Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chobe National Park, Botswana

From Livingstone, Zambia, we headed west by truck to the border between Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. It was as chaotic as I expected any African border to be. It was also packed. Once across the Zambezi River, we boarded a land cruiser and headed for Kasane, Botswana.

Seeing the map same map as above, but the aerial photograph version, it is startlingly clear how the rivers define the country borders. The northern Zambezi River (flowing southeast) is the border between Namibia and Zambia. The Chobe River (flowing east, and meeting up with the Zambezi) defines the border between Namibia and Botswana. The Zambezi River is also the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Once in Kasane, it was the Chobe that we turned our attention to. We hopped onto a river boat and headed upriver. To the south, we viewed Botswana's Chobe National Park, known for its massive elephant herds. We were not disappointed on the loxodonto africana front.

On the river. Our boat was essentially a platform on pontoons with plastic deck chairs perched on top. Not luxurious but definitely functional. [Hmm, that cheek is still looking a bit puffy. The bee sting swelling hadn't quite worn off.]

One the first animals we spotted was a Nile Water Monitor (Varanus niloticus), hunting for frogs, birds eggs, and other small prey animals

A favorite picture: a Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

We learned a thing or two about the rotund hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) on this trip: namely, that they are responsible for killing more people in Africa than the other ferocious beasts (lions, crocs, cape buffalo, etc). I also learned that their four tusks (not teeth, as I had been previously calling them) are quite handy for snapping people in two. Lovely, eh? Despite these statistics, they’re still one of my favorite animals. 

It is rare to see them out and about during the day, as they typically leave the water only at night to forage on tasty swamp grasses.

The Cape Buffalo (Synerus caffer) herds will often oust older, past-their-prime males. These elderly gents will form small groups of like-minded geriatric males as a protection against lions. A week later during a walking safari, we encountered a pair of grouchy buffalo. It was adrenaline inducing, to say the least. Fortunately, this guy (below) was viewed from the safety of the boat.

There were crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) aplenty. And each time I thought of this event.

Had you been feeling adventurous, you could have literally reached from the boat and given this big fella a nice friendly pat on the schnoz.

Not sure how he would have reacted, though.

In Africa, they call these birds the African Darter (Anhinga rufa) or the Snake Bird. In the United States, particularly Florida, we call them anhingas. They look rather snakish though, don't you think?

Ah, the hippos, once again. 

Altogether now:

The Hippopotamus Song

A bold hippopotamus was standing one day

On the banks of the cool Shalimar
He gazed at the bottom as he peacefully lay
By the light of the evening star
Away on the hilltop sat combing her hair
His fair hippopotami maid
The hippopotamus was no ignoramus
And sang her this sweet serenade

Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me follow, down to the hollow
And there let me wallow
in glorious mud

The fair hippopotama he aimed to entice
From her seat on that hilltop above
As she hadn't got a ma to give her advice
Came tiptoeing down to her love
Like thunder the forest re-echoed the sound
Of the song that they sang when they met
His inamorata adjusted her garter
And lifted her voice in duet


(That is one hell of a wide mouth. Side note: This was one of the alpha males of the hippo herd and he did not welcome our humanoid presence in the vicinity of his ladies. The 'yawning' action, and prominent display of tusks is a pretty clear warning. Side note #2: A group of hippos is called a herd, bloat, or crash. I'm partial to the 'bloat' descriptor, myself. Ok, back to the song:

Now more hippopotami began to convene
On the banks of that river so wide
I wonder now what am I to say of the scene
That ensued by the Shalimar side
They dived all at once with an ear-splitting sposh
Then rose to the surface again
A regular army of hippopotami
All singing this haunting refrain

Thank you, YouTube:

Ok, back to the animals. Here we have the lovely Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). This is the male version of the kudu (note the nifty horns. Or perhaps they're antlers. Not sure).

He was a striking fellow. But it appears he could use the kudu version of the dog wash. He has some mud on his horns.

I could go for a nice kudu burger right about now.

This, I believe, is a Yellow-Billed Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus).

He didn't much care for us, evidently.

The African Openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus)

And the fearsome looking Marabou Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis). That is one hell of a mouth full of a scientific name.

And this lovely creature is currently unidentified. Perhaps we could use some help from the Africa Safari contingent. We spotted this antelope-like thing on the [very, very long] drive to Linyanti Camp, once we had left the Chobe River. If I had to guess (based on pictures from google search), I'd venture to say that this fellow is a Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris). But don't take that as absolute fact, please.

And yes, there were elephants.

Hundreds of them, actually.

This is a relatively rare African Skimmer (Rhynchops flavirostris). My, what a large beak you have my friend.