Namibia – Birth, Death and Marriage

Marriage is a loose affair in Namibia, and for that matter many other parts of Africa. Polygamy is still practised in many tribes. It is a common custom that after years of marriage the husband will select a new wife to join his household. The number of wives depends on his wealth. A wealthy man owns a large herd of cows, goats and sheep that will enable him to pay the bride price. He will also need stamina to service multiple wives as there is an expectation that everyone will share his bed. Hence, families are large, complex and extend over many locations and tribes.

Family succession is an important issue that has to be resolved. The family always looks to the headman for leadership and to make decisions that will affect them all. These decisions can be trivial day-to-day issues such as family arguments, or important matters such as marriage and property disputes.

When the husband decides it is time to select his successor as head of his family, he elects the eldest son of his sister. He asks his nephew to come to his home and stay with his wife or wives for a couple of weeks so they can “get to know each other”. During this period, the husband leaves the village and goes off hunting or visiting distant friends and relatives. Meanwhile the nephew is taken into the family and is given all the rights and respect of the husband.

On the husband’s return, the nephew moves out of his uncle’s house and the uncle resumes his position as head of the household. On the death of the husband, the nephew comes to his house and takes his uncle’s wife or wives to his own house and they then join his family. Hence, in a tribe, everyone is related by blood or by adoption. There is a shared responsibility for the caring and nurturing of all children. No child is ever left homeless should something happen to his parents.

Another important issue is inheritance. This importantly determines the person’s status and ability to pay a larger bride price to attract more desirable women into the family. If inheritance is determined after death, should the man not have selected his nephew by the time he dies, the tribe believes that the dead person was “witched”. To determine who will then take the dead man’s wives, family and possessions, six eligible men of the tribe are nominated to carry the “witched coffin” until one of them feels that the dead man inside the coffin moves. This signifies that the ancestors have chosen his successor and the person who “felt the coffin move” inherits the wife or wives, house, cattle, possessions and children.

Many people have conveniently blended their traditional beliefs and values into Christianity. I met Jonas’ uncle Nicky. He and Jonas are like brothers as only a few years separate them in age – they went to school together and now both are guides at neighbouring camps in southern Namibia.

Nicky is devilishly handsome, with a wide warm smile that showcases his perfect white teeth. He is wearing a large gold cross around his neck and when I asked him how all these tribal customs rest with his Christianity, he replies,”he is very comfortable”. He can reside in the belief that both can co-exist. It seems that the people “cherry pick” what they like from both belief systems and blend them into a framework which dictates their current social and spiritual norms.

For example, when Jonas was born he was given two names. Those being: Jonas from his grandfather, who was a Christian and a tribal name of “Kakumbire”, which translate to “he didn’t pray when he passed away”. The name Kakumbire came about when Jonas mother was pregnant with Jonas, his grandfather was very ill and everyday it was his custom was to offer a Christian prayer. However, the day he died he did not pray and hence this sentiment was captured in Jonas’ Himba’s name, “Kakumbire” -“he didn’t pray when he passed away”.

Traditional spiritual customs are not the only things that co-exist with modern practices. Male circumcision is still widely practised. When the village has a number of children to be circumcised they call in the “specialist”. Each family has to buy a new blade and pay the specialist $100 Namibian (AUD20.00) each. After the deed is done, they apply a paste of paraffin and roasted herbs, which is then applied to the wound. This is slowly worn off as the cut heals.

However – the most painful tribal practise is the knocking out of the four bottom teeth in the females and males. Luckily this is not commonly practised by modern Himba but is still widespread in the tribal areas. The headman is designated to carry out this ritual by taking a nail and hammer or two stones and knocking them against the gums where the roots of the teeth are. This sounds horrifyingly painful, and no doubt it is. This practise occurs at puberty and is important part of the Himba culture that easily identifies them as Himba apart from wearing the distinctive traditional Himba clothing.

