Kalahari miracles

If you lose your mobile phone during a game drive in the Kalahari wilderness, where you have been driving off track most of the time, what are the odds that it will ever be found again? One of my fellow travellers lost his phone under such circumstances, but he took it very philosophically, simply resigning himself to the fact that it had happened.

One of our guides, Dabi, insisted on going looking for the phone, in spite of everyone saying that it would be pointless. But he wouldn’t listen and just took off in the jeep. We couldn’t believe our eyes when he came back after a couple of hours with the phone in his hand. This highly skilled animal tracker had now proven to be an equally skilled phone tracker. Unbelievable. This was the first miracle.

Before coming to the Kalahari, our group of photo enthusiasts had visited the Okavango delta. We had been very lucky there: we had seen one little leopard cub and six lion cubs in two litters of three (see previous blog posts). With so much luck, could we really hope for more cub spotting? Not really.

Close to our camp, Camp Kalahari, a brown hyena, a rare animal, an endangered species, had been seen. The brown hyena is a cute animal (yes, hyenas can also be cute), with thick longish fur and striped legs. We set out for the afternoon game drive to try to find this hyena, all a little excited. And after a few minutes, there it was! Right in front of the jeep! I gasped for air as I saw a female getting a cub out of the den!

We stayed put watching  as the sun was setting: the cub had its meal, it played with its mother, annoying her a little at times, and it started exploring the neighbourhood, watching us, coming closer, surely wondering what the excitement in those two jeeps was all about.

Witnessing all this was the second miracle.

The brown hyena is now one of my favourite animals. How is it possible not to love a creature with striped legs?

On the suricate’s tail

When you are in the Kalahari desert in Botswana, what makes you jump out of bed before sunrise, hop into a jeep and lie on prickly grass holding your camera in an awkward position? The correct reply is “The prospect of getting close encounters with suricates”. (Yes, I’m aware that suricates are also known as meerkats, but since I have to choose one of the two, I opted for suricate.)

You all have seen photos like this:

But I can assure you that the moments they stand still are few and very brief indeed. Well, as the first scout comes out of the family den, just before sunrise, it does sit quite still for a little while, mostly turning its head to survey the surroundings and make sure no dangers are nearby. Other clan members soon join in as the sun rays start warming the air.

The quest for breakfast begins, and I’m having a hard time keeping up with these speedy animals, while trying to get some good shots (very difficult) and avoiding tripping over little mounds or getting my foot into a hole (which might be inhabited).

Mmm, nice smell here, maybe a frog? Or a scorpion?

They do work hard for their breakfast! I can’t say that I have the same energy before my first meal of the day …

In the meantime, some of them have discovered an interesting hole. They look in, jump back, and peep in again. Is there something dangerous …? Or something edible?

It was just a feather.

Mister Tongue

The previous days of our safari in the Okavango delta in Botswana we had seen two lionesses, each with three cubs, the most charming little creatures one could possibly imagine (see earlier blog posts). But there were three lionesses in the pride, and now we were in front of this third lady. She was in the company of a male, so we expected some action.

But nothing happened.

The lioness seemed utterly uninterested. She looked away, she turned the other direction, she tried to walk away. He wasn’t the type to give up though: he stalked her, but to no avail.

As we observed the failed amorous event, we noticed that the male had his tongue sticking out most of the time, sometimes just a little, sometimes quite a lot. Not very awe-inspiring, if you ask me. It was difficult not to laugh a little at him. Very silently, of course, so that he wouldn’t take offence.

Mister Tongue was an intruder. The lionesses’ pride was led by three brothers, but now he had come into their territory with the aim to be the leader and spread his own genes (which apparently included genes making the tongue stick out).

There was tremendous roaring during the night. Would Mister Tongue’s endeavour be successful? Would he beat the three brothers? If so, he would kill their six cubs in order to favour his own genes.

We slept very poorly and boarded the jeep with anxiety in the early morning. But oh, there was a cub! And one more, and one more! And within seconds we had counted six of them! The relief in the jeep was tangible. The cubs were together with all three females.

At one point there was a family disagreement – if you look carefully you can see how the cubs watch, with some apprehension, it seems, what is going on:

The commotion didn’t last long, and soon the cubs trotted around again, happily unaware of the drama that had unfolded during the night. But doesn’t the mother look a bit tired?

For my part, I’m quite pleased that at least for now there won’t be any offspring with tongues sticking out in the area.