Disclaimer: All my good pictures are on my camera and I haven’t edited them yet. . . so they may end up here one day.
Day two was way more exciting than day one. We spent our entire Sunday among God’s creations. We woke up at 5:45 and prepared for our morning safari. After a small breakfast, we took off around 6:15 (a little before sunrise) in hopes of finding some cats on the prowl. We saw hundreds of beautiful animals today, so to keep you from getting bored with all the details, I will tell you about the five coolest experiences that we had today.
The first experience had the highest potential to be the coolest experience thus far. . . but fell short abruptly. The entire trip, we were hoping and begging to see a leopard. Because leopards spend most of their time in the trees, due to competition with other predators, we spent most of our trip with our eyes upward. As we were riding down the road, a gathering of safari vehicles signaled something exciting in a tree. Our hopes soared, but as we got closer, we realized that there was merely an impala in a tree. That’s right, an impala. Now, you might be asking, what on earth was an impala doing in a tree? You would never expect an antelope to be in a tree at home, right? Well, it was a leopard’s meal that morning. Unfortunately, it wasn’t kind enough to stick around. It was still cool to see it’s mangled (it wasn’t bloody or gory) body in the tree with marks in the sand leading up to it. Unfortunately, it never did come back for its meal and the leopard and the rhino (we will be seeing rhinos in another national park next week) remain the two animals from our list we were hoping to see.
The second experience did not disappoint in the least and was shockingly exciting. As we were looking at the impala in the tree, our driver, Leo, received a call on the radio that some wild dogs were spotted making their way toward the river. I never thought that a Toyota Land Cruiser could travel that fast. We were going SO fast through the bush, probably faster than Russel, Aaron and Chris’s UTVs can go. Just so you’re aware, wild dogs are EXTREMELY rare, even more so than Leopards depending on the season. Leo said that he hasn’t seen wild dogs in that area of the park in a few months and our manager, Sjeel, who has been to Chobe five times still hasn’t seen any. Oh boy, did we get the full experience. As we were driving along the river, we saw the dogs exit the bush from a distance. When we finally got to the area where they came out of the bush, they were already down by the river, to far for us to get close to. We sat and watched them run in circles and play with each other from about a quarter-mile away. We paralleled their movement up-stream in anticipation of a better view.
Suddenly, they started coming directly toward us. After about 10 minutes of hesitant walking, they passed DIRECTLY around our rig. Some passed in front and others passed behind. I think the other safari vehicles around us were SUPER jealous. As they were passing, we got a good smell. They smelled absolutely terrible, but it was an added to the experience of it all. As the stragglers passed by us, the rest of the crew began taking off. The funniest thing happened. One of the dogs began to run, and as he did, his front legs sunk into a pit and he did a frontward somersault in front of us. It was hilarious. Unfortunately, Elle didn’t get it on video, but I did snag a picture of his legs up in the air. If this was the last cool experience we had in the park, I would have left extremely pleased. It wasn’t.
The third experience is quite shorter than the rest, because there isn’t much of a story to it. We were driving along the river and got a good view of some zebras. That’s basically the gist of it. You might ask why this was a noteworthy experience. There are two reasons. First of all, these were the first zebras we got a good view of our entire trip and we really wanted to see them. Secondly, after our first zebra sighting, we continued down the river and saw a herd of about 300. I was blown away by how many zebras were out there. They are beautiful animals. Our guide was telling us that they are black with white stripes. I’m on his side, but other BYU students are convinced they are white with black stripes. I guess there is just no way of knowing for sure.
The fourth experience fulfilled the cornerstone experience we all wanted to have while at Chobe. But before I get into the fun details of the story, I must reemphasize that there are no fences in Chobe National Park. All of the animals are free to roam in and out of park at will. As such, our guide informed us that the pride of lions that usually roams this portion of Chobe was seen leaving the park earlier that week, and because it was getting later in the morning, there was a slim chance we would get to see them even if they were here. He asked us if we would like to go to lunch, or if we would rather go over to the border of the park, near the area where they were last seen. Boy were we glad we chose to go looking for lions instead of early lunch.