The traditional costume and grooming includes dressing the hair, particularly for the women. They braid their hair thickly with a mixture of red ochre and animal fat. These braids are finished off with large fluffy pompoms of hair at the ends. The women “bathe” their bodies all over with the red ochre/fat mixture, which makes their skin very soft and it becomes like a burnished brown colour. Their necks, ankles and arms are ornamented with a variety of jewellery, belts and metal work. They wear around their waist a small skirt of goat hide which covers their bottom and in front a small cloth for modesty.

Categories: Animals, Elephants, Giraffe, Hippos, Leopards, Lions, Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, White Rhino | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Namibia – Action at The Waterhole

Next stop is Ongava Camp just outside Etosha National Park in Northern Namibia. Ongava is set in 33,000 sq hectares of dry savannah grassland with large areas of mopane forests intersected by rocky volcanic crags, rugged forested hills and a myriad of dry creek beds. It is a thirsty, dusty landscape and the occasional waterholes are dry but patiently waiting for the next rainy season. During spring temperatures are in the mid 30’s and unbelievably 45 – 50 in summer. In summer it is just hot, hot, hot day and night!

My guide for three days is Bono, a very handsome man around 30 years old, with a quiet and respectful manner but with a quick turn of wit and a devilish sense of humour. I am fortunate to spend these days in his company learning so much about the African bush, the wonderful and unique animals, his life history and his future aspirations plus the challenges that face the people of Namibia.

The accommodation at Ongava is in 12 large comfortable tents with en suite bathrooms with open air showers (definitely not recommended for use after dark or before down as you may be bathing with a lion, a hyena or a leopard). The open air dining and bar area sits at the base of a dolomite hill and fronts onto a very busy waterhole where a procession of animals come day and night to quench their thirst.

The journey home to my tent each night is an edgy experience. I am accompanied by Rio who is the camp sharp-shooter and his trusty rifle as you never know what predator you may meet during your trek back to the safety of your tent.  We make our way from the main lodge to my tent which is the second to last tent in camp (more time for that hungry lion to size me up as his next meal). Rio is in the lead with rifle gripped in one hand and torch in the other. He walks slowly while shining the torch around the surrounding bush and trees as we make our way through the dark. The hot breath on his neck was not that of a lion bearing down on him but me only centimetres from his back gripping onto his arm for reassurance. Why is it always at times like these that nervous chatter turns to the weather?

The waterhole in front of the camp attracts numerous animals day and night. These include impalas and gazelle with their delicate fine legs and beautiful big eyes set in their pretty faces. They remind me of ballerinas “en pointe”. Their graceful movements and agility is remarkable as they prance and jump skittishly about. Bigger antelope such as the kudu are ever watchful and anxious, the males with their magnificent horns that spiral upwards of a metre. There are also the fantastic oryx with their black masked faces and horns that are straight black sabres pointing directly skywards for a metre. Hartebeest with deep red-brown coats and curved short horns. Zebras pushing and shoving each other like kids in a sweet shop trying to be first to the counter. Their shimmering coats of black and white stripes make it difficult to tell the number of individuals in the herd. Their markings “en masse” appropriately give credence to the collective noun for zebras which is “a dazzle”. And dazzle they do!

