Up close and personal

For our last few days in Botswana we had decided to head to Tuli, on the border of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, to break up the long journey from the Okavango we spent a few nights at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary (http://www.khamarhinosanctuary.org.bw) near the town of Serowe. Khama is a small private community game reserve established in 1992 as a safe haven for white and black rhinos. Up until recently it contained pretty much all of Botswana’s rhinos (some have now been introduced into the Okavango) and the reserve continues to have a strong Botswana Defence Force presence to prevent poaching. In addition to the rhinos there is a decent variety of other animals and birds in the reserve. The camp grounds are really nice, with good (if sometimes a bit far away) ablution blocks and big private sites. There also some self catering chalets and a restaurant, which we didn’t get to check out, and (very unusually for Botswana) even a little shop selling necessities like beer and wood. We did an early morning rhino walk, which involves a drive with the trackers to look for tracks, followed by a 15 minute walk through the bush following the rhino. We ended up tracking the third set of rhino tracks we came across because the first two groups of rhinos were found right next to the road, which kind of defeated the purpose. We were treated to a few other rhino sightings later in the day when some groups of rhinos headed down to one of the waterholes on our afternoon drive. All-in-all a lovely stopover and well worth a couple of nights.

The white rhino cow and calf we saw on foot

From Khama it was a short drive to our final stop in Botswana, Tuli Block. This is an area that we’ve heard of before, but didn’t really know much about, other than that the elephants were notoriously badly behaved. It’s situated at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers and besides being rich in wildlife is also a major birding hotspot. Although it is split into different private areas there are very few fences and so game can roam freely. The scenery is lovely with lots a rocky hills and an amazing variety of different types of bush in a relatively small area. We decided to do a 3 day walking trail through Tuli Trails (http://www.tulitrails.com) in an exclusive area south of the Motloutse River run by a lovely couple, Stuart and Julie. Our stay was split between the fancier Serola Safari  Camp and the more rustic Mohave Bush Camp, both of which we loved. The camps aren’t as fancy as some of the other private lodges we stayed at earlier in our trip, but have all the comforts that you need (including great food) and best of all are unfenced so you often get some interesting visitors around camp – we had a hyena, an elephant and a duiker come visit us. Walking safaris are quite different from the standard driving safari, with the focus on different things, such as tracking, the smaller animals and insects and generally being out in the wild (although if you are lucky you also get to see some of the larger things on foot). Stuart was our excellent walking guide for the three days and taught us a lot about tracking, besides showing us some of the best things we’ve ever seen on foot. Unfortunately the lions we were tracking weren’t playing ball and spent their days in the neighbouring private areas, but this was more than made up by the leopard that we saw in full view at a distance of about 25m away in a small dry river bed. This incredibly rare sighting alone would’ve made the walking safari, but Stuart continued to spoil us with first an extremely close fly-by from two black eagles on a cliff overlooking the Motloutse River at sunset, and then with two different encounters with hyenas. The first was with two young (just over 1 year old) hyenas who had been separated from the rest of the pack and were spending the day chilling at their old den. Because they have been exposed to humans on foot while growing up, they were wary but not threatened by us, and so we were able to get within 3m of them while they lay resting outside the old den. However any sudden movements sent them scurrying back inside. After spending some time with the pups, we decided to continue looking for the new den, by looking for concentrations of tracks and nice rocky spots which would suit the hyenas. After climbing to the top of a ridge we spotted a small rocky outcrop in the middle of some dense bush which Stuart had never seen before, so we decided to have a look. On our way to the outcrop we started to find more and more tracks, and after a bit of searching found the den! At first we thought the pack had heard us coming and run away, but as we went around the corner we came across two large females who were guarding the other entrance to the den. The adults were very cautious of us, which meant that their very young pups were probably still in the den, so we didn’t hang around for too long before heading back to camp. The day ended with a dinner under the stars in the bush, a perfect last night in Botswana!

Walking in the Limpopo River bed
Mohave Bush Camp
Our simple bedroom at Mohave Bush Camp

 

The famous Tuli elephants

 

Checking out the black eagles
Up close black eagle

The black eagle nest

 

That’s pretty close…

That looks like a possible spot for the den….

 

A wary looking hyena mom….
Our amazing guide Stuart

We absolutely loved Tuli Trails, and will definitely be back, especially since it’s only a fairly easy 6 or so hour drive from Joburg.

 

Cumulative distance since leaving Johannesburg: 11 477km

Cumulative bird count: 268

New animals:

  • White rhino
  • Grey duiker
  • Klipspringer
  • Elephant shrew

Next stop: Mapungubwe in South Africa

 

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