Mombo Trails

Monday 17 July: Sylvia

It was great to catch up with my sister, Debbie, her husband, Dave, my niece, Joanna and my stepmum, Leonie, when we arrived in Johannesburg yesterday evening. After a few hassles – somehow I had booked and paid for 7 rooms instead of 3 – we enjoyed reconnecting over G&T’s and a snack.

This morning we met again for a leisurely (read very slow service) breakfast before walking the 50m or so across the road to check in for our Air Botswana flight to Maun. Once there we transferred to a Cessna Caravan for a quick flight across the Okavango Delta to our home for the next four days, Mombo camp. This has to be one of my favourite places in the world with impeccable service and outstanding wildlife. Wilderness Safaris have run the concession in this area for many years and most animals are completely used to the vehicles so we get to watch them up close acting completely naturally.

The old Mombo camp, where I have stayed several times before, is being completely rebuilt so this time we are at Mombo Trails, a temporary camp set up in the style of traditional old safari camps – no raised walkways, but fabulous tents and central areas all overlooking the flood plains with numerous plains game wandering around. We were met at the airstrip by our guide, Doc, and headed straight out for our game drive as no night drives are allowed in this area. Roger, Debbie, Dave and I have all experienced this before but for Joanna and Leonie it was all new. None of us were disappointed. We had already seen several elephants and giraffe from the air and almost around the first corner we came across a large dazzle of zebra. Then numerous giraffe as well as warthog, impala and several elephants.

We had heard there was a mother cheetah with three cubs in the area that had made a kill in the morning so we headed out to look for them. As we got nearer the white-backed vultures started to swoop in – it looked like the cats were on the move. The reason soon became clear as we rounded a corner to see two large spotted hyena squabbling over what was left of the remains. They had obviously scared the cheetah away. But not far, we soon found them and spent some time following them in the glorious African sunset as they looked for a safe place to spend the night.

It was nearly dark as we headed back to camp, when we saw some more hyenas definitely on a mission. Then we heard the distinctive cries of hyenas in action and bounced off through the bush, ending up surrounded by hyenas as they crunched and cracked their way through a fresh impala carcass. We are not sure who did the killing, them or someone else, but they certainly made short work of the meal.

Arriving back in camp we were greeted with fresh G&T’s and then treated to some traditional song and dance before enjoying a fabulous dinner.


Tuesday 18 July 2017: Roger

At 6.30 we were were escorted to breakfast by our guide Doc. There are a number of ‘torch only armed’ security guards stationed along the track. In the tent there is a radio and an aerosol can with a horn on it to call for help should a friendly lion wander in to stay the night. Will, our table waiter, told us that recently an old deaf guy mistook this for mosquito spray. Guards and guides came running to the rescue. It’s not unusual to see lion foot prints in the sandy track leasing to the dining tent.

After breakfast we boarded the land-cruser heading east into the rising sun.

Only a few minutes from camp we run into a pretty calm bunch of elephants grazing on a rather thorny tree. A black backed jackal moved through the grass in the background. The elephant take only part of the bush and then move on to let the bush recover.

Just down the road we run into the Matata pride. The boss lion had been given a hiding the previous day by his brother, Stumpy, in order to steal a lioness from him. This pride lies around relaxing and sleeping only meters from us.

The car battery dies while we are in the middle of the pride, another vehicle gives us a push start and we head away from the pride. A vehicle with a new battery turns up and a change is made. Doc checks behind a bush so Debbie, escorted by Dave, could relieve herself. Just then a bunch of elephants come strolling through the bush; Sylvia points them out to Doc, who is busy helping with the battery. “Don’t worry, they’re my friends” he says.

We drive around and come across Stumpy (end of tail was removed by croc), who is giving his attention to his new conquest while two others try to sleep. Elephants wander past the lions not bothered by there presence.

 

We drive around looking at various animals that roam the delta. Impala,so well groomed with nice neat lines and colours, are in large and small mobs. The batchelor males hanging out together. I wonder what prompted Chev to come up with the name impala for such a large cumbersome car.

 

We see warthogs in a scuffle.

Tsessebee hang out in the shade.

Towers of giraffes wandered around often looking over tall bushes to watch what we were doing, their gait awkward as their right legs and then the left move together, giving the impression they are about to topple over.

We arrived back at the camp, passing a pond that was a few days ago a stream. Marabou storks and white pelican congregated to consume the trapped fish.

As we ate a lavish lunch hundreds of animals grazed on the grassy plains in front of the camp. After lunch we headed north along the east side of the plains by the camp, traveling alongside a river full of Nile crocodile, some sunbathing on the banks.

A large variety of game grazes on the plains, several in each group on alert for predators.

A red lechwe buck stands on an island debating the moment to cross in case a large crock is lying in wait.