Then comes the graceful and so impossibly tall giraffe – they carefully splay their front legs apart so their heads can reach the water. I am amazed that such a tall and large beast can be so graceful. They have a slow and rhythmic walk and when running the break into a smooth canter.
Did you know that:
• they have a black tongue which is 18 inches long
• they are rarely heard but can moo, hiss, roar and whistle to communicate with one another
• giraffes have the longest tail of any land mammal – up to 8 feet long, including the tuft at the end
• ancient Romans and Greeks thought that the giraffe was a mix between a camel and a leopard. This is where their scientific genus name of “camelopardalis” comes from
• their heart is 2 feet long and weighs about 25 pounds and pumps about 16 gallons of blood/minute
• mother giraffes form a type of day-care for their young. One of the females in the herd will stay behind and baby sits all of the youngsters while the rest of the females go out foraging for food
• despite its extreme length, the giraffe’s neck is actually too short to reach the ground. As a result, it has to awkwardly spread its front legs or kneel on its front legs in order to reach the ground to drink water
• it is the tallest animal in the world – males stand 16-18 feet
• females use their hooves as weapons only to defend their young. They are strong enough to kill a lion, which is the giraffe’s only real predator
• they can gallop 31-37 miles per hour
• males are known as bulls and  females are known as cows
• giraffes rest standing up and only sleep 5 minutes at a time. When sleeping, the giraffe generally lies on the ground, tucking its front legs under itself, then curls its neck back and rests its head on its rump
• they spend between 16 and 20 hours a day feeding.

The waterhole is a dangerous place – this is where all the animals gather, the strong and the weak, the old and the young. Here is a great opportunity for the predators to strike and get a quick meal. Everyone is on guard and often sentries are appointed as lookouts, ears and tails twitch and there is much nervous shuffling of hooves but the need for water far out ways the fear of predators.

At night, there were some special visitors – a small group of white rhinos came to drink. There is a mother and baby who is around three years old and is already two thirds her size. They silently appear out of the darkness like silent grey ghosts. Their huge bodies and large square heads swinging low as they walk, their bulk is in stark contrast to their soft footed and silent approach.

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Giraffe, Leopards, Lions, Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, White Rhino, Zebra | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Oryx of Namibia – Beauty, Power and Grace

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In the southwest of Namibia, there is a narrow strip along the coast called Sossuslei. Here you will encounter the famous giant red dunes stretching as far as the eye can see. The wind has carved wonderful contours, ridges, gullies and spines into them. Behind the dunes are flat valleys sparsely covered in grass the colour of pale yellow gold. These plains are intersected occasionally with dry creek beds, where groves of small trees add a welcome ribbon of green to the landscape. In the distance, the stark rocky hills and mountains rise up steeply from the valley floor. They make a striking contrast to the grassy plains and are dramatically coloured in hues of black, blue, red and purple to create a rich palette.

This area is in the Namib Desert and is part of the 50,000 sq km Namib Nauluft National Park. This “sand sea” was formed when the ephemeral Tsauchab River was blocked by sand and now the dunes stretch for 400 km along the coast. To the west along the coast there is a cold current that runs the length coast, bringing cooler winds and a little moisture and the escarpment that runs parallel to the coast is some 100 km inland.

Kulala Wilderness Reserve is 40,000 hectares in area and home to oryx, ostrich, springbok and some small carnivores where occasionally, cheetah and leopards can be sighted. It is a dry place with a very low rainfall of less than 4 inches or 100 mls a year. Amazingly the animals have adopted to these harsh conditions and have developed many unique and ingenious survival mechanisms.

The climate is hot and dry in summer and cold and dry in winter. What little rain there is, will make the many ephemeral rivers and creeks run and this is a boon to many animals who are near death from thirst by this time, such as the magnificent oryx. They trek each day, or every second day, to the nearest source of water which can be hours away from the grass plains where they eat what little grass is left at the end of the dry season.

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The oryx are strikingly beautiful antelope and have developed some unique physiological changes to cope with the heat and lack of water. The blood that circulates from the heart to the body is then sent to their muzzle of their nose where it is cooled. This cooled blood is then circulated to their brain. Also, they do not urinate very often and have a specially adapted muscle in their anus that extracts moisture from their faeces before they defecate.

They live in herds and the newborn calves are able to run with the herd immediately after birth. Both males and females possess permanent horns and are of equal length. The horns are narrow, and straight and are lethal — the oryx has been known to kill lions with them. The horns also make the animals a prized game trophy, which has led to the near-extinction of the two northern species.

