The Selinda Adventure Trail

In 2009, slight tectonic movements coupled with the high waters in the northern parts of Botswana brought life back to the Selinda concession. A body of water that historically joined the Okavango river, via the Selinda Spillway to the Linyanti. Now, each year, as the waters begin to rise, the spillway offers a unique opportunity for adventures to hop on their canoes and experience a wilderness as the explorers of old once did.

As the dry season approaches, the Spillway begins to fill, inland waterholes start to dry and the vegetation loses its grazing/browsing appeal. Animals slowly begin to move closer to the spillway, which then becomes a lifeline in their drying home ranges.

From the air, this cycle is clearly visible. With only small pan systems holding water, the land seems dry and harsh. Elephants pass below us and as we approach our destination, the Spillway becomes visible. Our home for the next 5 days.

Flying over the Selinda Spillway.

A herd of elephants passes below us as we enter the Selinda Reserve.

Large herds of elephants pass below us as we fly overhead.

Privately chartered safaris allow Safari Architects to comfortably transport our guests from place to place along their adventure.

Arriving in the concession by private aircraft, we were met with cold refreshments and warm smiles. A quite moment allowed us to take it all in. It dawned upon us that we had left the lights of the big city and were now within a vast tract of land, alive with the sounds of nature.

Not long after stretching our legs and a briefing from our guide, the distant hum of a mechanical beast became apparent. In order to get to the rendezvous point, we would need to take a 20minute helicopter journey deeper into the concession. Following the course of the spillway again, we were able to grasp exactly what we would encounter in the coming days.

From the runway, we are transported in a helicopter into the far reaches of the concession.

Flying along the spillway to get some perspective of our upcoming journey.

Views from the helicopter flight into the middle of nowhere.

Overnight camp day 1.

The trail follows the course of the spillway along a 40km stretch, as it meanders toward the Zibadianja Lagoon and further toward the Linyanthi swamps. Each departure is dependant on the conditions and water levels and is flexible to change at any stage. Walking and canoeing are the major attractions, feet on the ground, immersed in the experience. 4 nights and 3 different fly camps that are set up in pre chosen locations.

Fortunately for us at this time of year, the water levels were high enough for us to paddle from the rendezvous point to camp1, then onto camp 2 and 3 via canoe. The trail would be a mixture of canoeing and walking intermingled well thought out activities to keep us engaged and entertained throughout the stay.

The planned route of the trail, which can change on each departure according to the water level. Image: Great Plains Conservation.

The helicopter lands briefly and makes it way back to the airstrip, leaving the group deep in this vast land, the “backcountry” (A paddling term meaning: a distant wilderness invaded by those with a sense of adventure). Led by our extremely competent guide, we took to the spillway for a leisurely paddle toward our first overnight stop. A paddle that would set the scene for the upcoming adventure. Still waters, calm breeze and the gentle lapping of water against the canoes bow.

The first moments on the Spillway allow you to breathe it all in.

Peaceful and calm, the waters of the Selinda reserve.

Kane, our guide. Humble and at one with this place.

A picturesque scene off the front of our boats.

Golden light and still waters teeming with life.

The arrival in camp was nothing short of breathtaking, as the su set behind us, we pulled up to the shores, greeted with a hearty welcome from the team that makes this adventure so special. Hovering lanterns guided us to the safest exit point, which happened to be closest to an elaborate bush bar, with a blazing fire to enjoy a cold beverage whilst we looked over the spillway contemplating the coming days.

Met with a beautiful scene and drinks on the spillways edge.

A luxury camping scene that is hard to top.

The boats, lined up and ready for the mornings activities.

Every moment of the trail was executed at the highest standard.

A night around the fire with stories and laughter.

A fortunate full moon illuminated the scenes as the night sky grew bigger.

Each morning is met with mist rising over the waterway, a warm sunrise and a novel hot water bucket shower. The air is still and a chill runs along the spillway. A hearty breakfast is had around a comforting fire, and the excitement levels begin to rise as we climb into our canoes, belongings in toe, to set off on an adventure.

High rainfall in the recent season meant that inland waterholes were still holding water, and for this reason, the spillway was only now beginning to draw animals from far and wide. However, as we made our way down the spillway, it was evident that the area was attracting large herds of elephants and hippos had made definite pathways through the high reeds, allowing us to follow their trails, with notable caution.

