10. Moremi Too

bythom bots 8-9

The night sounded with the call of lions. Obviously, they haven’t moved off from our camp. Every time the male lion sounded off, the hippos decided that they needed to reply. Fortunately, I can sleep through such cacophony and got a good night’s sleep. 

But the presence of lions just outside camp—especially mating lions—meant that I wanted to see them again, and fortunately they were easy to find, and on the right side of an “island,” facing the just rising sun.

So an aside. Why are quotes around “island”? In the Okavango Delta there are slightly higher areas that support more than grass and brush type plants. When the water pushes far down into Botswana, the places between these higher areas flood, and for the most part trees have a tough time thriving in such areas. But in the higher ground, you’ll find the full botanical infrastructure, including trees, and obviously, shade. These little “islands” often are formed around termite mounds, and provide respite from wind, heat, and even some of the night cold. Thus it’s not surprising to find the big cats and predators using these areas, while the prey like the more open areas with low grass—some of which is low because they grazed it so—and small bushes. 

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As I noted, the lion pair were sitting on the sunrise side of the island out in the open. A surprise awaited us, though. The male doing the mating was no longer the younger one, but the older one that had been sitting off to the side last night. Obviously some of those noises we heard in the evening and night were the result of a little alpha male skirmish as the older king of the jungle dethroned the would-be king.

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Within moments, we had our first mating. A few seconds of thrusting, a final bit of agony on both sides as the barb-tipped penis was being withdrawn, and then a bit of grooming for the female and sleep for the king. Another of our vehicles joined us for the second show minutes later, as did a surprise guest: a bushbuck. 

Strangely, she stood dead still for awhile, then approached the lions. A few steps forward and another freeze. Another few steps of approach and then freeze. This voyeur stalking kept going on for awhile until finally, after a long and thorough examination, she let out her wheezy alarm call. Guess she wasn’t sure they were lions before, which is why she was approaching. I’d have to say she probably needs glasses, because if you she couldn’t pick out that these were lions from far more distance than she approached, she needs help.

Okay, bushbuck alarming, lions mating. Again. Third show this morning. Each time the female would find a slightly new place to position herself, and the male would then come nuzzle next to her until he regained stamina. And yes, she turned herself towards the alarming bushbuck and gave it a thorough examination. I guess sex was more important than breakfast.

It was after this third show that one of the students declared that they were satisfied; we could move on. 

Not really. These lions were still in spectacularly good light, we didn’t know where the third male was, and we hadn’t seen all the things that happen in mating. I explained that a professional making such a find as this pair would sit on it as long as they could and hope for some new behaviors. They’d consider what they had already shot and think about other options for framing and position. After all, what better photographic situation might you expect than a pair of mating lions? Would you really drive around all day looking for better?

As if to prove my point, the fourth show commenced. The position for photographing them was even better than before, but immediately after the proceedings, the male and female went into a roaring match. Behavior we wouldn’t have seen had we just shot the lions once and left. 

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Of course, to disprove my point, we were driving up to meet with our other vehicles for tea time when Stanley found a wild dog den with pups. Out and in the open. In fact, the story at the sighting was even more elaborate than that. There were dozens of vultures about, too. But I’ll get to that in a moment. 

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Yes, in this case we were rewarded with an almost magical and unthinkable morning. Two rare and exciting photographic situations such as we had in one morning just doesn’t tend to happen, but here after proving me right, the gods were now providing a “sure you’re right, but sometimes you aren’t” moment for me. Had we stuck with the lions for all morning, we would have never seen the wild dog pups.

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Okay, so the story at the dog site seems to have been this (and yes, we have documentary evidence that points that way, as well as an anecdotal account from another guide who came upon the scene prior to us): first, the dogs chased an impala and it ran right through the edge of a pan, where a crocodile responded by opening its jaws and snatching it. Second, the dogs killed another impala and took it to the bones. 

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By the time the vultures came along there was almost nothing left for them. So third, as we pulled up a lone vulture was trying to find some scraps at the dog den and…the puppies would chase it off. 

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The adults? Sleeping after a hard morning’s work. 

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So the vulture would fly down from a perch in the tree, try to find a scrap, and the pups would sneak over and try to chase it away. Fun game. For dogs. For photographers. Maybe not for vultures. 

After lunch, we had a short image review session, mostly because the projector was overheating and it was taking too long to go to Projection Plan B (and C). 

Quick side note: remember what I said about moving this camp and setting it up multiple times and being a bit nervous about what might happen? Well, there are other operators out here trying to do the same thing, and as we drove from the lions to the dogs we came across a few scraps of garbage, which is really unusual out here. As always, we stopped to pick them up. 

A bit further up the road, though, we found the reason why we were seeing such stuff: the tail gate of a truck lay in the road, along with a water and gas canister used in a mobile camp. Obviously, one of the groups that was moving their tented camp had a bit of a problem with their vehicle and hadn’t noticed yet. We moved what we found to the side of the road and tried radioing what we were finding in hopes that whoever lost them would know to come back and pick them back up. 

I think I should remind Barnes, our camp chief, to look at the tailgate tonight ;~).

We had more going on today, but I’m going to save the photos from the afternoon for the big photo wrap-up at the end, as they’re a somewhat random lot of things, many of which I don’t know the story behind because I wasn’t there.

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