The social system of the oryx is unusual, in that non-territorial males live in mixed groups with females, or with females and their young. Groups are composed of 10 to 40 males and females of all ages and both sexes.

The dominance hierarchy among oryx is based on age and size. As they grow, calves test one another in what look like games, though in reality are tests of strength. As the hierarchy becomes established, the need to fight is reduced. Ritual displays replace actual contact, except when evenly matched individuals may have to fight to establish their rank. Along with lateral displays, oryx perform a slow, prancing walk and sometimes break into a gallop. When several males are making these displays, they may clash horns.

Herd composition in the wild constantly changes according to need. Oryx wanting to drink, for example, form a group to go to water, or females with young form a group that moves more slowly. The result is a social system that allows for individual needs but retains the advantage of group living. Oryx range widely over a large area, but their keen sense of smell alerts them to rain in the area, so that groups quickly assemble, often in herds of 200 or more, to feed on new growth.

Categories: Animals, Cheetahs, Leopards, Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Botswana – Big Cats – Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs

During an early morning game drive we are delighted to come across three cheetahs, a mother and two grown daughters, who are out scouting for a meal. These elegant and graceful cats are poetry in motion. They are long legged, with a small head and a very lithe body that is covered in black spots on a soft golden background and a white tummy. They have a long tail which stabilises them when they are flat out during a chase. Their faces are distinct; with black tear stains that run down either side of their nose from their large alert eyes.

Cheetahs lead a solitary life. The females are accompanied by their cubs for up to 18 months. They typically hunt in the day and will stalk prey such as small antelope and other small mammals and birds. They sight their prey, stalk it and when they are within a striking distance, they run their prey to ground, sometimes over a distance of 600 metres and reaching speeds of 90 kph.

The cheetah is described as graceful, but the leopard is best described as ferocious. The most secretive and elusive of the large carnivores, the leopard is also the most shrewd. Pound for pound, it is the strongest climber of the large cats and capable of killing prey larger than itself.

We found a solitary leopard who had the ambitious task of claiming a carcass of large elephant for his own. He determinedly circled the carcass to see off any other interlopers. He would then retire to a nearby tree to keep watch and see off any other scavengers.

Sitting in the fork of the tree he is a handsome and elegant specimen. More gold in colour than the cheetah and with his spots forming rosettes over his coat, his tail is shorter and banded with black rings. Usually he hunts at night and after the kill he will haul his prize into a tree to secure it from other scavengers such as hyenas and lions who may take the opportunity to steal the kill from him.

By the third day he has lost the battle to keep the elephant for himself and the carcass had become a windfall to a pack of hyenas, a variety of vultures and marabou storks. These storks are sometimes called the “Undertaker Bird” due to their shape from behind: cloak-like wings and back, skinny white legs, and sometimes a large white mass of “hair.” They are certainly ugly, but amazingly reaching a height of 152 cm (60 in) and a weight of 9 kg (20 lb) with a wingspan of 3.7 m (12ft).

Everyone who comes on safari has lions on their watch list. We were not disappointed as we had our first sighting of lions on day three. Two young males were making their way purposefully across the savannah. They were not yet mature enough to be sporting the impressive black manes of large mature lions. These boys were living dangerously as they had intruded on the home territory of a resident pride. They were not to be deterred from their quest and were keen to find some new females who they could call their own.

While we were watching these two males, along came a lone female and it was evident that she was attracted to the younger of the two boys. However, the older of the two tried to impress upon her that he was the better choice. After much roaring, snarling and paw swatting, each of the three lions retreated to the comfort of a nearby tree to contemplate the situation in solitude. This standoff continued for about an hour, during which time, one or other the males would saunter over to the female and try his luck with her. These “beauty contests” were routinely rebuffed by the female who showed absolute indifference and a certain amount of aggression.

