Lebala / Duba Plains
At the end of September, and beginning of october 2006 I went to two of my favourite spots in Botswana: Lebala and Duba Plains.
I had chosen this time of year for various reasons. At the first camp I wanted to see large elephant herds congregating around the waterholes. I was also hoping to catch a glimpse of the Selinda Pack again now the pups were mobile. And because of the tracking (from the tracker’s seat and on foot), I knew if the dogs were there, we would find them. I was also looking forward to some big cat action. Good sightings of leopards should be difficult because from previous experiences I found most of them were a bit skittish here.
At the last camp, I was looking for lions hunting zebra (or was it buffalo). A fish trap with the accompanying birds (pelicans/marabou storks/yellow-billed storks and all kinds of egrets/sandpipers and hamerkops) is an extraordinary scene I wanted to capture.
As always it was a real pleasure to see Monique and Harry, managers at Lebala. They are the kind of people I like when on safari and I regard them as friends.
Before I arrived there we made a stop at Kwara where I met Mel (she manages Little Kwara), BK (who used to work for Wilderness safaris in the past) and Steve Kgwatalala, who guided me last December at Lebala.
When I was there the following guides and trackers were on duty: Charles and Simon, Spencer and Moeti, Richard Randall and Hector. So no matter who was guiding you, you were guaranteed to have a fantastic time because these guys know the area very well and they master the art of entertaining people. Charles and Simon were stuck with me for 10 days. They also guided me in May 2006 (my most memorable safari until now).
We had a couple of overcast days and some little rain when I was there. So photographing birds was challenging sometimes. Also the hazy skies caused by the fires around the Caprivi/Selinda weren’t much helpful.
At the moment, hyenas are the dominant predator around Lebala and for that reason I suspect cheetah sightings are quite scarce at the moment (in fact I didn’t see any this time). We saw two sets of different lions (2 males and 4 females – 3 young males) The 3 young males used to be 4. So we were wondering what happened to the fourth brother. We thought he died until we saw him on the last day. He looked quite skinny and had a nasty wound on his back. We suspected that the injury was caused by a buffalo, the main prey species this time of year for those beasts.
When I was there the 3 young males killed a full-grown buffalo (probably a dagga boy (a lone male buffalo) and an antelope. They lost the first kill (antelope) to a big clan of hyenas. We arrived at the scene when the hyenas just cleaned it all up. With the buffalo kill, we had some good interaction between these young males (+/- 4 years old) and 15 hyenas and a bunch of vultures. At a certain moment, the lions were lying under a bush, +/- 10 meters away from the carcass and two hyenas managed to grab the buffalo’s tail. These males, after charging for 2 days, left it to their eternal enemies. I stayed with this kill for +/- 10 hours (2 days) and saw some amazing stuff (one lion almost killed a hyena/one of the hyenas tried to bite the lion’s tail,…) We had a funny incident, the hat of one of the other guests fell on the ground and was grabbed by hyenas. We managed to get it back (after 30 minutes) and the owner put it on its head straight away (which was a bit strange to me but well …)
Besides that we saw 2 other males feasting on a female kudu (near “Old hippo pools”) and a buffalo calf (near “Twin pools” at the border with Selinda). They were also been seen together with the females at a buffalo carcass (also at “Twin pools”). On another occasion, these 4 lionesses tried to hunt buffalo/warthog (if your main course is escaping you, go for a starter first). When these lionesses were hunting buffalo, the males exposed themselves at a termite mound and didn’t participate in the hunt at all.
We didn’t see any of the lions I had seen in May. The old lioness (part of a group of 4) died and the 2 cubs, who miraculously escaped when sitting in a tree above a buffalo kill, with 2 big nomadic males feeding on it, were never seen again.
During my stay, Spencer spotted a leopard (just half an hour before sunset) but we skipped the sighting as we decided to stay with the lions and hyenas.
