Sheena’s encounters with incredible wildlife across Botswana and Zimbabwe – Read her trip diary!

Wildfoot African expert, Sheena Ogley recently shared enthralling encounters with incredible wildlife across Botswana and Zimbabwe. Read her gripping photographic trip diary detailing her exhilarating adventures and unique experiences amongst some of Africa’s most spectacular roaming species.

Day 1 – Kwara Private Reserve – Okavango Delta – Botswana

Touchdown! After a little wait in Maun, it was wheels up in my 12-seater Grand Caravan, then 30 minutes later it was wheels down in the Kwara Private Reserve! Wildlife guide Matt and tracker Obe were waiting on hand to welcome me. ‘About a 30-minute drive to camp’ they said, ‘Unless we see something exciting on the way’. We started with some nice spotting of Tsetse beast and giraffe. Then came the elephants. As it was heading towards sunset, I was suddenly aware that everywhere I looked, elephants were emerging from the woods; they were heading for their evening sundowner drinks at the main water channel!

Wow! What a welcome! However, it soon became apparent that this was just the start. Over the radio came news of a leopard sighting; ‘Do you want to check it out?’ said Matt, ‘Absolutely’ said I, and off we went. Sure enough, emerging from underneath the bushes, was a young leopard, stretching and yawning ready for her evening activities.

Well, I thought, whilst this is a whistle-stop tour, it was certainly starting well. But of course, they weren’t done yet. ‘There is a wild dog sighting, Sheena, but there is a three-car limit on each sighting’ explains Matt. Obviously, I was disappointed not to see them, but no, Matt had a plan. As I was by myself, a quick transfer into another vehicle with guests already on wild dog high alert, and off I went in hot pursuit. The ‘Ferrari Safari’ was underway, and we dashed off to find the dogs.

A pack of about 12 dogs were making dinner plans; Impala looking the likely option. But despite their best efforts, the perfect ambush was just not happening for them, and we watched as they split and regrouped, replanned and tried and tried again. Tired for now, they decided to call it a night and with that we headed for camp, with my head spinning and camera already getting good use.

Day 2 – Shinde Private Reserve – Okavango Delta – Botswana

Early start today and no sooner had I made myself at home at Splash Camp, I’m off to my next stop. Matt had his plan and an early morning drive had us in search of the dogs again to see if they had had success during the night. Despite the threat of rain, the grey sky morning did reap its rewards and sure enough the dogs were active, but again, alas, ‘no cigar’.

After a tea stop, I was duly handed over to Ronnie from Shinde on the neighbouring concession. His opening words to me were, ‘We have a 30-minute drive to camp as you have a surprise at 12pm, oh unless we see something interesting on the way’. I’m sensing a theme here, but a surprise, I love surprises! But we’ll get to that…

The good old safari guide’s radio never fails to bring good news, and this time another leopard. Arriving to the sighting, a few other vehicles were already getting a wonderful view of a young male leopard. Positioning us in just the right spot, a magnificent sight he was. But one was just not enough, and low and behold a female was spotted just 50 meters away.

We repositioned and Ronnie, being a very experienced guide, knew just the spot she would emerge from. Before I knew it, she was strolling right past our vehicle and climbed up the nearby tree giving us the classic leopard pose. What an absolute treat to sit and watch these majestic creatures.

So, to the surprise. The airstrip is just a few minutes’ drive from camp, so after dropping off my luggage, we arrived to find a helicopter waiting for me.

Yes, a little 20-minute flip over the concession was a wonderful gift from Ker & Downey. ‘The doors are off’ said Brent ‘So keep hold of your stuff!’. I wasn’t sure where to look first, down to the elephants and a rare sitatunga nestled in the long grass, or look up and survey the landscape. After taking it all in and getting some hopefully not-too-wobbly footage, we touch down again, and it was off to lunch and a chance to digest my morning.

The afternoon game drive was another magical experience. We discovered the two leopards again, a mother and son as it turns out. They were very chilled around our presence as we sat and watched them play for half an hour, before we were alerted to a female lion. We found her with a great vantage point surveying the plains, but being rather full still from a morning feast, she promptly fell asleep.