In a place as remote as this, much of the wildlife in the region has very limited interaction with humans. A wilderness that is pure and wild. Our encounters proved this each time. Whether it was a quite shuffle to reposition in the boat, or a slight change in wind, each animal we encountered was evidently weary of these unnatural vessels, sitting quietly in the reeds as they passed. The intensity of the experience was felt in each seat.

Small families of elephants lined the banks, hidden by long reeds, revealed only by a slight gesture from our guide, leading the group. A gentle wave of his hand, or quiet snap of his fingers, alerted the group to potential wildlife in the vicinity. There would be an eery silence as we made our way quietly together, crowing the boats in the short reeds so as not to disturb any approach.

A chilly sunrise, coffee and the adventure continued.

Moments after leaving our first over night camp.

Our first encounter with a wild breeding herd of elephants.

The temperature began to rise, the canoe canoes began to slow.

Around each corner lies a new encounter.

The friendly staff go above and beyond to make the stay comfortable and memorable. Jameson, our tracker following us down the spillway.

Each day on the trail held a new experience, each day plays into a different schedule, a new encounter and constant learning. You are not governed by time, but by the spillway, the animals and the sun. We would set out early in the morning and arrive at a new camp in the late afternoon. Whether our departure or arrival was by canoe or on foot, each time we set out, we were ready to embrace what was ahead of us.

The trail is about welcoming these moments and being fulfilled ion each one, whether it be a swim in the water after a long mornings paddle, an elephant encounter or watching a fish eagle feed on a recently caught Tilapia. We enjoyed meals sitting waist deep in the spillway, perfectly set up by the team, who paddled ahead, unbeknownst to us. We waded, knee deep through the waters of the Selinda reserve, encountered lions on foot after some amazing tracking from our guides, sailed past tiny Angolan reeds frogs as they latched onto reeds, hoping to go unnoticed and added many previously unseen birds to our growing life lists.

A well deserved beverage, cooling off after a long morning paddling and walking.

Nothing better than cooling off in the spillway.

A surprise lunch in the water.

Each moment continued to surpass our expectations.

John, our camp chef, became the most loved provider on the trip.

After a days paddling, we sat together enjoying the scene, reminiscing of the day gone by.

The beauty lay all around us.

The trail would not be complete without experiencing the culture first hand. The San bushmen have inhabited this land for generations. All of the staff on the trail are San bushmen, and most grew up not far from the spillway itself. This allows them to impart vital cultural understanding and ancient knowledge of the land with visiting guests. Their philosophy of living off the land is second to none and their quirky anecdotes passed down from generation to generation oozes with authenticity.

I celebrated my 30th birthday on the trail, and on this day we spent the afternoon trailing the San bushmen, learning the ways. We were shown ways to make traps for catching wild animals, how to find and harvest collect honey from clever Mopane bees, we followed a Greater Honeyguide as it led us to a secretly stashed hive, and we learned of the cultural meanings of plants in everyday life as a San bushmen. The day culminated around a fire that was made by hand, using the ember from a well practiced technique of making fire by hand. It could not have been more fitting

The San bushmen beginning their ritual of calling ancestors to join our journey.

These men glide through the bush as if they are a part of it.

To fit in with natural surrounds, San bushman adorn themselves with items recognisable in the wild, like a pair of Steenbok horns.

A life that has evolved from being at with with nature.

Collecting honey, making traps or finding water sources, they know it all.

As the sun sets the San bushmen lead us to a spiritual gathering.

Fire is life, and these men make it with sticks and elephant dung.

A small ember is all that is needed, and the thick smoke begins to bellow.

In no time at all, we had a raging fire to keep us warm as dusk was upon us.

A communal effort is required to keep the flames burning.

With fire as life, we were told stories of old hunting tails and a life as a San bushman, by our guide Kane.

The incredible team that waited on us, hand and foot.

The final day saw us poling our way through a shallow section of the spillway on to the last camp. This would be our last day on the water, and we would find ourselves nestled within an ancient forest that provided shade and refuge from our journey down the waterway.

A cleverly planned itinerary sees the final afternoon out in style. Hoping aboard an open top land cruise and setting out to view wildlife from the comfort of your car seat. A welcomed luxury from the days that had passed. Our guide Kane had made it clear on a few occasions that when we do eventually go on a game drive, we would appreciate it more than any we had been on before. And how right he was.

Our final day on the spillway by boat.