Other interesting sightings were:
- A herd of +/- 1500 buffalo (seen on several occasions)
- Good numbers of elephants but not in their big numers like at the Chobe riverfront/Linyanti due to the fact that there was sufficient water in the area
- A den of black-backed jackals with 3 pups
- An aardvark in daylight (but unfortunately it drowned)
- Excellent birding especially along the riverfront (we couldn’t cross at Elephant gorge to see the carmine bee-eaters nesting) (the species I was most delighted to see were: hottentot teal/greater painted-snipe/African paradise-flycatcher/crimson-breasted shrike)
- Snakes (black mamba and boomslang) – the boomslang was in a tree between the dining room and the bar. We noticed it after the birds freaked out. The black mamba, was first seen by Simon, half a meter from his tracker seat at Mopane road. He asked to stop the car and we couldn’t see why (was there a cat around) and then he pointed out the snake, lying on the road. We quickly reversed and luckily the snake was not in an aggressive mood that day and backed off. On the same morning Spencer saw another black mamba, who lifted up two third of its body length pretty close to the vehicle. Luckily nothing happened and everyone felt relieved afterward.
I didn’t see roan or sable antelope (other people did). General game was mostly concentrated around the places where water was available.
On the 9th day, we saw the Selinda pack (10 adults + 6 pups) after excellent tracking by Simon. Just before we arrived, they killed an impala and the only thing we saw was the following: dogs drinking at a waterhole and the pups begging for food. In the afternoon, we saw them again at the same place and they only left after sunset. Everyone was excited because they hadn’t seen the pack since early June and it was their first time then to see the pups.
We mostly started at 5u45 and ended the game drive between 10 and 11. In the afternoon we started at 15u30 and ended our drives at 19u30. Only on two occasions, I stayed out till 21u30 – 22u. I didn’t do a full day drive because there wasn’t any action going on (and it didn’t look like something was about to happen).
I stayed in tent number 3 – a favourite elephant spot. So a couple of nights, I didn’t sleep well because of the ellies browsing around my tent. At one night, genets were jumping on my roof for almost 2 hours . Other regular visitors in camp, were hippopotami .
At the 30th of September, there was a big party because of Botswana’s 40 year independence.
I stayed for 6 nights here. Once again it was nice to see familiar faces, in this case: Paul, one of Duba’s managers. I was one of the lucky ones still to see him at Duba because after 4 years, Paul is about to leave this special place and wants to try his luck somewhere else in Africa (maybe guiding in Zambia or Gabon).
The other managers in camp were François and Brigitte. François used to work in Duma Tau before and Brigitte recently started working for Wilderness safaris.
The guides at duty: James/Jame/Lebo. Jame, who used to be in the business for a long time (he worked at Mombo/King’s Pool/Duba Plains/…) was guiding me.
Like already mentioned, we concentrated on “lions and buffalos” and birds. This is not a place to see a good variety of general game.
Besides the relentless ennemies, we saw a den of bat-eared foxes, a caracal (daytime), three honey badgers, three aardwolves and a civet and lots of side-striped jackals.
The following antelopes were seen: plenty of red lechwe (but not in their big numbers like I saw at Chief’s island or in the Jao concession), tsessebe, bushbuck and common reedbuck.
Before coming to the essence of a stay at Duba, I would like to mention a fight between two baboons during which one of their babies got seriously injured (broken limbs). It was abandoned and we saw it trying to stand up but it didn’t succeed. At such time, you would like to intervene, but you can’t.
During my stay, the Tsaro pride made two kills (one we didn’t witness and one we saw from start till the end). Both kills were made not that far away from Buffalo point.
It was on the fourth day, they made the kill I witnessed. In the morning, we came across some members of the Tsaro pride (only one of the Duba boys was around) resting at a termite mound. The buffalo herd was not that far away (less than 200 meters). After a while, all the lionesses joined the pride and I knew they were in for business (or at least they should give it a serious try). After some attempts (and failures), they still didn’t give up and kept on following the herd. We had to drive around because we still couldn’t cross were the lions and buffalo crossed. It was already 12.15 and some of the lions were lying down and others disappeared in the high grasses. The Duba Boy was lying down at +/- 300 meters from the other pride members. We were driving towards the herd, when we suddenly heard a buffalo distress call . One of the lionesses was holding a cow down by her own. All the other lionesses heard it and came running to it and after 5 minutes they brought it down and started feeding.