It was intriguing to watch their silent communication; tails moved in a series of patterns from slow waving to agitated twitching. There was a great deal of posturing, yawning and baring of enormous fangs. Finally, after a persistent charm offensive, the larger male had made some ground in wooing the female. She allowed him to mate with her but this appeared to be only a dress rehearsal for the real thing. When they finally get serious, they will mate about four times an hour over two – three days.

The lion is the most impressive cat and is the largest of the African carnivores. They are perfectly camouflaged for the grassy landscape as their coat is a pale tawny colour with white bellies. Their tail has a large black tuft at the tip. This king of beasts, weighs around 190 kgs and is the only predator of the dangerous Cape Buffalo and will take other large mammals such as a zebra and wildebeest and occasionally try his luck with hippos, giraffe and young elephants.

Unlike other cats they live in a pride with a dominant male, several females and cubs.

It is hard to spot a lion as they spend 20 hours of the day asleep and are most active at night and at dawn. The pride usually consists of three to six closely related females and their cubs. They are attended by one to six related adult males who have access to the pride’s females. However there are often savage fights to drive out these males by the dominant male.

The females are the hunters for the pride, and when successful, the male is the first to feed and their females and the cubs feed on what is left over.

During the afternoon game drives, as the sun sets, we stop for the traditional ritual of “sundowners”. This safari ritual has been carried out in Africa since white man arrived in pith helmets and armed with a gun and a bottle of gin. We stop at a tranquil spot with a clear view of the surrounding area to make sure that there are no predators in the nearby bush, a table is set up and drinks are poured. We then turn our attention to the glory of the African sunset – the most beautiful in the world! The sun increases in size as it nears the horizon and as it drops through the heat haze the colour changes to a dazzling shimmering gold with rays of red and orange streaking the deep blue and purple sky. This giant glowing orb sinks quickly below the horizon and nightfall descends on the landscape. There is an immediate chill in the air and a carpet of stars dot the sky as the night blackens. The heat of the day evaporates and coolness covers the land.

At this time there is an exchange of shifts in the Delta’s wildlife, the beasts and birds of the day find their beds and roosts for night and the animals and birds of the night stir. As we drive back to camp, we spot eyes in the night reflecting in the headlights. Sometimes the chase is on to follow these eyes in the night. It could be lion hunting, or other nocturnal critters looking for their next feed. Such amazing creatures such as honey badgers: they are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness. They have been known to savagely and fearlessly attack almost any kind of animal when escape is impossible, reportedly even repelling much larger predators such as lions. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate their thick skin.

Back home in our tent we have a welcome hot shower and then, repair to the bar for pre-dinner drinks, a fantastic meal and finally nightcaps around the camp fire telling tales of the exciting discoveries of the day. Then we drop off to sleep with the sounds of the African bush loudly serenading us.

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Cape Buffalo, Cheetahs, Elephants, Leopards, Lions, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Botswana – Safari Adventures, Okavango Delta – Part 2

The Okavango Delta is a vast inland delta in the Kalahari Desert that drains each year into a swamp covering up to 1500 sq km. In January – February the rains that fall in Angola drain 1200km into the Delta, which means that for the next few months there is abundant ground water and vegetation that attracts wild life and thousands of birds. The Delta is a unique landscape in all of Africa and varies from vast grass savannahs, dry sandy desert, wooded areas, low-lying islands (that twice yearly become isolated refuges for many animals during the flooding), vast marshes, channels and lagoons.

Our camp, Sandibe, is perched on the edge of one of these vast lagoons that is filled with papyrus and reeds. The sleeping quarters at the camp consists of eight thatched cottages with canvas sides where large insect screened windows catch any breeze. Attached to the tent is an “en suite” bathroom which is an open air (complete with monkeys and geckos – actually the monkeys really have a taste for soap). The room is well furnished with a really comfortable queen sized bed which I find hard to leave on those chilly mornings when the sun has not crested the horizon.

