I exchanged sightings with the guests. They had seen lots of leopard during their stay, as well as the dogs. Ron said that Kings Pool has more leopard sightings as the lions are less dominant there than at Duma Tau.

 

On the way back, we also found some giraffe lying down, and got a channce to watch some more lechwe leaping.

 

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Back to camp for brunch and siesta.

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That afternoon we drove off in the direction of Kings Pool to see the carmine bee eater colony. It wasn’t quite what I expected, as the holes were in horizontal ground. Colonies I have seen before in South Luangwa were in a vertical river bank.

 

Then we drove back towards camp and came across the dogs again. One vehicle was already watching them and they had killed and were generally playing around and squabbling over chunks of meat. A third vehicle arrived and we moved position. It was difficult to get a great view as the road was narrow with mopane either side.

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Eventually the light was fading and so we left and went back to camp a bit early, skipping sundowners to give me a chance to pack. My flight to Tubu Tree was at 11am the next day and I wanted to do a full morning drive and go straight to the airstrip and didn’t fancy packing after dinner or at 5am.

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Great start, Stokeygirl. I was at Duma Tau a little over a week after you were, and undoubtedly saw many of the same individual animals you did.

 

The foxes had moved by then though.

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Pangolin- sorry for stealing your thunder:)

Who was your guide at DT? Ron was absolutely excellent, but he went on leave just after I left.

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Posted (edited)

No worries about thunder stealing. You were there first.

 

Our intent was to have our friend Grant, who guides out of Savuti Camp, to guide us for our four days at DT and two days at Savuti. However, the day we transferred from Selinda to DT (overland), was the day that no flights could make it from Maun beyond Vumbura because of a solid wall of thunderstorms. Travel was messed up for a lot of people that day. Grant's guests at Savuti couldn't get out so he stayed with them one more day. For that one day we were guided at DT by Bobby. He was very good. I don't recall meeting your guide, Ron. Perhaps he had time off after you left. Duh - you just said that. Guess I should read more closely.

Edited by Pangolin

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The next morning, shortly after leaving camp we came across lion tracks on the road. I didn’t dare ask if this might be the elusive Selinda pride. We followed the tracks on the road for quite some distance before they went off road where, of course, we followed. The mopane wasn’t too dense so it wasn’t quite the bumpy ride like our previous off road excursions. Following the tracks in the bush was harder as the sand was patchy and several times we lost the trail and had to backtrack, but Ron was doing a great job. A number of times I thought we had lost the trail and Ron was just driving speculatively and then, suddenly I would spot a print and realised Ron had been following the trail all along. I wasn’t holding out much hope based on our previous fruitless searches but Ron was convinced we were close so I was dutifully scanning the bush. Suddenly I spotted a golden patch on a termite mound and called to Ron to stop. I pointed- could that be a lion? Yes it was. We turned and drove to the termite mound to find all 15 of the Selinda pride basking in the sun. Ron radioed the news and it didn’t take long for 2 more vehicles to join us.

 

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Relatively alert to start with, the lions gradually drifted off and once they were seriously inert we left them to continue our drive.

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No more excitement until we neared the airstrip and found only the second group of elephants of my stay making their way through the mopane. A final treat awaiting me at the airstrip was a pair of roan. They seemed unusually tame for roan and refused to budge even when we got quite close. Ron commented that the female had very swollen teats and she kept looking away from us into the bush. Ron said that yesterday a pair of roan with a calf had been seen in that area, and a vulture landing on a nearby tree was the final clue that suggested her baby had perhaps just met an untimely end somewhere in the bush. Perhaps a leopard, or even a cheetah. The dogs would have been making enough noise for us to hear them, if my previous experience of their post kill behaviour was anything to go by.

 

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However, there was no time to investigate as my pilot was on the radio and coming in a little earlier, so we chased the stubborn roan into the bush and waited for the plane to land. A sad goodbye to Ron and Duma Tau. I went there to see dogs and they certainly delivered. I am not usually one to rave about particular guides- in the past I’ve found some to be better than others, but none have really stood out. However, I think Ron was hands down the best guide I’ve ever had. His knowledge of all the individual animals in the concession and their history was incredible, and he worked really hard to find the sightings, especially our last morning tracking down the lions.

 

Now to see if Tubu Tree could live up to its reputation for leopard.

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That turned out to be why I got a vehicle to myself for 2 days- Ron was going on leave so didn't have time for any new guests to join us and for him to see out their stay. Lucky me! I felt like the queen in my own vehicle when the others were full.

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