With a little more time left, Ronnie and I continued to explore and found the culprits of the load roaring we’d heard earlier in the afternoon. Two lion brothers had wandered into the concession, and anyone who knows anything about lions knows you don’t wander into another pride’s territory, and you certainly don’t announce your arrival! They were a very skinny sight and in need of a good feast. Again, it was a privilege to sit and watch their interactions. Hopefully, after we left, they found a meal and quickly moved on as they were in no shape to protect themselves.

What a day! There’s a very good reason that the Okavango Delta is so popular, and I think I just had a pretty good example of its delights.

Day 3 – Khwai Community Reserve – Okavango Delta – Botswana

After the rather hectic day yesterday, this morning was a much calmer affair, starting with a mokoro trip with BT. A mokoro trip must be the most peaceful game experience; the rain clouds from yesterday were breaking and the sunrise reflections on the water were just beautiful. We had, however, a few hitchhikers on the way! One tiny and one slightly large frog decided to hop on board for the ride, but hopped back out again before BT had a chance to identify them. Breaking the calm of the trip, was BT’s sudden excitement, he’d spotted movements in the reeds. It was a sitatunga, so hard to spot and very rarely seen. They live in the swamp lands and are inherently shy. Sadly, we couldn’t get a picture, but sometimes a memory is enough.

Next, we were wheels up again and off east to the Khwai Community Reserve, bordering the Moremi Game Reserve.

Well, arriving at camp, it was clear that there had been quite the commotion on the morning game drive.

Inside Moremi, five male lions had entered the territory of another pride, resulting in carnage. A young male cub was killed, a mother fled with 2 tiny cubs and the rest of the resident pride were scattered. Understandably, the guides and guests were keen to return to the crime scene that afternoon to see the fall out.

I think everyone was a bit nervous to be honest, the last thing they wanted to find was evidence that the invading pride had found the tiny cubs. However, we did find one of the main protagonists scouring and sniffing the bushes that had been the cubs’ hiding place prior to the ambush. But no cubs were found, so we all decided to believe that they had fled to safety in time and were now lying low in another faraway bush. (Hopefully!)

As the sun was starting to set, suddenly four of the original pride emerged looking pretty unscathed, but on high alert. Even 7 hours later, their attention was fixed back in the direction of the morning’s attack. I know this is nature and all this happens whether we are there to witness it or not, but it’s both heart stopping and heart breaking.

Day 4 – Setari – Okavango Delta – Botswana

One last early morning drive in Moremi Game reserve, did not disappoint. The regrouped pride from last night had retrieved another of its members, much to our relief. And as a parting hurrah, our guide Max, with the most eagle eyes imaginable, spotted a mother with two lion cubs resting underneath a bush. It was a gorgeous family interaction as they groomed and played with one another.

An early afternoon flight found me heading northwest into the heart of the ‘handle’ of the Okavango Delta Panhandle. My next destination Setari Camp, an all-water camp, and I was looking forward to a change of scenery and mode of transportation. After another warm and generous welcome, Seretse readied the boat that saw us gliding through the vast papyrus lined channels. There’s no doubt our guide was working in the right place, his passion and enthusiasm for this area is totally infectious. He even turned me into a birder!

The water channels in this area change constantly from tiny waterways, only just wide enough for the boat, to wide open basins where the hippos like to wallow. At every turn their distinctive ‘honking’ and water snorting can be heard as they bob down and appear in a totally different place, not unnerving at all!!

I’d never been up to this part of the delta before, but I have to say I really hope it’s not my last time and would urge everyone to stay for a little while and enjoy the tranquillity.

Day 5 – Hwange National Park – Zimbabwe

Early start this morning and no time for a game activity, so I must bid a very reluctant ‘goodbye’ to Setari. But now for a total change and new country, I’m heading to elephant country!!

