The transportation getting to our first safari camp, Mashatu Botswana, was not simple, starting off with being at the Albuquerque airport at 4 am. Flights then continued to Washington DC, Dakar, Senegal and Johannesburg, South Africa. That night we stayed at the OR Tambo Protea Hotel near the airport, since we were flying out again in the morning. First photo is of the menu at the hotel, prices are in Rands. The official conversion rate was 9.3 Rands to the US dollar but the hotel only gave us 8 to the dollar. Had we spent more time in South Africa I would have questioned this practice but as jet lagged tourists we let it ride for one night. Pete ordered Springbok and baby rocket leaves. The springbok antelope was processed, rather like Canadian bacon and tasted good.
Impala – Bottom of the Food Chain
Something has to be at the bottom of the food chain, and in the southern Africa realm of prey and predators the Impala is at the bottom. Through some quirk of nature Impalas are all born at the same time, allowing for some to be attacked/killed/eaten immediately but others survive. There didn’t seem to be a shortage of Impalas anywhere. They are even on the menu in some restaurants.
Black Backed Jackals and the Lion Kill
Black jackals are small, fox-like canids, weighing about 20 lbs. The camouflage of their coloring against the savannah grasses is so perfect that our guide had to point them out at first.
Lilac-breasted Rollers and Grey Crowned Crested Cranes
Our guides commented several times that the Lilac-breasted Rollers are the most photographed birds in all of Africa. The range of colors is outstanding. The average size of the Lilac Breasted Roller is 15 inches. The washed green head is large, the neck is short, the greenish yellow legs are rather short and the feet are small. The beak is strong, arched and hooked-tipped. The tail is narrow and of medium length. The back and scapulars are brown. The shoulder of the wing, outer webs of the flight feathers and the rump are all violet. The bases of the primaries and their coverts are pale greenish blue and the outer tail feathers are elongated and blackish. The chin is whitish, shading to rich lilac of the breast. The underparts are greenish blue. The bill is black and the eyes are brown. It has large wings and strong flight.
Charge of the Young Males
Of all the wildlife we saw, my personal favorites were the young male elephants. They were so animated, so full of themselves, showing off their bravery, quite a show of extra testosterone! They would come charging out of the bush, trunks arching, loud trumpeting, foot stamping, ears flapping and posturing for all they were worth! They’d come up close to our vehicles before stopping but the guides reassured us that it’s all for showing off. These boys were small compared to the more mature elephants. Elephants continue to grow their entire lives, although the growth rate slows after sexual maturity. If only I could have captured the trumpeting to go along with these photos. Here is a clip on YouTube that will give you an idea of the audio.
Regarding the quality of the photos….our game drives were very early morning and dusk as the animals rest during the day and are far less active. Unfortunately the sun didn’t always cooperate.
The collective noun for a herd of elephants is “Parade”… a Parade of Elephants. As many as 27 million (estimated wild population) elephants lived in Africa in the 19th century; in 2002, only 400,000 – 660,000. The decline can be linked to three major factors: (1) the demand for ivory, (2) desertification, and (3) conflicts with humans for land use. From 1860 to 1930, 25,000 to 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory each year. It’s truly a heartbreaking reality to me. And the slaughter goes on. It’s illegal to import ivory into the US.
The parts of southern Africa we visited included three types of primates.
Bush Baby, characterized by it’s loud shrill cries at night similar to a human baby, are nocturnal with large eyes and bat-like ears enable them to hunt insect prey at night. They are very agile in trees but awkward on the ground, hopping in a frog like fashion. During the day they hide to avoid eagles and large snakes.
The first day we arrived at Mashatu, Botswana we were visited by Vervet monkeys by our tent. Vervet monkeys are long-legged, long-tailed, omnivorous. Every time Pete walked out of our tent to take a photo the Vervets scurried off.
Mostly we saw Baboons. There were two species, the smaller Yellow Baboons and the larger Chacma Baboons. They traveled in troops, sometimes with 50-100 or more members.
We were incredibly fortunate to visit locations in southern Africa where there is a high density of cheetahs in the wild. Cheetahs are probably best known for their short bursts of speed up to 75 mph for distances up to a half mile. They can also accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds.
Cheetahs are also known for their non-retractable claws, although our guide mentioned that cubs up until the age of 3 or 4 months CAN retract their claws.