As we were nearing the edge of the park, we came around a corner to discover a lion with a baby elephant. It was quickly evident that the baby elephant was dead and that the lion was eating hungrily. Everything described in the remainder of this paragraph happened within 3 seconds, but I still have the moment plastered in my mind. They say that tends to happen in near death experiences. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera ready, nor was anything recording, so you’re going to have to trust that the few pictures I did capture at the scene reflect the story. As the elephant and lion came into view only 10 feet from our vehicle, Leo stopped. I looked over right as the lion was picking up its head to take a look at us. I got a great view of its face hovering over the body of the elephant. At that precise moment, a loud trumpeting noise came from the bushes opposite the lion. Mama elephant came bursting into view and was charging anything in between it and its baby. Namely, us. Luckily, Leo had kept the engine running, so we sped out of the elephant’s path as it charged. As we were driving, I saw the lion dart away taking a few more lions resting in the shade with it. We were all very intimidated by the mama elephant.
After coming to a rest about 15 feet down the road, we kept peaking through the trees in hopes of spotting the lions. The mother elephant angrily threw dust in the air and was not going to leave her baby. You could tell she was under great distress. In the end, mama elephant never left her baby. In order to stay safe, we had to take a really long road around edge of the park, because there was no way we were going to be able to safely pass back by her. Before we took off, though, our guide was able to get us down by the gathering of the pride. All eight lions were piled under the shade of a tree. It made for some really cool pictures. Overall, I was super pleased with our lion experience, and we were EXTREMELY fortunate to see them.
The fifth experience was also quite nerve racking and neat. After going back to camp one last time for lunch and to grab the rest of our stuff, we headed out toward the exit of the park. On our way, we saw some pretty incredible stuff! We saw a pack of about 20 giraffes heading back from the river. After the giraffes, we saw the conversing of three different species. We crossed paths with a herd of around a hundred buffalo exiting the bush towards the river, saw a couple of herds of female impala with their respective males grazing, and a small mating herd of elephants (probably around 30 elephants) coming from the river toward the planes. We witnessed as they all crossed paths. It was pretty cool, but that wasn’t the peak of our final experience.
As we were making our way up the road, we saw a majestic bull Kudu with a huge rack. I couldn’t believe how tall his horns stretched upward. He gave us a good show as we passed. After passing him, we began seeing large family herds of elephants grazing in the trees. One elephant was kind enough to do a photo-shoot with us, and she even waved to us when we were leaving. Shortly thereafter, a VERY large female stood in the middle of the road. She was not happy to see us. Although she let a couple other vehicles pass, she wasn’t about to let us. As we approached her, she began shaking her head and making aggressive gestures toward us. As she began stomping toward us, Leo threw the vehicle in reverse and flew backward about 20 feet. Luckily, she didn’t chase us, because there is no way we could have outrun her going backwards. We gave her a few minutes to calm down and proceeded cautiously forward again. She was not having it. As soon as we came within 15 feet of her, she began aggressively shaking her head and body again. She began charging again. We stood our ground and it ended up being a false charge. She stopped about 5 feet from our vehicle, trumpeting and stomping in the sand in front of us. After a few intense seconds, she backed into the bushes and let us proceed. I did catch this one on video if you don’t believe it.
I must admit, I thought we were about to die for a second there. I thought she was going to plow into us and the rest of the elephants were going to come over and take us out. Leo explained that these occurrences are very rare. It has been months since he was false charged like that. He also explained that you can always tell when it is a false charge or a real charge. When the elephant was approaching us, she kept her ears raised. This is a common elephant technique when they are false charging. When an elephant is charging for real, they pin their ears back. I thought that was very interesting. Shortly thereafter, we exited the park safe and sound. Overall, it was an absolutely fantastic experience. Truly an opportunity of a lifetime.
The rest of the afternoon was spent traveling back to Livingstone. When we finally arrived, Elle and I went out for sushi at a place called Ocean Basket. It was really good! It was also pretty cheap considering it was a pretty classy seafood restaurant! We then got home and fell asleep. It was a long, adventure filled day!