Now don’t for one minute think there is a lack of elephants in Botswana, far from it, but this is next level stuff. I’ve arrived at Ivory Camp in Hwange and my guide, the fabulously named Zebedee, is the expert around here. It’s late in the day, so a drive on the Amalinda Private Reserve is this evening’s treat. In this area, although there are large areas of dense bush land, there is no shortage of wildlife. 200 + strong herds of buffalo can be found in these parts as well as predators, but this evening is the elephant show. A wide, open valley cuts through this reserve with interspersed water holes, and Zebedee knows well that these will soon be full of elephants. Tonight, however, they were a little shy and waited amongst the bushes until the sun was almost down to make their move. But then they came, in giant waves; groups of 40 then 50 then 60 until the noise of slurping and trumpeting while each jostled for a place was mesmerising. The downside of their tardiness to the water meant it was dark, so getting images to show you was slightly trickier, but trust me, it’s very special.

Day 6 – Hwange National Park – Zimbabwe

Well, all play and no work makes Sheena; in big trouble! Whilst I have been enjoying the wildlife, a few site visits were the plan for this morning. To be honest, getting to look around the lovely Khulu and Sable Camps was no hardship. But then all too soon, I was leaving Zebedee behind and heading off with Ellius and entering Hwange National Park. The early stages of the drive are through quite thick bush, but that never phases a safari guide, who was spotting steinbok and giraffe. Then slowly, car after car coming from the opposite direction brought news of a wild dog pack sighting.

This was a seventeen strong pack that Ellius was well familiar with and off we went in their direction. Sure enough, right where had been described, the pack sat resting under a large teak tree. Handily, the site was not far from our planned lunch stop, so instead we tucked into egg and cheese sandwiches washed down with Ginger Ale watching this ‘little’ family.

After lunch, off we went again, heading for Somalisa Camp. The closer we got, the elephant count rose and rose until we reached a waterhole just a few kilometres from camp, where we found a huge herd moving in and out of the waterhole, including a tiny elephant so small his ears were still pink!

Even though Somalisa Camp has a great fleet of safari vehicles, an armchair safari would have been more than enough. The waterhole in front of camp is a permanent mecca for all wildlife, with a stream of baboons, elephants, waterhogs and waterbucks making their way to and fro throughout the afternoon. But an afternoon drive with sundowners awaits, with Bryan our guide for the afternoon, bringing a wealth of elephants, baboons and a very snoozy Lion. However, once again it was the evening that drew the huge numbers of elephants to the waterhole. Whilst we ate dinner by candlelight, the elephants were a matter of feet away.

Day 7 – Mana Pools National Park – Zimbabwe

‘Knock, knock’ comes the 5am call, accompanied with fresh coffee left at my tent. Around the private concession of Somalisa are the sister properties of Somalisa Expeditions and Arcacia, and this morning was the perfect opportunity to have a quick site visit before my flight to Mana Pools. Arcacia shares a location with the main camp but is aimed more at families or smaller groups overlooking their own waterhole, and Expeditions is just a few kilometres away and has more of a mobile camp feel to it but with a good few creature comforts.

All too soon it was time to leave the elephants behind and head to Mana Pools. It’s about a 1h20m flight into Mana Airstrip flying over the vast man-made Lake Kariba.

Waiting at the airstrip for myself and the other guests was Trymore who whisked us off to Nyamatusi Camp. Now setting himself up to peak too soon, he casually pointed out 3 hyena resting up from the sun under a tree near the road within moments of setting off!

After that initial excitement, and our ‘stay briefing’ by the very congenial, Sheppard, I finally had time for a little R&R. The room overlooks the Zambezi, a beautiful sight, and the air-con is a welcome relief from the 40° plus heat. But the cute little private plunge pool was not something I could resist for long.

For the afternoon, we headed to the water of course. Why not, when the Zambezi is on your doorstep. Yona is our guide and along with his assistant canoe guides, they very carefully navigate the river that conceals just one or two hippos and crocodiles!!

As we paddled along, crocs shimmied from the banks to the water, elephants swam across in search of greener pastures, and hippos, well they snorted a lot and generally played hide and seek with us underneath the canoe!

