Friday, December 4, 2020

Experiences in the wilderness

It takes four hours by road to reach the Moremi Game Reserve, but it a worthy experience, writes SUNDAY STANDARD REPORTER

I had an experience of wildlife in 1997 when I had an opportunity to stay in the Bobirwa area for a year. There is abundance of wild animals in the Tuli Block area including Mashatu.

Over 10 years later, an opportunity presented itself when an interview that was to be conducted at the recent Tourism Indaba in Durban was moved to Maun. We wanted to interview Sammy Mokgadi, the founder of African Excursions, but he suggested that instead of the interview done in a hurry, it was better Sunday Standard got first hand information on what he does.

Fortunately, Mokgadi is taking some tourists to Moremi Game Reserve immediately after the Indaba. We jump at the opportunity. The interview takes us to Moremi, some four hours drive by road from Maun, but if you are using a smaller aircraft, it is only 25 minutes.

It all starts at the Maun airportÔÇöthe busiest in the country, where a rough landing by Air Botswana leaves everyone murmuring at the near catastrophe. Apparently, the pilot did not land the aircraft smoothly and it nearly skidded off the runway.

It is almost past 9 in the morning and Sammy meets us at the airport and hands us to another member of his staff who drives us to the bush.

On the Safari vehicle that is going to take us to our destination, we meet an American Environment student named Cathleen who has a Setswana name Mpho. She will be with us on the trip, but she will only spend a night in the bush and leave us there.
Mpho speaks Setswana nicely and communicates easily.

The four hour drive to Moremi is bumpy, but worth it on the prospects of seeing the Big 5, that Botswana is known for. Few minutes after entering the game reserve, we start seeing signs of wildlife.

We see a couple of Impalas, guinea fowls, zebras and later some elephants. The Impalas are found everywhere and that is why they are classified as falling into the league Boring 5. We leant about the league from two Australians who we met at the private camp owned by the Botswana Guides Association (BOGA) and where we spent two nights.

At the camp, we meet Number Moenga, tour guide from African Excursions who will be showing us animals for our two day stay in Moremi. He says he has been in this business since 1996 and grew up in Etsha 13 and the cattle post introduced him to the wildlife.

He is in the company of Philip Taylor, an Australian policeman, and Paul Mudge, a physiotherapist from the same country. Fortunately they were going for a game drive and together with the photographer we head to the bush after exchanging greetings.

Moenga knows the bush in and out and he drives us around to locate animals that are inhabitants of the Moremi Game Reserve and also the Big 5. This is a group comprising elephant, rhino, leopard, hippopotamus and a lion. We are fortunate that Moremi is home to the Big 5, but during our stay in the bush, we only manage to see the jambo, hippopotamus, and plenty of lions. The leopard kept eluding us for the duration of the visit.

The first prides of lions we meet are a group that has just had their feast looking at the way they were relaxed.

“Lions are not lazy animals. They prefer to sleep during the day and hunt at night,” explains Moenga.

Apparently, they can also stay for the next 7 days without bothering to waste energy chasing animals. They normally prefer to sleep so that they conserve energy to use for the next kill.

In the bush, we meet a Safari filmmaker who tells us that the pride of lions we had just seen actually does not have the advantage of elder female who heads the hunting expedition and it risked dying and losing weight.

The pride comprised mainly of young cubs. The business of bush drives went on for the 2 and half days we spent here and we kept on tracking the lions through the expertise of Moenga.

The two Australians, Philip and Paul, say they have known each other for 35 years and explain that they have always wanted to do something memorable together. They reveal that they have always had a dream of going to a Safari and chose Africa, especially Botswana over other possible destinations like the US.

The two discovered about Botswana after an Internet research and they reveal that they wanted to do a good Safari.

The discovery of Botswana was made easier by the fact that one of the two had a contact in Botswana who had worked in the Okavango and ‘she organised the trip’ and that is also how they came to learn about African Excursions.

“People here are fantastic and friendly. They are very ready to offer knowledge,” recounts Taylor. “It makes you feel safe. Everyone gives advice.”

The two say their experience in the wilderness is when they saw the animals that they never saw before, with Taylor saying his heart beat increased when he first saw an elephant, adding that he was apprehensive, but was full of praise for the good tracker they had.

Taylor and Mudge say that their stay here was real ‘experiencing Africa’ with several days without phone contact nor television to see what is happening around the world. The only television known in the bush is the fire, which is called a television with one channel.

The travel itinerary of the two Aussies is loaded with 17 days of Safari experience in the country and a final experience at Livingstone in Zambia.
Our journey ended on Monday morning with one last game drive and 25 minutes Cessna flight from the airstrip near the Delta to Maun airport.

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