A week might seem like a long time to spend in one restcamp in Etosha, but on a recent camping trip, we discovered that a week is the ultimate way to appreciate the cycle of life on the pans. It takes a couple of days to shake off the city stress and get really tuned in to where the animals are and where the predator action is. It helps to chat to the various friends, aquaintances and staff who keep arriving at the same camp with snippets of info! By day 3 you are into an easy rhythm of gamedrives and camping essentials and by day 5 you don't even notice the dust anymore. By day 7 you won't want to go home but on day 8, very reluctantly you drag yourself homewards, stopping off at every waterhole to delay the dreaded departure. A note for the budget -concious : camping is the ideal way to spend extended time in the park. With some of the BEST game-viewing in Africa, MINUS all the crowds. You'll even have wildlife in the camp , like the badger mommy who raided our cooler box while we were standing by, to find cheese for her offspring. Woolies cheese, nogal. And pearl-spotted owlets and barn owls in the tree up above.
Driving up in two vehicles sounds extravagant I know, but it makes for marital peace. Bertie and I have different favourite areas of the park and different styles. Styles? Well yes, he likes to stick to the speed limit and cover distance and scan the plains for predators. I like to crawl along through the bushes and trees at the slowest speed the vehicle will reasonably go. ( That's how you spot leopards, birds and the small stuff.) The exact opposite of our personalities! So we get to cover a fair amount of the park around the camp each day, and occasionally we share a car when hubby says it's lonely with no-one to talk to. But after some tense moments at a leopard sighting he's happy to see me off to my own transport again! Mind you this is not something we do often - travelling in two cars. Mostly we drive each other crazy in one vehicle. So as a final note on the car topic - I managed to get a photo of a dusty sunset as Bertie returned to camp one evening. The colours are always magnificent and there is usually no time to stop and shoot the scene.
But let's move on because this post is actually about some really amazing sightings that week 20 held for us and a bitter-sweet tale. The first morning we were (aplogies for The Topic again) reduced to one vehicle as I had a flattie, but our joint explorations were rewarded by the resident female leopard just leaving Rietfontein waterhole at first light. She's a cute little cat and often just hangs out to wow the crowds. Not this morning though - she seemed to be on a mission to get away from humans.
We headed on west to what Bertie calls the 'Golden Mile' trio of waterholes on the pan's edge, Salvadora, Charitsaub and Sueda. We've been here so often and seen very little, although it's well know for predator action. But today the wheel has turned again and now it seems that Charitsaub is the centre of the game universe with all sorts of animals visiting all day long. Just beyond Sueda a little surprise awaited us and we found a lion family enjoying a day out on the pan with the kids. Two daddies, two mommies and 6 little cubs, no more than 2 months old. Climbing trees and playing tag, while the folks lolled in the shade.
Over the next six days a story emerged of how hard life on the pan really is, even for the top predators. Next morning, Bertie was first to arrive at Charitsaub to see the two mommies bringing all 6 babies over to the waterhole for a drink. The family group spent the day disguised in the reeds nearby, with the moms making the occasional attempt to hunt passing wilderbeest. The two pride males were nowehere to be seen - presumably out on patrol after taking time-out with the kids. Late that afternoon the family emerged from the reeds to cross the carpark to quench their thirst.
It always seems to be time to head home when the light is becoming beautiful for photography and so we left them hanging around Chraitsaub. First thing next morning I was back in the area and found three hyenas striding out across the plains, close to where I knew the lions would have hidden their cubs. Two turned for home and sleep, but the third took an interest in something and moved in for a closer look. Eventually the hyena disappeared inbetween the hillocks around Sueda.
Late afternoon found the lionesses resting in the shade of an overhang nearby and we watched as they came to drink at Sueda, before moving off westwards to find their cubs.
At this moment, the lionesses suddenly spotted the hyenas - no doubt the same ones that were hanging around earlier in the day, and were off after them like a shot, chasing them far away into the distance and marking our moment to head home ...again.
The next morning I found the cubs alone on a rocky outcrop entertaining themselves as usual, giving no hint of the drama that must have unfolded yesterday. Except there were now only four cubs.
On the last morning , we arrived just too late to see the lionesses bring down a wildebeest at Sueda and the remaining family was once again reunited in a meal.
All words and images copyright Annabelle Venter