After a lovely evening meal, I was just heading off to bed and making my plans for the next day when a beautiful young female leopard came through camp to say ‘goodnight’. ‘Night night’ lovely leopard.

Day 8 – Mana Pools National Park – Zimbabwe

Today is my penultimate stop on my whistlestop trip, and Trymore takes us out early this morning in search of lions before I move on. We’d heard the roaring throughout the night and fresh tracks around camp suggested they were not far away. A wonderful sight greeted us not far from camp, a male and 2 female lions lay out in the open enjoying the cool morning sunrise. However, there is a well-defined hierarchy in a lion pride and from the look of their bellies, the male had well and truly had his fill and the females maybe not so much, which meant they were still on high alert for a quick spot of breakfast. Despite their interest in a wondering Eland, the moment had past and as the heat was starting to rise, that put an end to their hunt for this morning.

I was heading towards my next camp, but there was still time to visit the renowned baobab tree at Chine Pool. Chine means Thursday in Shona and many years ago it was declared that the farmers did not work on Thursdays making this baobab a prime spot for locals to sit and discuss local issues and politics. There is just a small gap to get in and out of the tree, and this would be a test of whether I’d had too many afternoon tea cakes! Luckily, I managed to squeeze inside, then, thankfully, back out again!

‘Hello!’ the smiling face of Bryan, welcomed me to his safari vehicle and after another farewell, I was off to Zambezi Expeditions Camp.

Now in this area, there’s a rather famous resident, a large, tusked male named ‘Boswell’; he has mastered the skill of standing on his back legs to reach higher branches, a skill that he seems to have passed on to his fellow bulls. I arrive in camp in time for lunch and one of Boswell’s crew seem to have decided to join us.

This afternoon brings a game drive. Traversing to and from the Zambezi, we find a wealth of wildlife including 3 female lions, enjoying the shade as the intense heat of the day was starting to dissipate.

The evening was brought to a conclusion with sundowners on the banks of the Zambezi, whilst watching these lions repositioning themselves to a suitable vantage point with one eye on an Impala supper.

Day 9 – Mana Pools National Park – Zimbabwe

If you’ve been on any safari, you know that early morning ‘wake-ups’ are part of the deal. This morning was no exception, but I was even more excited because we were doing a walking safari.  This is a really special treat and we set off with Cloud and Bryan, with their trusty safari guide issue guns.

This is a chance to appreciate the smaller creatures and it was wonderful to find a pair of leopard tortoise, learn about the flora, and, very quietly, watch a female hyena and a few friends of the aforementioned Boswell.

The buzz around Mana Pools is always fuelled with speculation of the whereabouts of the dogs. We’re talking wild dogs. They had been out of the area for a little while, and rumour had it they were on their way back.

The rumours were not wrong! Sure enough, the dogs had been spotted by the wild dog conservation rangers, and we found them lounging amongst the bushes.

After the excitement of the dogs, I was introduced to Reggie, my last guide, and we headed off to my final camp of the trip, Kanga Camp.

There is some seriously dense woodland between the open plains of Mana Pools at the Zambezi and the more southerly areas of the park, so I was wondering what I might see. However, my first task on arrival was to eat lunch and I soon found I was not alone! Elephants, once again the stars of the show here, were drinking out of the plunge pool and pulling seed pods out of the tree above our heads.

The whole area is also home to several lions, hyena, and even leopard have been seen in these parts, and the afternoon game drive seen us encounter a couple of male lions.

But, whilst my pics are half decent, I’d urge you to check out the footage by Robert E Fuller, a renowned wildlife photographer and filmmaker, who we sent to this area just before I arrived.

Robert E Fuller visits Mana Pools

Day 10 – Thank you and ‘Goodbye’

Well, the time has come to say ‘Goodbye’, and what a trip it’s been. Leopards, lions, helicopter flip, more elephants than you can shake a stick at, amazing wild dog encounters and so much generous hospitality. A huge thanks to African Bush Camps, Amalinda Safari Collection, Setari Camps, Ker & Downey & Kwando Safaris for sharing your homes with me.

Until next time!!!

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