Six o’clock, still dark on a chilly morning. We were setting out from Chobe Game Lodge for the first game drive of the day. ‘The bush can be very quiet on early morning drives, especially when it’s windy like this,’ our guide warned. So our hopes weren’t high, but we were on a mission to experience two ways to game drive in Chobe, Botswana.
Chobe Game Lodge is unique, the only lodge smack-dab inside the national park. This means that when you leave on your morning game drive you have about a 40-minute head start on the crowd that has to queue at the entrance gate.
We drove west and found two jackals lying in the grass, their heads peeping out at us. It was chilly and they were still warming up before setting out to scrounge for food. We had them to ourselves, not another vehicle in sight.
Her persistence paid off when everyone agreed the lilac-breasted roller was a handsome bird and the kori bustard, Botswana’s national bird, was remarkable for being Africa’s heaviest bird (some 12kg) that can fly.
More jackals, a puku resting in the grass, then at last we found a lioness lying in the middle of the track. High-fiving excitement rippled around the safari vehicle as we stopped to watch. A lion and another lioness emerged from the bushes and walked past our vehicle, followed by a third female. They were so close we could watch their muscles rippling, their giant paws pressing into the thick sand.
I was pleased. I find that kind of traffic jam annoying. It was also good to see our guides responding in a way that would minimise interference with the animals, not get in their way if they wanted to hunt, not form a screen for them to hide behind and unnaturally disadvantage any prey animals.
We passed the Serondela picnic site, where Pop Lamont was buried. The story goes that when this area became part of the national park in the 1960s he refused to leave. He lived another six years inside the park, a lone protestor, and was buried under a tree. There also used to be logging of Natal mahogany and Zambezi teak in this area.
Our second high-fiving find was an enormous buffalo herd grazing in long grass. They’re big animals, up to a ton in mass, so 300 to 400 together were an impressive sight. There were some small calves among them, as well as huge old hairless males.
Chobe is a delight for birders. Despite our safari mates’ lack of interest in them, we saw numerous species including tawny eagle, little bee-eater and white-backed vultures sunbathing in a dead tree.
Electric Land Rover
Intrigued by the electric Land Rovers we’d seen plugged in to charge outside the lodge, we asked if we could have a short drive in one of them to appreciate the difference from a diesel-powered vehicle. So after lunch under mahogany and brown ivory trees near the pool deck, environmentalist John Aves took one through its paces for us.
‘The guides needed to be trained in using the electric vehicles because they’re so different,’ said John. ‘For instance, they have so much torque that if you’re not careful you can spin your wheels in thick sand and get stuck.’
According to John, the total number of kilometres the four vehicles had driven by mid-2016 was 53 860km. This represents 9 617 litres of diesel and some 25 296kg of carbon dioxide emissions saved.
A quiet afternoon along the river
We chose to miss the regular afternoon game drive (they were thrilled to see the lions again). Instead, we wandered along the elevated boardwalk that hugs the riverbank, to sit on the deck at the end and watch elephants swishing through the river to an island.
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