Sunday, September 20, 2020

Mombo Camp: Place of plenty

Sonny Serite and his partner, Tebo, recently vacationed in the Okavango Delta and came face to face with Legadima the celebrity leopard, and a rare breed of a lioness with mane.

Located in the Moremi Game Reserve and operated by Wilderness Safaris, Mombo Camp harbours prolific concentrations of general game, such as giraffe, zebra, warthog, red lechwe, tsessebe, wildebeest, kudu, elephant, buffalo and impala. Abundant predator sightings include lion, spotted hyena and leopard. The birding is equally attractive.

Our journey into the Okavango Delta started with a close to 1000 kilometers road trip from Gaborone to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. We spent the night at the magnificent Maun Lodge, situated on the riverbanks of Thamalakane where our hosts, Sandra Rubins, Fred Rannoba and Settie Sebera went all out to make our brief stay a memorable one.

We check in at room 39 and a bottle of champagne is already chilled in an ice bucket: a perfect treat after a long and exhausting drive.

The following morning we check in at the Maun airport where our pilot, John, is waiting to fly us into the delta. We are delighted that our pilot is a relatively young man. I ask him to assure us that we won’t add to the statistics of recent air crashes reported in the delta. Tebo tells him the reason we are happy to have a young pilot is, older people with so-called vast experience tend to attract complacency. The small Cessna takes off and lands smoothly at the Mombo airstrip. It takes approximately 35 minutes from Maun to Mombo.

Cisco picks us up from the Mombo airstrip to the camp, which was officially opened by the then Vice President Ian Khama in 2000.Its a beautiful place. Very beautiful. On arrival at the camp we find the ‘Mombo team’ waiting for us in song and smiles. It later turns out this was just the beginning of the Royal treatment that awaited us during our entire stay at Mombo. The employees are all friendly and welcoming.

Kate, the assistant manager, orientates us and explains our itinerary. We also meet Claire, the friendly assistant manager responsible for housekeeping. Ryan, the acting general manager, also gives us a personal welcome to Mombo. Bruce and Gerald take care of our menu during our stay at the camp. Graham, who manages Little Mombo, a camp just adjacent to Mombo, takes time off to come greet and have a chat with us. Tumo, the technical services manager, is always ready to welcome us back to the camp every time we arrive from our game drives. I must mention that all the staff members at Mombo are friendly and very professional. Exclusion of names of other staff members here does not in any way suggest they played lesser roles in making our stay at Mombo a pleasant one.

We will never forget Banyatsang ‘Ban’ Shakwa, our guide. Ban is a very knowledgeable, calm, patient, humble and friendly. He understands and loves his job. Tebo has a more than average knowledge of the wildlife and everytime she posed questions either to check Ban’s understanding or confirm rumours about wild animals, Ban always gave correct and convincing answers. On our first game drive, Tebo pleads with Ban to make sure we see lions. Hardly five minutes into the bush, Ban spots a pride of lions. We get the opportunity to take pictures of lions at a very close range from the open Safari Land Rover we are driving in.

The lions do not seem bothered by our presence and our encroachment into their territory. Ban explains that the lions and other wild animals in the game reserve are calm and ‘friendly’ to people because they are not used to human brutality. They do not associate any harm with human beings. However, precaution is always necessary because wild animals will always be wild, especially if they feel you pose a threat to their safety. It is for this reason that Ban advices us not to disembark from the vehicle or stand up while at close range to the lions lest they take us for enemies.

Back at the camp, we are stunned to find buffalos sleeping under our tent. The tent, which boasts of five star amenities inside, is suspended above the surface ground and supported by gum poles. The buffalos have made the surface below their home. We are told not to worry as the buffalos just spend the night under the tent and leave peacefully in the morning. That is exactly what we witness during our stay at Mombo. The buffalos here have become more like cows. The secret is, if you don’t provoke them, they will not harm you. We snore the night away peacefully in the tent while the buffalos sleep underneath and the lions roar outside. In the mornings we would wake up to find hippos grazing outside our tent. The co-existence of wild animals and people at Mombo is amazing. One morning a snake came to our veranda and while we would have, without hesitation, killed the snake had it visited our Gaborone house, here we find ourselves admiring the snake with no temptation to hurt it. We just let it pass through our balcony into the nearby bushes.

We came across almost all the animals that live in Mombo. The interesting thing is, everytime Tebo mentioned that she wished to see a certain animal, within minutes we would come across that particular animal. The highlight of our game-drive was when we encountered Legadima, the celebrity leopard. Again, it was just after Ban had jokingly asked Tebo to make a wish to find a leopard. Tebo was the first one to spot the leopard, earning herself a kiss from me because a trip to Mombo without an encounter with Legadima can never be fulfilling. Legadima is an extraordinary leopard at Mombo. Beverly and Dereck Joubert, who are award winning National Geographic’s top rated wildlife filmmakers have, for two years, followed this leopard since they found her at eight days old. They documented Legadima’s life in a film documentary called The Eye of the Leopard which has been viewed worldwide with raving reviews. In a book of the same title, Beverly Joubert writes, “We found her when she was 8 days old and she seduced us with her blue eyes and determined character.

She was the first surviving cub of a female who had lost five cubs in a row. Somehow this leopard was different, and that first day I think we recognized that”. Her husband, Dereck Joubert opines, “If the eye expresses life and soul and what lives inside, leopards are the eye of Africa, linked through a connective nerve directly to what this continent means and symbolizes”.

Legadima is not bothered by vehicles and people, obviously from her encounters with the Jouberts who stalked her for two years. We consider ourselves lucky to have come across Legadima after being told some tourists spent 3 days at Mombo trying to find her without any success.

We were later shocked to come across a lioness that has the physical characteristics of a lion. Yes, it is a female lion with mane (hair), normally only found in male lions.

I’m back in Gaborone while Tebo has gone back to Australia but our hearts remain at Mombo. The people and animals at Mombo are so loving and friendly. Mombo is the perfect place for any couple wishing to take a break away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I have to thank Vic Horatius for facilitating our trip to Mombo.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.