Arriving at our last camp sight, placed perfectly in the forest.

There was never a time when we didn’t feel the wilderness around us.

The team enjoying the views from the safer bank.

A perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

This pride was on the hunt.

Reflections as we reflected on our journey.

A young lion quietly listens for its pride after they chased 2 buffalo into the thickets nearby.

Our final morning saw us departing at the crack of dawn, bags packed and ready for our quick flight out, but not before a final game drive and a farewell breakfast in the bush, accompanied by a few elephants to send us off.

Our final mornings breakfast, and a welcome visitor.

Until next time Selinda.

If you are up for an adventure, a real, feet on the ground experience, one that will keep you reminiscing for weeks and months of the experience, then this trail is for you. Leave the luxury of the real world behind you and immerse yourself with the men of the land, the San bushmen, as you cruise your way down the Selinda spillway. You won’t regret it for a second!

Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland

Top 25 Images of the Second Quarter

The second quarter of 2017 has been a blur. The year has flow by and we are now recollecting our thoughts before setting off on new adventures around Africa. This quarter has seen the team travel throughout Southern Africa including  South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and even venturing up to Kenya and Tanzania.

We are looking forward to some amazing adventures in the next quarter, but for now, browse through our best moments from the past 3 months.

A misty morning in the open spaces of Duba Plains.

A few wet faces after hunting through the mud.

An intense hunt at Duba Plains.

Iconic Red Lechwe of Botswana.

Like a ghost in the night, this leopard disappeared in minutes.

A moment captured in time beautifully illustrates the life of this predator.

A san bushman listens to some distant sounds of the bush.

Calm waters of the selinda spillway.

A young leopard awaits its moms return.

A young male lion reaching a stage in his life when he will leave his pride and begin a life on his own.

An afternoon canoeing down the spillway.

Playful fighting between a mother and her cub.

A peaceful afternoon overlooking the Timbavati River.

Golden sunsets with peaceful pachyderms.

Eye level with African Wild Dogs.

A beautiful mornings with a young male leopard as he embraces life alone.

A family of Meerkats warms themselves in the last afternoon light before heading down their burrow for the evening.

A majestic elephant bull on his way to a waterhole for an afternoon drink.

A stunning morning with this lion pride in the Kalahari.

Dreaming of an african safari, this is what comes to mind.

Sitting around a fire made by this man, by hand.

A young lion emerges from the undergrowth.

A juvenile ground hornbill showing before take off.

Flap necked chameleons, a wonderful addition to any game drive.

Milk of life.

Photographs by: Mike Sutherland and Chris Renshaw

Duba Plains revealed and explored

 

Flying over the Okavango delta is simply breathtaking. When this unique and wonderful continent was created, with all its mysteries and wild places, the Okavango was not with us. Through the planets own shear will it was created. With her internal forces of molten magma, subterranean quakes and constantly changing crusts, this unique paradise was formed. In Northern Botswana mother earth’s crust twisted, shifted and subsided, and the rivers that flowed over this area were diverted and channeled in a different direction into the heart of a desert. Over centuries, the dry and desolate Kalahari desert was then transformed into a paradise of meandering crystal clear waterways and islands. This formed a watery garden of eden for the plethora of creatures that now call it home. Fortunately, this oasis in in the desert can now be explored. In the heart of this green and lush paradise, lies Duba Plains.

 

We had the pleasure of visiting the newly opened and re-modeled Duba Plains camp. This adventure was focused on enjoying the ample and beautifully created suites, the lodge in all it’s entirety with all the trimmings and immaculate finishings, and the vast concession that they traverse. We sampled the excellent and rather large wine collection, dined on delectable food, and relaxed in beautifully created suites. To be brief, Great Plains Conservation have done a superb job, and the Duba Plains of old has been merged seamlessly with this the new creation.

An aerial view of the dhow suite at Duba Plains (Image courtesy Great Plains).

An interior view of the spacious suites (Image courtesy Great Plains).

The classic railway sleeper boards making up your deck surrounding your personal pool is just one of the small touches…

Your private Sala, where you choose to spend those relaxing breaks between game drives. Yoga, exercise, or read… whatever it takes to rejuvenate your soul. It has been said that a glass of wine or a G and T helps.

The main deck, where lunches and dinners are served. Under the shade of jackelberry trees or around the fire pit under the stars, you are immersed in the okavango delta that surrounds you.