Baboons hang out in the surrounding trees, young ones knocking off fruit for the older ones to pick up on the ground. Young ones ride on their mother’s backs like cowboys with high-backed saddles.

A pied kingfisher hovers above the water before adopting a strange shape to make a vertical dive on an unsuspecting fish.

Birds of prey soar overhead seeking their targets.

A magpie shrike darts from tree to tree feeding on insects

We can see our camp from the flats, the fancy tents standing out on the bush edge.

We get a call that Pula, a female leopard’s tracks have been spotted nearby. Not far south we spot the tracks on the sandy road. Driving through the scrub we find her chewing on a recently caught impala. She is totally oblivious to the vehicle, not even lifting her head to look as we pull up three meters away to watch her tear apart her prey. Soon she lifts her head and begins to drag the impala carcass towards a tree.

As the light fades, hyenas appear from the scrub and the leopard slinks off into the bush, leaving her catch to them. As the sun sets there is the sound of cracking and crunching as the hyenas consume the carcass bones and all. A marabou stalk watches over the proceedings as we drive back to the camp for dinner.

 

As we dine we hear lions making a kill a few hundred meters from the camp. This is soon replaced by the sound of hyenas laughing as they call the pack to take the prey from the lions. The guards are on full alert as we are escorted back to our tents. Apparently it works like this. If they spot the red eyes of a lion keep the light on its eyes so its night vision is blinded and it will retreat into the darkness. These guys seem to know what they are about as no one has been injured in these camps by wild game in the past twenty plus years.


Wednesday 19 July: Sylvia

It was not quite so cold this morning as we headed back out for another adventure. We headed north out of the camp and had only gone a few metres when we came across a small group of kudu and impala running and leaping over a termite mound. With the sun rising behind them they looked quite spectacular – as Debbie put it, “it almost looks like the cow jumping over the moon!”

We also spotted a tiny baby giraffe and, not far away, a lone hyena sniffing out the area as he headed home to sleep for the day, passing mere inches from the front of the land cruiser on his way.

Around the corner was a huge herd of zebra with the odd impala scattered in for good measure. As we continued we spotted large dust clouds, which on closer inspection turned out to be huge flocks of red-billed quelea flying in formation as they fed on seeds from the ground. They were a truly impressive sight, particularly with the sun catching them and made a fairly impressive sound as well.

Next we stopped to watch a large troop of baboon playing and grooming each other, small ones riding piggy-back on their mothers. They started making their distinctive, barking alarm calls and we spotted the Moporota pride, a very healthy looking pride of six female and one stunning male lion and two cubs, wandering across the flood plain looking for somewhere to settle down for the day. The male, named Bankara which means big, is a particularly impressive specimen with a huge, thick mane and no scars on his face. They were sleeping in the sun and we were hoping to find rhino or cheetah so we didn’t linger too long.

We drove on passing a number of the usual suspects and then stopped to enjoy morning tea beside a hippo pool, to a chorus of wonderful grunts and groans. It is always great to stretch our legs and get off the vehicle for a bit. The hippo like to grunt and yawn and show us how big and menacing they are. There was also a lot of wonderful bird life by the pool, including my favourite, the malachite kingfisher, and some saddle-billed storks.

We decided to go and check out the cheetah and cubs we had seen a few days ago and as they were up and hunting spent some time following them. The cubs were very cute, pouncing on each other and playing, just like you would expect kittens to. As it got later Doc said that they had set up a surprise bush lunch for us but as the cheetah were still hunting he suggested we could ask them to bring the lunch to us instead. We all agreed and about 45 minutes later, just when the cheetah were laying down for a rest, Sepho, another guide, showed up with a delicious lunch which we ate in the shade of a large acacia tree.

We stayed with the cheetah all afternoon but unfortunately there was very little prey around. Mombo is an amazing place. There are usually impala around every corner but this day they were all in hiding. The poor cheetah had to go to bed hungry.

As it got dark we headed back towards camp, enjoying another magnificent sunset and spotting a side-striped jackal along the way. As we rounded a bend Doc stopped the vehicle and we were all thrilled to spot a black rhino – it was nearly dark but still great to see before it turned around and headed back to the bush.

Back at camp we enjoyed another fantastic meal, with the sounds of the bush resonating in the background – lions roaring, baboon barking and … just as our meal was finishing we heard, very close to camp, hyena squabbling, which could only mean one thing – fresh meat. Yompe, one of the other guides headed out in the land rover and came back to report that they were fighting over an impala – we are not sure if they killed it or stole it off the lions we had heard. Needless to say, there was no way Debbie was walking to the tent so we all piled on the back of a golf cart and were driven to our rooms in style.


