Not that African termites aren't fascinating creatures, they really are. It's just that bugs don't float my boat (well, except my beloved honeybees here in Indiana...) and certainly not what we paid bu-ku bucks for a safari to see.
As we left camp, our first stop was at a termite mound and Brooks shared more of his incredible knowledge with us. The man even knows insects!
Termite mounds are EVERYWHERE in Botswana's Okavango Delta, like big fingers pointing skyward...in fact, they are what creates the islands in the delta. So yes, they are amazing...but not the most exciting beginning for our last evening game drive in Botswana.
Often the most amazing adventures have humble origins. Such was the case that afternoon...little did we know what God had in store for us!
Wild dogs are some of Brooks's favorite animals, and Kim and I have come to really love them too. He thought maybe we should go check on the Chitabe pack...13 adults and 13 pups...and see what they were up to. We drove to the den and found the adults lazing around in the late afternoon sunshine.
Not much action here at first. But Brooks knows that wild dogs often hunt in the evening, so perhaps we might get lucky enough to follow them on a hunt.
And he was right. After a short time, following some unseen silent signal, the dogs all got up and decided to move.
When they move, we move.
But, as you can see, they have a distinct advantage. Even our powerful and amazing Land Rover has a hard time negotiating the thick wooded brush, especially when the dogs are trotting. Even at a trot they cover ground quickly, making it impossible for us to follow directly behind them through the dense bush.
Brooks cut around on the road hoping to catch up with the dogs, but we lost them for a moment and he got out to stand on the Land Rover to see if he could spot them.
There were a few giraffes in the area, and they will keep an eye on a pack of wild dogs moving through. So by looking the direction the giraffes were watching, Brooks was able to locate the wild dogs and we were off once again.
As a prelude of events to yet unfold, this group of giraffes will not be having a good evening very, very soon....
By the time we caught up with them, the dogs had already covered a couple of miles so they stopped for a water break.
...and then they were off hunting once again.
We were grateful that for awhile they chose to follow a road...
...but then they veered off...
...and picked up their pace to a flat-out run as they began chasing an impala (you can see him kicking his heels as he flees!).
Brooks got excited! "They're chasing! They're chasing!" And quickly threw the Land Rover into high gear to try to keep up with them. He realized he couldn't follow them through the bush, so he took the road that wrapped around hoping to catch up with them.
When a guide, who sees these animals every day, gets excited, you know you're seeing something special! But I will tell you, there is no photographing when you're pursuing chasing dogs. It's all we could do to hang on and keep our gear in the vehicle!
It was an exhilarating few minutes, but the impala escaped and by the time we came around to meet up with the wild dogs they were regrouping...
...and getting another drink. They had already traveled I'm guessing 3 or 4 miles away from their den in a very short time.
Another guide had followed Brooks and this wild dog seemed curious about the wild dog logo on the side of the Rover.
Aren't the dogs' markings just spectacular?! And nearly all of them have white on the ends of their tails.
By this time, it was about 6:15 and the sun was about to set. And let me tell you, when the sun sets in the African bush it gets dark in a hurry!
As we were sharing our disappointment that we didn't get to witness a successful hunt, Brooks heard a baboon alarm-calling in the distance and thought perhaps a leopard was in the area. I know he has had extensive training, but Brooks has instincts that just can't be taught. Not only are his senses extra-keen, he seems to just instinctively "feel" things. I can't explain it, but I'm definitely in awe of that gift.
So when Brooks suggests we do something, we give him the go-ahead. We definitley trust his instincts!
Despite the nearly-full moon, the low light prevented me photographing much of what was to transpire in the next several minutes. So you'll have to rely on my story-telling as I try to relate what we witnessed as we followed Brooks's instincts.
Things happened so quickly, it gets a bit confusing...all of this transpired in the span of about 10 minutes....
Brooks drove us toward the baboon sounds and sure enough, a leopard was slinking around along the edge of a nearby wooded area. We got a few glimpses of the leopard before it disappeared into the dark forest amidst a squawking troupe of baboons.