Game over, you should think. A quick and easy meal. Not at all! The buffalo herd came back and the bulls tried to push the lions back, they came as close as 20 centimeters from the lions. The lions charged and the buffalo pulled back. Then the buffalo charged and some of the lions stood their ground, others moved back a bit. This cat and mouse game kept going on for almost half an hour and then the herd decided to move on.
At a certain moment, we taught the pride was going to make a second kill but they didn’t.
Then we sat with them feeding for almost 4 hours and witnessed some interesting things. The male came fifteen minutes after the buffalo was killed and waited patiently till the females opened the carcass for him. He wasn’t aggressive at all. Maybe he wasn’t that hungry.
One of the females disappeared for half an hour and brought 3 cubs, which she recently introduced to the pride, with her. You could see drama was under the way because two of the females snarled and growled at the cubs. They weren’t accepted at all. I was thinking that their chances of survival were quite slim given the fact that some of the Tsaro pride members killed cubs before. Actually, during the last years, only one cub (a one year old male) survived. He actively participated in the feeding process and snarled at his aunts like a big male.
This was the only day, I drove out for the all day and I was the only one to see it all. Other people left that day and didn’t go out in the morning, others had to leave the scene because their plane was leaving.
A word about the Duba boys: according to Paul and James, the Duba Boys reign is almost over. Like mentioned in the update at the Wilderness website, they don’t patrol their borders that often, nomadic males in good condition are seen from time to time in the Tsaro territory and the Skimmer males could maybe take over (which wouldn’t be good because of inbreeding).
I saw them mostly everyday but only on the last day, the boys were seen together with the other pride members. Paul told me the following story. At a certain moment, the Tsaro pride killed a buffalo calf and one of the males took over but instead of feeding, he fell asleep on top of the calf.
So I am curious what the situation will be next April when I will be there again.
Two of the females each had 3 cubs. One set of cubs was already introduced to the pride and another set was still been hiding for the rest of the pride. On the last day of my stay, I saw the mother feeding on one of the cubs while the other cubs were hiding in a dated palm next to it. Finally they came out and they looked quite frightened. All the other pride members were there and one of the lionesses mouth was covered in blood so she probably killed the cub. At the most recent update from Duba, François mentioned that the other 2 cubs are also missing at the very moment. I am curious if this behaviour is gonna change after the Duba Boys are gone.
What about the Skimmer pride? Well we saw them in the Tsaro territory for 3 days (they came from Paradise Island, which still couldn’t be reached – one of the guides tried to cross but got seriously stuck and had to leave the vehicle). I had hoped we could go there if necessary but we couldn’t. (lucky for us the herd was always in the Tsaro territory but the day I arrived they just came back from Paradise Island where they stayed for +/- 3 days).
Driven by hunger the Skimmer pride ventured quite deep into the Tsaro territory but at a certain moment (when they were as close as 200 meters from the herd they moved back probably because they smelled the Tsaro pride). We saw them making several attempts but they weren’t successful because of the good defense of the buffalo. The day I left, they were trying again (around 13.00) but I had to leave at that time to Maun. I noticed that this pride wasn’t used to see lots of vehicles and some of the males were a bit tricky to get close to.
Fish traps were spectacular with hundreds of pelicans, storks, egrets,… I spent several hours at such traps.
I was lucky to sit next to the guide because the roads were quite bumpy especially the ones that got seasonally flooded. We mostly started at around 5.45-6 till 11 and in the afternoon we started from 15.45 till 19.
I stayed at tent number 1 (under a jackalberry tree) and believe it or not again a favourite spot for elephants (this time during day- and nighttime). At a certain moment, my tent was surrounded by ellies.
In all, another memorable safari.