Botswana – Savute & Khwai with Penny Robartes
It always produces feelings of excitement and anticipation when I welcome my guests to possibly their first time to the country, region or even just on a photo tour with me. The possibilities of what we will experience, see and photograph together are right before everyone’s eyes as we greet each and meet those who we will be undergoing this photographic journey with.
Having landed in a very hot and dry Maun in Botswana, my guests and I were given our first dose of weather conditions expected for our week in Botswana. Of course, the heat was expected as my Botswana – Savute & Khwai Photo Tour has been designed specifically to take place in October, a month where the vegetation is thinned out and dry from lack of winter rainfall, and heralds the start of the summer heat before the first rainfalls usually occur in November. This is a month where predators reign over the land as their prey are weak and hot due as they come out of winter’s food scarcity and into summer heat and limited water sources.
Our first destination was Savute. Wildlife commonly seen here are Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, with Leopard sightings on the rise, unusual wildlife such as Roan Antelope commonly seen, and the endangered African Wild Dog a treat if they are in the area. The resident 2 Cheetah brothers are always special to see especially considering how many bigger predators there are around!
Destination 1: Savute
Welcome to a land where most of the time, you are driving upon the whitest, softest sand, to which a lot of foliage surprisingly grows from. Coming out of winter and entering summer, the long grass is a mixture of gold and yellow that sways softly in the wind and creates beautiful and soft scene. Savute is an area made famous by wildlife documentaries documenting the Savute Channel and its wildlife. Some of the stars of this area are iconic wildlife species such as Elephant which gather in large family groups by the man-made waterholes before seemingly disappearing back into Mopane forests which leave you wondering, where do they go?
Lion are a very common and wonderful sight to see here. There are 2 main prides that have in split up further in the last year, some moving out of the area and making the large Southern/Marsh pride go from 21 individuals to just less than half with 2 new males having overthrown the 2 old boys. The Northern Pride, more commonly known as the Elephant hunters, too have split up slightly but are still made up of an impressive coalition of 4 males. We spent some good quality time with this pride on this Savute photo tour, with one couple being a newly mating pair. If you have seen Lion mating, especially early pairing, you generally don’t need to wait long before either the female or the male instigates the next round. I prepared my guests technically and compositionally where possible for the upcoming animal behaviour and what type of action and images could be created.
We had some truly spectacular, special and unique wildlife sightings that left us all on a high after every game drive. We had sightings of 3 individual Leopard, with 2 of the 3 offering great photographic opportunities. The one sighting that we photographed at different times was of a male Leopard feeding off an Elephant carcass. Yes, you read right! As soon as our local guide heard from camp that the Elephant carcass in front of camp that had died of natural causes 2 days prior, now had a Leopard feeding on it. We moved quickly on from what we were photographing to this absolutely once-in-a-lifetime sighting!
Before we ended up finding and spending time with the Southern Pride Lions, we were at Rhino Vlei with two Elephant bulls who were calmly drinking and watching one another. Positioning my guests, we then took some moments to soak up this calm scene and look at how to tell stories with multiple animals in the frame, looking at animal behaviour, body posturing, using an individual as a natural frame and more.
From here, and not far at all from the waterhole, we came upon the 6 Lioness and 2 dominant males, bathed in golden light. One male was closer to a female and after she urinated, he went to investigate and gave us front view of the Flehmen Grimace. He repeated it a new times, allowing my guests to explore different captures and magnifications that suited their personal visions.
The females ended up moving from their position in the golden light to find some shade. This afforded us opportunities to work in golden light and backlight, and explore some technical aspects to get certain aesthetics from the backlit scenes where the colours of the grass can be quite distracting.
Another sighting we had of Lion which was memorable, as of a Lioness from the Northern Pride relocating her cub to another bush. It took her less than 20 seconds to walk from one to another, but we were ready and waiting.
Our final morning was as true a send off as one could have ever expected. After a hiatus of 2-months, our local guide spotted the Cheetah brothers in the middle of the marsh area, walking at a dedicated pace.
“I think there is a Cheetah or a Leopard walking in the marsh!” Exclaimed our local guide, Kops. Way in the distance, my guests and I saw a cat-like figure walking. “It’s the Cheetah brothers! There is the 2nd one” he further exclaimed.
Hearts racing in excitement, we looked at the direction they were going and positioned our vehicle a good distance in front of them, giving us ample opportunity to capture head-on and side walking shots of the boys. We had beautiful photographic opportunities with them in morning light, all to ourselves, as the males kept walking at a steady pace.
They spotted some Impala and immediately turned towards them, slowed their pace, and stalked. We waited back and turned off the vehicle’d engine as we watched the Cheetah slowly stalking forward. Then the hunt began and in a burst of power and speed, and they were successful! Such a special sighting, and one we will long remember due to having our time alone with the Cheetah, and that we were the first to see them after their 2-month stint away!
Destination 2: Khwai
Leaving the dry beauty of Savute, we made our way to the Khwai concession were the camp we use is based alongside the Khwai River. While there are similar habitats found in both areas, being based in the Okavango Delta for our second destination with water sources around us offered habitats that we hadn’t explored yet as well as wildlife that we did not see in Savute; such as water birds, Letchwe, Crocodile, Reed buck and Hippo, to name a few. Our time in Khwai was afforded us lovely scenes of wildlife with lush backgrounds and blue waters. A wonderful compliment and contrast to Savute. This is why this tour is so popular and crafted in this way; to give guests a diverse wildlife portfolio and experience of Botswana.
The unique sightings continued from Savute into Khwai. On our first afternoon game drive in Khwai, we followed 2 sub-adult male Lions who were walking towards an area where a Hippo carcass lay close to the Khwai River. About 2-days prior, 2 Hippo bulls fought one another and this bull died of its injuries. Even golden light couldn’t disguise the “graffiti” look of the Hippo’s skin as the Lions made good headway of the bounty before them. When the sub-adults got relatively close to the carcass which was being fed on by Lionesses, the two sub-adults lay down and watched for a while before walking slowly to the carcass with their heads low in submission. It was phenomenal animal behaviour we were observing as well as the photographic opportunities. One sub-adult male belly-crawled towards where a female had broken through the tough Hippo skin, continuing to show submissive behaviour. Even though the smell caught us all off-guard, we powered through until we couldn’t. We ended a successful day of wildlife photography and experiences with sundowners much further down the river in the company of a male Letchwe.
The next morning we wen’t back to see the carcass, and all that was left were bones! We were all surprised as it was an incredibly hearty meal, but Crocodile had clearly eaten as they were collected by the carcass, and Hyena tracks littered the sand roads leading to and from the carcass.
But that is not where it ended! The other male Hippo had died of it’s injuries close by, and more Lion were feeding on it. This time, more of the figure of the Hippo was found, with a very steam-punk-looking carcass greeting us. It was intense and we returned to the scene over the next couple of days.
Other great sightings from our time in Khwai included Leopard, with our last afternoon being very special. We finally had found the male Leopard whose tracks we saw near-daily but could never find. Until our last evening.
He was utterly beautiful and so relaxed around us. We spent the whole afternoon and into the early evening with him until he disappeared to go hunt.
It was a fantastic photo tour filled with incredible wildlife sightings, experiences, photography and camaraderie. These two destinations are a power combination and my guests left Botswana with powerful wildlife portfolios showcasing a powerful photography tour.