Just a few minutes walk from your tent along a sandy path is the main “building”. This large, open sided space houses the bar (well used when you come home after a game drive hot and parched), the dining area and several squishy lounges and comfy chairs where you can sit and let the wildlife pass you by. No animal is deterred from venturing close by. Elephants freely stroll through the camp, knocking over the fence around the swimming pool, but are careful to manoeuvre gently and gracefully around the outdoor furniture without ever knocking over a chair.

Our arrival is heralded by a chorus of African women singing a welcome song and providing cold towels, used to refresh faces and hands which are now covered in fine Kalahari dust.

Our host, Kate, gives us the camp overview and instructions that will be consistently reinforced no matter where we are in Africa: don’t go outside your tent at night, wait to be escorted to the main building before dawn and after dusk, stand still if you are on the path and an elephant is close by, don’t run if you see a lion or leopard in camp (running means prey and you could be the next meal), use the mosquito net and insect repellent liberally every day, don’t leave anything outside your tent because the hyenas will eat it or the baboons and monkeys will be wearing it.

We easily adapt to the pattern of camp life: wakeup call at our tent is 5:30am, collection for breakfast at 6am, into the jeep for the morning game drive at 6:30am and ready to see the sunrise at 7am. Usually there is a stop at a picturesque bush location around mid-morning for a coffee/tea and a “wee” stop at a location that is free from man-eaters and other potential dangers. I am reassured that the guide will scout out the bush toilet to ensure that there are no nasty surprises lurking in the foliage or behind the anthill.

Late morning we return to camp for lunch and a very welcome cold beer to wash away some of the Kalahari sand that is in our throats. Following lunch it is time to return to the tent for a siesta, take a dip in the pool or sit on your veranda and enjoy the quiet (apart from the grunting, snorting and bellowing of the hippos) and watch the passing parade of wildlife and the birds that dart about in the trees.

At 3pm we gather for a cup of tea before heading out for the afternoon/evening game drive. Our guide, Gee is full of information and quickly becomes our new friend. We exchange jokes and share stories of our different homelands, customs and cultures.

Gee is in his mid-40’s with a wife and three daughters. They live in Maun, a 4 – 5 hour drive over incredibly rough, sandy roads. Usually he works for two months and then gets two weeks off where he returns to the family. His aspiration is to retire from guiding when he is 50 and grow vegetables on a plot of land that he has bought outside Maun. To supplement this, he will take private guiding jobs. His knowledge of trees and plants and the animals and birds of the Delta seems limitless and he recounts many amazing stories and opens our eyes to the secrets of what is the African bush.

As we drive through this vast open land Gee is able to recollect every bush, tree, anthill, swamp and stream as though these landmarks are indelibly printed on his mind like a road map. As we drive along, bouncing over rutted, pot holed roads or sandy dredges where the wheels sink up to the axles, he is forever examining the horizon, peering behind every tree, bush and blade of grass to point out some animal or bird that is so well camouflaged that it takes us a few minutes to focus on where his finger is pointing.

Next blog we discover the big cats…

Categories: Animals, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, Hippos, Leopards, Lions, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Botswana – The Okavango Delta – Part 1

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The Okavango Delta, Botswana
After rendezvousing in Johannesburg with my friends from Australia, we spent a night in a hotel that was distinctly reminiscent of Las Vegas in the 70’s. Funnily enough it was attached to the casino as well. The next morning dawned and everybody was in a high state of excitement – we are going on safari! Next stop Maun, Botswana.

The Maun International Airport is a small, makeshift building that contains Customs and Immigration and Departures and Arrivals as all airports do. However in this instance, it is difficult to tell who is coming and who is going, who the officials are, and who the passengers are. A mass of humanity from all corners of the globe huddle in this small overcrowded room. The place is teeming with people of all colours and ethnic backgrounds and countries of origin – with one united purpose – to find a plane. Somehow out of this chaos we find our onward connection.