The lounge area, with classic books and stories of safari pioneers and film makers.

Piers the chef, literally wowed us with a fresh take on bush cuisine. The passion he feels for his job really comes through in the flavors and delectable delights that he produces. We both agreed it had been one of our top culinary experiences we have had in awhile. If the images below could exude their subtle delicious flavors through your digital devices, they would leave your mouth watering and stomachs grumbling.

Hmmm, sumptuous cuisine.

Piers was definitely in tune with his culinary skills.

I’m a sucker for a cheese platter, especially with a chardonnay from their amply supplied cellar.

A fresh fruit platter.

The staff behind the scenes that make the magic happen. These people are often not seen, but they are as responsible as anyone for making your stay as magical as possible.

The concession that Duba Plains lies in is essentially an island. A long wooden bridge over the main water channel allows access to the waterways and floodplains that can be explored via motorboats, mekoros (dugout canoes) and game drive vehicles. The concession in general, has fantastic wildlife viewing. Renowned film makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert have created numerous documentaries in this area, specifically, on lions. As such the lions of this region are rather famous, specifically the Tsaro pride.  These lions have had to learn to negotiate the waterways, wade through mud and papyrus, and hunt in very tough conditions. As such, they have became astonishly stocky, with broad chests and extremely strong shoulders. They are also quite unique in that they like to hunt in daylight. We spent quite a lot of time tracking and following these lions, and were rewarded with some amazing viewing of them crossing channels, playing through waterways, and ultimately hunting in their natural habitat.

Red lechwe on a magnificent morning.

The Duba plains bridge, the longest in the okavango delta, allows access to all the floodplains and game drive areas to search for the wildlife that inhabit them.

A typical Tsaro lioness. Big shoulders and chest, with the bulk needed to chase prey through water and swim across channels.

The waterways and floodplains are home to these lions. They have had to learn to adapt, and swimming and clearing channels is part of their daily lives.

Playing and frolicking on these waters is what makes these lions become so strong. The sub-adults follow their mother and in turn learn where to cross and how to negotiate the channels and floodplains.

A tender moment between mother and son.

After following these famous lions for the early part of the morning and watching them play and frolicking about, it was time to hunt. Now, having watched lions for a large portion of my wildlife addicted life, their technique and approach to hunting is rather different. If you have had the chance to see african wild dog hunts, you will know that they cause panic and distress in a herd, using this to their advantage to separate individuals. Well, this pride has now learnt to do the same with warthogs and a variety of other species. They will spread out at a trot, and leave a few pride members flanking the thickets or floodplains. The rest of the pride will enter a thicket from all angles, charging in and flushing whatever they can. Then, whatever emerges, they will chase down through floodplains and thickets and ultimately kill there unlucky prey. The series of photos below show the results of this technique, where a few warthogs had an unfortunate end to there mortal existence.

A herd of red lechwe running through a floodplain, alerting us to the presence of a predator.

The cause of the disruption…The two Tsaro adult lionesses and their pride.

Hurtling after a warthog sounder…

Frustration after they disappear down a burrow. However, the piglets returned and weren’t so lucky.

The unfortunate warthog piglet.

The piglet however put a brave fight and even managed to challenge the sub adult male lion. He did unfortunately succumb to his injuries but here is a short clip of his bravery.

Wary but determined as they stalked a second warthog.

Success!!! A typical hunt finishing in a wet floodplain.

Fighting over the carcass, the young boys got a little intense.

One of the lionesses stares down at some approaching vultures.

Some bonding after feeding.

There are many elephants on the duba island, and we spent time with this very relaxed group, feeding and going about their day.

The main channel flowing past the camp is a permanent waterway all year round. This allows for boating excursions and some awesome day trips, or afternoon sundowner cruises can be enjoyed. I am fishing mad (of course on a catch and release basis) so what a fantastic idea to spend the afternoon trying our luck for the elusive tigerfish and bream that inhabit these waters. We had some success, and finished the afternoon with an amazing sunset, truly content in one of my favorite places on earth.

Brad’s serious face after an afternoon cursing the channels and fishing for the monsters that lurk beneath its waters.

In my element, on the water and loving every minute of a special afternoon culminating in a magical sunset and a couple of tiger fish caught and released.

A serene morning, with a sunrise over a misty floodplain, Tsessebe poking the head out like ghostly beasts.