Realizing that we wouldn't be able to follow the leopard, about this time Brooks got a call from the other guide (who had stayed with the wild dogs) that the dogs had gone chasing again and made a kill, but by the time we arrived at the spot of the kill (again...it was dark and we could barely see anything except with the Rover headlights and a spotlight) they had abandoned their kill to a hyena who quickly picked up the dead antelope and ran off with it because, Brooks said, there were lions in the area that scared them away.
We should have been heading back to camp by now (dinner was served at 8 pm), but Brooks wanted to find where the dogs were before leaving for camp.
Driving along, Brooks caught movement off to the side of the road and we were surprised to see 3 lionesses and 5 cubs cross the road in front of us,...
...casually and unhurriedly walking into the bush.
We continued toward camp for several minuteswhen suddenly Brooks heard dogs yelping in the distance and quickly wheeled the Rover around to follow the sound. We found the dogs milling around in an open area, sniffing around and acting unusually twitchy. Brooks scanned the area and saw, up ahead by the road, a couple of lions and something big...
(This is your warning: graphic photos ahead. If you are squeamish at the brutal reality of survival in the bush, you may want to stop reading and check back on my blog tomorrow...)
Three lionesses, the very same ones that had crossed the road in front of us just moments before, had killed an adult female giraffe!!!
What an unexpected twist to our evening! We barely missed witnessing the kill itself, and the lions had just begun eating it. Brooks was as excited as we were! Seeing something like this is a thrill on a safari, a true insight into survival in the wild. Brooks told us that this pride were giraffe specialists, that they were experts on taking down giraffes. Giraffes have a powerful kick, but the lionesses had learned to work together to attack a giraffe simultaneously from each side while the third lion went for the killing blow. Apparently different prides have different specialties that mother lions teach their young, and this pride was good at hunting giraffes.
Wow. Just WOW!!!
We watched as one of the lionesses left the carcass and disappeared into the nearby bush. Brooks told us to listen carefully, and we heard her deep purring sound and soon 5 cubs emerged to join her and she led them to their dinner.
We watched them eat, 8 lions in all, and too soon Brooks, knowing we were already very late for the camp dinner, reluctantly said we needed to leave. I think he would have loved to stay out there all night and see what drama would play out under the full moon. A big kill like that is unusual and provides coveted meals for many animals. We'd already seen a couple of hyenas approach and one of the lionesses quickly chased them away. But there would be more attempts to steal the kill the carcass and more fights in the hours ahead....
But we left, and Brooks told us to be ready to leave as soon as possible the next morning. He wanted to be the first one to the giraffe carcass (the news of the exciting kill had spread quickly to all the other guides in the area...and Brooks is just a tad bit competitive....), and we had to be at the airstrip mid-morning for our flight back to Maun before heading home.
Leaving Chitabe before daybreak the following morning, knowing we were on a mission, I told Brooks that he need not stop for my usual sunrise photo. Unless, of course, it was something very unusual and special.
Um...I think this fits the criteria!
Without a doubt, I will never see a sunrise quite like this one again!
Even Brooks was taken aback by this scene. This "blondie" male is not the male that rules this territory. He was doing something very daring even for a big male lion by entering "enemy" territory and eating from a kill that belongs to the resident pride. Who knows how this happened? He surely must have chased off other animals, perhaps even fighting the ruling males who belonged there. No one knows how he happened to be there, but he was where he did not belong and was certainly not welcome, feasting on the kill of the month!
He let out a big warning roar. Gutsy fella, he was!
Big, powerful boy with a blond mane!
Just off to the side, a black-backed jackal awaited his opportunity for breakfast....
After eating awhile, the big male eventually sauntered away.
(By the way, in case you are wondering, all that green stuff is contents from the giraffe's stomach...ugh.....)
As soon as the lion was a safe distance away, the jackal couple moved in for a few furious bites while they had the chance.
We had a plane to catch that morning, so we had to leave this poor girl to her demise knowing that there would be plenty of action for other Chitabe guests to see at the carcass in the following days.
What a fantastic way to end our safari!
A series of unforgettable events.