Sunday morning, New Year’s Eve 2017
We signed up for a walking game drive to get a different perspective. Also, we’re ready for some physical activity. Riding in the safari vehicles is great for getting around and seeing many animals, but we wanted to see things a little more closely. We really expected many of the others in our group would opt for this as well, so were surprised to see only one other couple. This was wonderful since we could all see and hear what our guide was saying.
Our guide was Bellamy, who was very knowledgeable. He carried a 458 magnum rifle. That will impress on anyone the risks of being on foot in this area. Bellamy told us to walk single file, and the last person was told to check behind us to see if we were being tracked. We would be following the tracks we found this morning, and other animals might be following those tracks as well.
One of the first things we did was examine some scat – truly romantic. Bellamy explained that the white chunks came from a hyena. The hyena eats everything, including the bones which contain calcium. The brown chunks belong to a jackal. An ostrich had rested nearby and fluffed its wings, leaving an outline of its body. Giraffe had also left prints. If the scat and/or the prints are fresh, you know that the animal passed by recently and then you can look for its tracks and begin following them.
Bellamy showed us where an aardvark had been digging for termites. He pointed out a den that had been occupied at one time by an aardvark and possibly a jackal after that.
A clearing surrounded by short mopane trees indicates that elephants have been feeding there. Elephants must feed about 20 hours per day to get the nutrition they need. They eat grasses, leaves, even tree bark. The leaves of the mopane tree contain 23% protein which, although not digestible by humans, but are a good source of nutrition for the animals. The constant feeding by elephants keeps the surrounding trees short.
The mopane tree is home to the mopane worm, which is actually a caterpillar. Mopane moths emerge at the beginning of summer, do not feed and live for two or three days, long enough to mate and lay their eggs on tree leaves. The eggs hatch in the summer, and the caterpillars feed on the leaves of the tree where they were laid. When they reach their maximum size, many are harvested by the locals, who boil them in salt water and then dry them. They can be eaten as a snack or added to other food, where they take on that food’s flavor. There is concern about over harvesting (at least 10% of the caterpillars need to mature to the moth stage in order to maintain a sustainable population.) Recently, the government of Botswana began licensing mopane worm harvesters to try to control the size of the harvest.
We passed a small watering hole that had been used recently by elephants, as evidenced by the footprints around it. As we were walking along, we were noticed by a group of giraffes. One of them kept an eye on us, assessing where we were going, to decided if we were a threat. When we climbed to the top of a small hill, we could see for miles, and spied giraffes, zebra, impala, wildebeests and elephants.
We were picked up by a driver and embarked on a short game drive. There were herds of wildebeest with several young, as well as kudus and zebras. We got lucky and saw a pair of cheetahs, sisters, resting in the shade. It’s easy to confuse the cheetah with the leopard. The cheetah has shorter legs and a longer, sleeker body. Also, the cheetah has spots while the leopard has a pattern of yellow spots each framed in black. While the cheetah relies on short bursts of speed to take down its prey, the leopard is slower and must stalk its prey, moving very slowly until close enough to pounce.
While taking a break, we noticed a hornbill in a Mashatu tree above us. It had caught a lizard and was working on eating it. Then, off to find the lions again. This time, the male was here, but sleeping – must have had a nice meal.
We headed back to the lodge so we could have a nice meal as well. We rise very early, and have our coffee and juice and a little fruit, then go on the game drives. We stop during the drive for snacks and beverages. We have brunch when we return to the lodge. We have tea around 3:30 (and sweets if you want them,) then head out on a game drive. We stop for “sundowners” (more snacks and wine or beer,) finish the drive and have dinner. We are well fed.