The last morning of this magical safari trip we were greeted with a magnificent sunrise mixed with a ghostly layer of mist over the floodplains. I think the image above describes a fitting way to end off our stay in such a magical, yet intense and soulful piece of Africa.

Bags packed and ready to go, we left with fond memories of a fresh Duba Plains that we will most definitely return to.

Regards,

Chris.

Written and Photographed by Chris Renshaw.

Magical Mana Pools

If there ever was a place that had the ability to open your mind to the wonders of true African wilderness, Mana Pools is the place. If there is ever a time when you find yourself day dreaming of an immersion into a long lost wilderness paradise, then again, Mana Pools is the place.

Covering some 2500 square kilometres along the Zambezi river, within the Zambezi valley itself, lies the magical Mana Pools National park. In the wet season, from November – April, animals retreat from the wet valley floor and begin to return as the flood plain dries up. By June, there is an abundance of wildlife including large herds of Buffalo, Eland and Waterbuck. Renowned for the presence of large elephant bulls that have become synonymous with the flood plain, and these elephant bulls have become equally synonymous with their aerobatic displays as they attempt to reach Albida seedpods.

Wildlife photographers from around the globe travel to this remote wilderness area in search of the perfect opportunities to photograph the majestic creatures that call Mana Pools home. Along with the elephants, Mana Pools has a healthy numbers of the endangered African Wild dog, leopard and lion.

One of the biggest attractions of the park, besides the scenery, the forest and the incredible light, is the ability to view wildlife on foot. It is quite honestly a sacred experience. One that will change you as a person, as a companion of the wild. To be able to immerse yourself completely into nature, this is not merely a holiday in a National Park, but a pilgrimage to one of the few true wilderness areas left in Southern Africa.

The “Blue Forest” as it is commonly known.

Viewing on foot allows you to get a great perspective of an animals point of view.

Small herds of elephants frequently stroll through camps in search of Albida pods in the dry months.

Being on foot with some of the most endangered animals in Africa is a special experience.

Imagine yourself sleeping on the banks of the Zambezi river, in a rustic tented camp, or even a luxury tented suite, sitting around the fire, listening to the sounds of the wild. The sharp bark of an impala echo’s through the floodplain behind you, a sure sign of a predator nearby. At any moment there could be an elephant that enters your camp, whilst you sip on your morning coffee. An elephant that will happily go about its business with no regard of your presence.

My first pilgrimage to Mana Pools left me questioning many things that I had learnt in my time working as a guide in South Africa for most of the past decade. Through training and exposure in the bush, I learnt that to view animals on foot, I needed to be unseen and unheard. I would need to assess the wind direction and make use of any cover to ensure I was leaving wildlife to behave in the same way they would if I was not there. In Mana, whilst we adopted the same protocols and sensitivity, I found that movement, sounds or gestures that would normally disturb wildlife did not, here there was a certain atmosphere of comfort and acceptance. Do not let this take away from the intensity of the encounters.

My most memorable moments came in the form of 2 large male lions, an elephant, a clan of hyena and an enormous, dead hippo.

The morning was drawing to an end, as the heat of the day was approaching, we decided it was best to head back to camp. Whilst on our way, we noticed the telltale signs of Vultures descending to the ground. We hoped there would be some action close by. After a brief investigation on foot, we came across the carcass of a large hippo, in a small clearing, with very evident signs of a lengthy brawl that had happened in the vicinity of the carcass. It was clear then that this hippo had been killed by another large hippo and had tragically taken his last few breathes, lying in this clearing. With the Vultures now scattered amongst the nearby vantage points, it would not be long before predators would be close by. Our plan would be to return in the afternoon and hope to get lucky.

The afternoon started out as any other in Mana Pools, with uncontrollable excitement at the thought of the next experience. One that would hopefully include some predators interacting around the hippo carcass.

Upon approaching the scene, now on foot, away from the safety of the vehicle, we could sense a heightened state of awareness within the group. Each step closer was accurate and controlled, and before we knew it, we were a part of the scene. Upon first inspection, we had no sign of any predator. The hippo lay there in front of us, lifeless. As the afternoon started to cool, and the light beginning to turn a warm shade. If anything was close by, it would make itself present soon.

The lifeless Hippo lies in the open clearing, with visible scarring from its years of defending itself.