Thursday 20 July 2017: Roger

We head out under the clear blue sky. It’s winter here which means it never rains; we haven’t even seen a cloud. Just outside the camp we come across a few lions from the maporota pride we had seen yesterday. We spot the male heading down the plains to collect his pride as they were too close to the border of another pride. The somewhat disobedient females took a while to obey before eventually heading north.

We headed south in search of the wild dogs. Along the way we stopped by a large baobab tree. Sylvia mentions the large baobab tree we had seen in the Kalahari Desert a couple of years ago. Doc said that was the area where he was brought up. Unfortunately the tree has now fallen down. He and his brother used to put wooden spikes in and climb and play in the top, much to the concern of his parents – not surprisingly as it was 40 odd meters high. One night when his father was away at the markets his uncle took them to the tree to let them hear the ghost that lived in the tree. They were laughing in disbelief until when approaching the tree a voice came out of the tree “I am the ghost of the tree! If you children ever come and climb me again something really bad will happen to you” In spite of being ridiculed at school they never climbed the tree again. It was not until they were in there twenties that their father finally owned up to being the ghost that night.

Moving on we spotted a few different birds. A “go-away” bird or grey lowry, alerts game of approaching danger.

Impala show off their jumping skills.

Sand grouse blend into the grass to avoid the birds of prey.

A swallow-tailed bee-eater takes flight as we pass.

Bateleur and African Hawk-eagles soar overhead looking for prey

As we head south to the dogs we run across what appears to be a giraffe kindergarten. About eight young giraffe have been left with a couple of adults while the others have gone off to feed.

A little further down the track we run across Stumpy, a large bull elephant. Yes, you guessed it, a crocodile got the end of his tail. I had visions of a croc flying through the air with the end of a tail streaming from its mouth.

Doc stops in Stumpy’s path; he walks almost right up to the vehicle before stepping back and walking around. “Don’t worry” says Doc, “he is my friend”. He then goes on to explain how hunted elephants have been known to beat people to death with a stick and then bury or throw logs on top of them. Stumpy, clearly quite relaxed around us and about 50 years old, has a trainee teenager about 14 with him teaching him the trade. He continues feeding as though we are not even there as do the rest of the animals around here. He reaches high into the tree, stripping the leaves from selected branches, somehow holding them and placing them into his mouth spilling few. His large molars are visible as he reaches up.

A little further down the track two teenage bulls shield and direct their little sister towards their mum as we approach. She takes a drink as mum looks at us, ears flapping. Doc stops the vehicle but leaves the engine running. Normally he switches it off so we can take better pictures. These ones are not so relaxed. Her trunk rises with a loud trumpet and we drive slowly off finding the rest of the family just around the corner on the other side of the track. A young bull trumpets as we drive on. I think our invisibility shield must have dropped on that occasion.

We arrive at the lair where the wild dogs are hiding the pups. The 17 or so dogs are lying around on sentry duty, protecting the area. They soon the get up and become alert as one of the pups appears briefly outside the hole. There is an alpha father and mother; the rest of the pack are just in support for the raising of the pups.

We head up a different track on the way home, barred at the river crossing as a bull elephant takes in his daily intake of around 200 litres of water. This is quite a long process as he blows bubbles at the end to clean his trunk and washes out his mouth before curling his trunk around his tusks as he moves away just to let us know who is in charge. A vehicle from another camp who has also been waiting crosses towards us.

Soon we stop at a pond occupied by a lone loser hippo, a male that has lost and been driven from the pod by a tougher male.

On the way back to camp we see more came and bird life.

African Hoopoe

Wattled Plover

A large male ostrich grazes the plains while mum sits on the eggs. They swap over at night, when his black feathers will provide better camouflage.

A kori bustard, the national bird, is soon spotted. Now protected, these are the world’s heaviest flying bird, easily hunted as they need a runway to take off. 

We arrive back late again for lunch. Doc is far more interested in showing us stuff than watching the clock – he is a great guide.

After lunch we head south west spotting first banded mongoose, then some vervet monkeys.

We then get a call that Blue-eyes, a large male leopard is hunting nearby. As we approach he is in full hunting mode, crouched by a termite mound. Less than a hundred-metres away a group of impala stand under a tree separated only by some thick scrub. As Blue-eyes starts his stalk a go-away bird sparks up as do some helmeted guinea fowl perched in a tree above.

Their warning calls alert the impala who snort and retreat. Blue-eyes moves back and lays on the termite mound.

Suddenly he is alert as a family of warthogs return to their burrow on the other side of the mound. Blue-eyes leaps across trying to take a young one. There is a cloud of dust but no catch. A confused young warthog appears in front of us looking shocked.

After the failed attack Blue-eyes lay around the mound for a while before moving south’ marking his territory along the way. As he passed the odd snorting impala along the way he would raise his tail to let them know he was not hunting just now.

One thought on “Mombo Trails

  1. Paula says:

    thanks for sharing, amazing.

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