We were relaxed. The pressure was off. The day before we’d had the best sighting of our lives so now we had no expectations. Whatever our game drive brought us, we’d already experienced the wildlife wonders of Botswana’s Okavango Delta here on the Chitabe concession south-east of Chief’s Island.
We were staying at Chitabe Lediba Camp where there’s a diversity of habitats over a fairly small distance, from grassy floodplains, acacia and stunted mopane woodland to permanent swamps full of reeds and papyrus. So we were happy just to sit back and enjoy the changing landscape.
We watched a martial eagle on a dead tree with a kill in its talons, its crop enlarged from its meal. Then Phinley stopped the vehicle again. We looked around, but saw nothing. ‘Over there,’ he pointed, ‘is a spotted hyena den.’
For 45 minutes we waited. Occasionally the top of a small head would pop up out of a hole in the ground to look at us and then quickly disappear again. We chatted to pass the time and learnt that Phinley was 30 when he started learning to be a guide. His brother-in-law worked in tourism and asked one day if he’d like to become a guide. ‘I had to ask him what that meant,’ he smiled. What a change 20 years can make.
Then a babysitter adult appeared, back from the elephant carcass where the rest of the hyena clan was feeding. The old elephant’s natural death was a windfall for smaller species.
Clearly it didn’t yet understand its own smallness or its lowly place in the clan. In no time it would be back, jumping up to pester the bigger ones. And then the whole nipping-biting-wrestling cycle would start again.
On our slow drive back to camp we saw a pearl-spotted owlet streak past into a tree and heard double-banded sandgrouse calling as the sun went down. It was getting dark when we spotted a baboon on top of a termite mound with its penis in its hand.
Phinley had seen this only once before. Apparently they rub it between two hands to get some friction. When they’re about to ejaculate they bring it to their mouth and eat the semen. ‘Last time I saw this it was when two males were fighting over a female,’ he said. ‘The one that lost did this.’
On our last morning at Chitabe Lediba we woke to the sound of lions calling in the distance. Pink dawn nudged the sky and the sun kissed the tops of the ebony trees around our tent. A fish-eagle gave a loud ringing call, echoed a few seconds later by the deeper tones of the female. These Okavango sounds, the rhythm of the wilderness, would endure long after we were gone.
Note: I was a guest of Wilderness Safaris for two nights, but had free rein to write what I chose. I paid for my travel costs to Botswana.
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