Sitting quietly, always vigilant, the group was losing hope of seeing any action, but we stuck it out and patiently listened to the bush. Listening for a rustle in the bushes, or alarm calls to indicate a predator nearby. No sooner had we spoken the words, “Imagine if…” a male lion appeared from behind us. His eyes focussed, golden and intense. He had come from a nearby waterway, having quenched his thirst, he was on route to the hippo.

Now picture this scene in your mind. A group of guests, on foot, sitting close to a fallen hippo, awaiting the entry of a large predator. (In your mind, the scene seems intimidating and vaguely idiotic. But, remember, this has been done in Mana Pools for many years, viewing animals on foot is the reason people visit this location.)

We found ourselves in this exact position. The male lion had seen us, and momentarily focussed his attention in our direction. His eyes looking straight into mine.

Surprisingly, it was as if we almost never existed. The male lion lost interest in our presence and headed directly for the Hippo. He took his time to get there, and sniffed around the scene trying to gather information about what had materialised before his arrival. Using scent, the lion would be able to work out if other large predators had visited prior to him stumbling upon such a meal, but he seemed confident and began a laborious process of trying to gnaw through the 2 inch thick hide.

Vultures had already begun the process of picking out the eyes, and there were a few areas around the shoulder that had been opened up, which allowed the male to get a small meal before being disturbed by some movement close by.

The male lost interest in the hippo completely and focussed his attention to something that was now behind us, about 100 feet over our left shoulders. He looked up, focussed and took a direct line in that direction. We anticipated some action and readied ourselves.

As the afternoon light took a golden turn, the males activity levels increased.

With such a big meal to defend, the males were constantly on the look out for intruders. Or brothers.

One of the brothers moving toward the hippo carcass.

As the male slowly made his way past us, we could feel his presence. This proud, dominant lion, staking his claim to this feast. He was not letting any foe in to bother him.

The anticipation grew as we noticed another large male lion making his approach, they were on a direct path to engage, and all of this time, we were on foot, in the action, not knowing what may unfold.

Fortunately, it was clearly evident that these 2 lions knew each other well. They greeted each other by rubbing heads and lying together, grooming themselves and one another. Bonding before a big meal. These 2 males, assumed brothers, were now in charge of this situation, and they were going to make this well known as the afternoon progressed.

However, as each minute passed, the bush began to stir. The trumpet of an elephant bull set our hearts beating, and the whoop of a nearby hyena confirmed that this was going to be an interesting night for all witness to this scene.

The brothers greet each others before settling down for a brief moment.

The males lay next to each other as they waited for the afternoon heat to subside.

Uninvited guests to their meal.

A lifetime experience being of foot close to these 2 male lions.

As dusk fell, we made our decision to return to the safety of our car. By now, the 2 male lions were lying next to the hippo, and a clan of hyena were circling the clearing, calling recruits to come and fight for access to a free meal. We were not going to be left in the middle of what would turn out to be a monstrous disagreement between 2 eternal enemies. As we arrived back at our vehicle, an enormous fight broke out. The hyena clan, now 20 strong had slowly approached the carcass, and the proud lions stood their ground. We swiftly turned around to see 1 male lion being attacked by at least 15 hyena from all angles. The noises I heard in that moment are still very clear in my memory. The second male came roaring in to defend his brother, the hyena scattered in all directions. This process would be repeated many times over the course of the night, but we didn’t stick around to see it all unfold under the darkness of the night.

Viewing animals in Mana Pools after dark is not allowed and for this reason we had to leave. But our camp was close by and through the night we heard the noises of fighting hyena and growling, angry lions. The bush did not sleep well that night.

The next morning we made one last visit to the scene to put the puzzle pieces together. What had happened over the course of the evening? Were any of the lions still there and were they injured? Had the hyena clan managed to take claim to the kill or would we find 2 strong lions who’s experience would allow them to defend themselves and their stake on the kill?

The latter would be the case and as we approached, we found both male lions close to the carcass. Over the course of the morning, we watched them tear into the carcass, with all their might. Vultures had now become quite accustomed to the presence of the lions and were walking around picking up scraps, whilst the lions were hard at work.

Tearing in to the shoulder of the hippo, this male keeps a watchful eye on the scavengers nearby.

Tearing through skin a few inches thick is no easy affair.

A gracious walk past the large fallen hippo.

We were witness to the arrival 5 animal species in the scene, including, Lion, Elephant, Hyena, Vultures and of course the fallen Hippo.

