It’s not every-day you find yourself the filling in a lion/elephant sandwich, but that’s what our guests experienced on the Botswana leg of our final 2017 visit to the Chobe and Zimanga, just a few short weeks ago.
We were returning to the lodge after a picnic breakfast in the Chobe National Park, looking forward to transferring to the houseboat, when we decided to check out the spot where we’d earlier been photographing a pride of lions with three small cubs in the sweet morning light.
No sign of the lions, but instead we found a breeding herd of elephant right where our big cats had last been spotted. Then suddenly it all kicked off. Out of nowhere the cubs bolted from their shady hiding place, scattering in all directions, as the paths of both species dramatically and noisily crossed. Loud trumpeting filled the air as the concerned lioness burst from the bushes right by our vehicle in a desperate bid to locate and protect her young ones from danger. Right on her tail came a screaming elephant in hot pursuit with huge ears flapping and his trunk waving aloft*. And there we were – stuck in the middle of this thrilling clash with hearts pounding and trigger fingers shaking…
Throughout the next few days, photographing from the specially-adapted boat, we were treated to more high-octane animal behaviour on the river and along its banks. One stand-out episode was the morning we spent photographing some of the biggest and most powerful crocs we’ve ever seen, tearing at the remains of a dead Cape buffalo at the water’s edge. With no-one else around we watched and clicked as some 14 crocs swam silently into view; circling the carrion and our boat, like submerged floating logs with only that predatory green eyeball giving their deadly ID away.
Then there were the elephant photo opportunities, too numerous to mention, (we woke up one day to find three big elephant bulls right by the mooring rope of the houseboat, they later posed perfectly mid-river in the soft dawn light).
Among our many exciting encounters were hippo families obliging us with a ‘yawn chorus’, troops of agile baboons performing martial arts on the shore, a buffalo herd feeding at sunset on the banks, a stunning array of waterbirds and a totally unexpected, and truly fantastic encounter, with some rarely-seen spotted necked otters that our boatman Laskey found for us on our very last morning – the icing on our Pangolin Voyager pancakes!
It’s always sad to leave the river behind, but there was yet more photography beckoning back in South Africa at our next photo-location, Zimanga, where some special new arrivals were lying in wait to fill up our memory cards. Lions were only released on this unique, and fast-growing, private game reserve just over a year ago, so to visit following the recent birth of Zimanga’s very first cubs – three rather energetic and mischievous little characters – was an exciting prospect. They didn’t let us down. Our guests were treated to a particularly memorable afternoon off-road in their company towards the end of our visit as they played tirelessly with mom in the dry riverbed. Photographing them ambushing her clumsily and repeatedly, with moves that when honed will prove crucial to their survival when hunting on the reserve, was something we’re sure none of us will forget.
To top it off one of the lionesses made a kill while we were tracking them; bringing down a warthog she’d stumbled across, which the family then shared under the gaze of our cameras. We’re now desperately keen to return next year to check on the cubs’ progress.
We’re also looking ahead to the unveiling of the hotly-awaited, second overnight hide, which is due to be ‘on-stream’ by the middle of next year, when all our visits to Zimanga will include the option for guests to enjoy the incredible experience of watching and photographing the amazing creatures of the African bush by night.
That just leaves time before we sign off to raise a cold St Louis/Castle lager to all those who helped make this one another successful ‘Toon’ photo safari. A massive thanks goes to our team of fab sharp-shooters, as well as to Janine, Sabine, Charl, Guts, Toby, Mandy, Martin, Laskey, Sabrina and the rest of the Pangolin crew and to Geordie, Charl and Mariska and all the gang on Zimanga. Thumbs up guys for smoothing the path to yet more wonderful adventures, amazing memories and cracking image captures.
We’re now hungrily looking forward to our safari programme for next year and sharing the magic of Africa, and our passion for its wildlife, with a whole new bunch of photo friends as well as a few old hands. See you then.
*The three cubs were seen again later back with their mother so it all ended happily in the end. Phew!