We transit through the next security checkpoint and as usual, my metal knees (due to knee replacements) set off the metal detector. When I look up, the three male security guards look back at me in bewilderment and then at the machine and each other in surprise. I can read the looks on their faces and imagine what is going through their minds… “what the hell are we to do now? Pat down this woman? Ignore the metal detector? or, Call a supervisor?” They choose the path of least resistance, all looking at me with big smiles and say quietly under their breath…“ Please just move on”. I look into their eyes and I can see they mean … “please just go away and we will pretend that this never happened”. Gladly I move on and they turn their attention to the mass of people pressing to get through the gate.

At last, we make our way across the sweltering tarmac to our plane – a single-engined 12 seater. As the engine revs up, the body of the plane starts to shake, the engines whine, people grip onto their seat belts and we are off. The excitement mounts knowing we are off into the Okavango Delta and the African bush where wonderful and exciting adventures await us.

The 40-minute flight passes quickly as we fly over vast plains and lightly wooded ridges. Everywhere looks deserted. The vegetation is sparse and many trees are devoid of leaf and the ground is bare of grass. Occasionally there is a glimmering pool of water or a swamp with tracks leading to it from all directions. The shout goes up as we spot our first animals – elephants, giraffes and hippos dot the landscape. This is a foretaste of the amazing and exotic wildlife that we will see in the ensuing days.

The plane slowly descends from 10,000 feet and the bush airstrip below is a ribbon of bleached white earth studded with huge clods of elephant dung. The pilot buzzes the strip a couple of times to make sure that there is no game that can wander onto the strip when he is touching down. Flying into elephant poo is one thing, but a whole elephant in the propellers would certainly cause a mess on the windscreen.

We are met by our guide for the next three days – Gee. His big smile greets us and we are warmly welcomed in a truly hospitable African way. The hour long trip to camp takes us through dry savannah grassland which is punctuated by Camel Thorn, which is the stereotypical African tree. It has that signature umbrella shape with thick green foliage where the animals seek the cool shade in the heat of the day. It is a welcome variation against a dry, golden landscape of parched grass.

Occasionally we cross swamps and streams where the water from the last rainy season. The Okavango Delta has two faces: dry and wet. The “dry” winter officially runs from May to October; and the “wet” summer from November to April. These oases of cool water are a respite from the ever increasing heat of the day. Many animals inhabit these pools permanently, whilst others make their way to them twice a day to quench their thirst. These pools and swamps are the lifeblood and beating heart of the Delta.

The thirstiest of animals is the elephant. When really thirsty, they drink up to 120 litres a day. Apart from drinking water, they love the pools to bath in and to create mud baths where they spray themselves with a muddy slurry which acts as protection from biting insects and the sun. The elephants are majestic and amazing creatures and we are delighted to see so many of them and to study their habits and family life at such close quarters.

Did you know:-
• elephants are right or left handed? They use the tusk of their preferred side as a tool for digging, foraging and investigating potential sources of food
• the cows and calves form a cohesive group and spend their days and nights together. When bull calves reach their teenage years and become a nuisance in the group, they are chased out and join a bachelor group
• the soles of the elephant’s feet are padded and allow for silent movement
• they eat 150 kgs a day of vegetation; mostly grass and only 40’% of this is assimilated, hence the enormous piles of elephant poo everywhere. They excrete up to 100 kgs of dung per day
• the cows gestate for 22 months – the calves are 120 kg when born and are weaned at 3 – 8 years. Just before the next calf is born
• they live to 60 years
• they feed up to 18 hours a day and when sleeping they stand or lie down. The bulls with large heads and heavy tusks will often lie down beside a termite mound and use it as a pillow
• their trunk is like an arm with fingers and it is so dextrous that it can pick up a single seed and it is strong enough to uproot trees
• as their chewing teeth wear away, they are replaced from behind by a series of six in each jaw.

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Hippos, Leopards, Lions, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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