This sighting was one that I have visualised over and over in my head for the past few years. For many reasons I look back at it and am ignited with the feelings I felt, sitting on the ground, lions mere feet away from me.

I look back at this sighting and find myself longing for this experience again. To be there, in the wild, with the wild. Completely absorbed in the moment.

In July I will be returning to Mana Pools to lead a trip with some of our guests, and I look forward to what the magical Mana Pools forest has to offer us.

Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland

The Super Mom of the Kalahari

When we read books about lions, books that have taken months and years to compile using research painstakingly conducted over generations, we still don’t often come across stories about these incredible beasts like the one I am going to describe here.

When we read about lions, we are told that on average they will give birth to approximately 2-4 litters and seldom more than that. A healthy lioness in the prime of her life, will usually have around 4 cubs in a litter, whilst older lionesses generally have less. Most lion prides consist of more than one lioness, and these females are often related to one another as mother, daughter, sister or cousin.

It is also well documented that mature enough lionesses in a pride will synchronise their oestrus cycles, breeding and birthing in order to have cubs simultaneously. In so doing, the survival rate of all cubs becomes greater. Interestingly, females in the pride will readily treat all similar aged cubs as their own. They will groom, look after and even nurse cubs that belong to their sister, cousin, mother, aunt or grandmother as they would their own.

Currently, in the southern parts of the Kalahari’s semi-arid desert, (often referred to as the “Green Kalahari”) lies a special tract of land known as Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. This is the largest privately owned wilderness area in South Africa and it is here, that a magical story is currently unfolding.

The area is home to a resident pride of lions consisting of 3 adult lionesses and their sub-adult offspring. Late in 2016, the sub-adults, were naturally forced to leave their birth territory and create their own future in other parts of the reserve. Of the 3 remaining females – an elderly lion has begun to spend a lot of her time on her own leaving the remaining 2 adult lionesses, to continue the prides legacy.

An adult lioness leads the way for her youngsters, who are soon to leave and become nomadic.

One of the last occasions that these lions were all seen together before the sub-adults were forced to leave their mothers.

Soon after the sub-adults left their mothers, the lionesses showed signs of pregnancy and in September of 2016, welcomed new cubs into the world. Each lioness had her own litter, 4 to one lioness and 3 to the other. It was a remarkable time and I was fortunate enough to be there to witness the cubs, in their den, nursing from their mothers.

Fast forward 4 months and disaster strikes. The budding young pride was faced with a terrible dilemma when one of the adult lionesses tragically passed away. Her death came as a great loss to the pride and more importantly to the small cubs she left behind. At the time of her death, her cubs were still being weaned and were certainly not able to fend for themselves yet. This left the last remaining lioness with a high burden, to take on the role of surrogate mother to the orphaned cubs in addition to sustaining the lives of her own litter. Seven hungry mouths to feed on her own, in a vast unforgiving wilderness.

The last remaining lioness had been left with the task of raising a litter of 7 on her own.

Having been away from Tswalu for a period, I had no idea how this extraordinary lioness and her “double litter” were doing. So when I returned to Tswalu recently to do some private guiding, I really wanted to see for myself and spent hours searching high and low for the pride in the mountains and hills. Eventually we managed to find them early one morning. It was such a special sighting to witness this incredible lion interacting with her astonishing  family.

They had been feeding on a kill somewhere close by and were on their way to a watering hole to quench their thirst. Slowly all the lions filtered out onto the road, and one by one we counted… All 7 had survived and flourished! 7 healthy, beautiful lion cubs, with their superhero mom/surrogate mom, leading them to water. It is was a moment that will stick with me for many years to come and thankfully we have the pictures and videos to remind us. We will watch eagerly from the sidelines as the next chapter of this  unbelievable story unfolds.

We came around the corner only to find the single lioness and all of the cubs, still alive and well.

Each cub has developed their own character and individuality.

Their boisterous nature was so contagious that we laughed and sighed as they played in front of us.

Such a story will hold its place in my memory for a long time to come!

I look forward to visiting Tswalu again soon, to continue to follow this formidable lioness and her seven amazing cubs. Life in the wild is nothing if not unpredictable, so we know that this story is not over yet. They undeniably will be faced with many more hardships in the future. I truly hope that the resolve, strength and effort this lioness has shown is rewarded with all 7 surviving to adulthood.

To go and watch the video of the pride, click the link below:

Written, photographed and filmed by: Mike Sutherland

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