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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hyenas are no laughing matter

Monday February  18th 

We’ve now set up camp near the Khwai river on Okavango Delta.  There’s a reserve and a community area.  That’s different than a park.  In the park there’s no commercial activities allowed – with the exception of a few sanctioned lodges.  The reserve is an area where the animals are protected, but some commercial activities – such as mining – are allowed.  The community area has no restrictions and where the people live.  Our camp has been set up in a campsite in the community area.
Real washrooms!

Looking for Dogs
We rise at our usual early time and head out into the reserve.  We have to sign in and that’s when we make a staggering discovery – They have modern washrooms at the reserve and park gates!   They even have showers!  There is a stampede for the washroom.  People return with big smiles on their faces.  Since we’ll be passing in and out of the gated areas every day the hated “long drop” toilets are now designated as “emergency” only.   There are also several posters up asking people to let the researchers know if anyone spots or takes pictures of the wild dogs.  I’m tempted to put a note on the bottom to let us know as well.

Bridge on the River Kwai
The habitat near the Khwai River - not to be confused with the Kwai River in Thailand (although some of the bridges over the river Khwai look like the bridges in the movie, Bridge over the River Kwai) is lush and green – in contrast to the Chobe park. The majority of the reserve is populated with a thick mopane forest. 

Bridge on the River Khwai
Shaka spots a vulture circling in the distance and heads off road to see what’s attracting him.  We find jackals crunching on the bones, while the vultures wait their turn.  Shaka figures what we’re looking at was a happy, but slow-moving wildebeest who fell prey to lions a few hours earlier.  I comment that I expected to see more vultures.  One of the Brits comments that Vultures are now endangered – particularly in neighbouring South Africa.  When I wonder what’s killing them, he tells me it’s locals.   Evidently there’s a belief that sleeping with a vulture head under your pillow will increase your odds in winning the lottery – I’m not making this up – here’s the link.
Save the bones for me:  jackals
I can just see Lottery Night In South Africa.
Host: “I’m here with Robert Kubayi, our most recent winner of Powerball Plus.  Congratulations, Robert.  Can you share with our viewers your secret for picking the winning numbers?  Birthdates?  Anniversaries?”
Lonely Vulture
Robert (Holding up vulture head): “Actually, John, it’s my lucky vulture head.  I slept with it a week and had a vision.”
Host: “Really!  Don’t you think that’s superstitious claptrap?  Aren’t you worried about what you’re doing to the environment?”
Robert: “This is the third lottery I’ve won this year!”
Host: “So, where do you get one of those?”  

Lest you think this superstitious nonsense is only restricted to Africa, it’s a little-known fact that in the Godfather I after Luca Brasi put the horse head in Woltz’s bed both of them won the trifactor in Hialeah!  Look it up!
The elephant is getting pretty close

We saw lots of elephants and hippos, along with antelope, zebras and Giraffes.  Around sunset Shaka stopped outside a hyena den.  I have to admit of all the animals we’ve seen the only ones that truly scare me are the hyenas.   All the animals in the park don’t seem to be concerned about the vehicles.  They look at them as sort of moving scenery - they don’t seem to know or care that there’s “meat” inside them.  All of them, that is, except the hyenas.  They’re sort of like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park – they KNOW that there’s something edible in there.  And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that the car is wide open – no locking the doors and rolling up the windows.  The open car is sort of a hyena eating station.
hyenas sizing us up
As the sun sets the hyenas stream out of their den and surround the vehicle.  One of them actually begins to bite the tires.  His teeth are so long and so sharp that Shaka is actually worried he might actually puncture it.  The others stand on their hind paws and look up at us.   

Hyenas are one of the truly scary predators.  Even lions are afraid of them.  They are extremely intelligent – some say smarter than chimpanzees.  They hunt in packs and are highly effective and fear nothing.

I’m glad when we finally head back to camp. 
“How far is their den from our camp?” one of the Germans asks.
“About 2km,” answers Shaka. “They sometimes come through the camp.  They won’t bother you as long as you keep your tents zipped up and don’t have any food in the tent.”
Sure enough, around two in the morning I hear hooting and roaring as the pack as come to visit.   I’m not sure how an eighth of an inch of canvas is going to keep a 150lb hungry carnivore out of me tent. I’d rather share my tent with a snake and two lions than a hyena.  I pull the covers over my head and pray.   Eventually they go away.  I don’t get out of bed till I get my morning wake-up call.

Tuesday February 19th

This morning we’re scheduled to take a water safari on mokoros. A mokoro is a type of boat used on the Okavango delta.  It looks like a cross between a surfboard and a canoe.    It’s propelled by standing in the stern and poling it along the river like a punt. It was traditionally made by digging out an ebony or kigelia tree.  It’s now a popular way for tourists to get a different perspective of the river.  The bad news is that the hippopotamus thinks it’s a wonderful game to sneak up under them and overturn them.

Shaka drives us up to the river where the Mokoro guys are waiting.  The first thing we notice is that the mokoros are no longer made out of wood.  They’re made out of fiberglass.  The guy in charge points out that they are much lighter and easier to carry.
“And for the hippos to flip over,” I add.  This gets me a dirty look as he pulls out a clip board with the liability release forms for us to sign.   I try and scan it to see if hippo liability is covered, but it’s snatched out of my hands.

Hippo looking for mokoro to tip
We’re assigned two to a boat with a guy to pole us along and act as a guide.  As we quietly glide along the river the guide points out the obligatory birds. 
“Is that a fluted seersucker?” I ask.  
“Ignore him,” the Brit I’m sharing the mokoro instructs him.  
We see interesting flora and fauna as we glide along.  For me the highlight is seeing an African Boa.  I’ll take snakes over birds any day.  We also see some small crocodiles.   We can hear hippos laughing around the bend, but the guides won’t get anywhere near them.
“Very dangerous,” our guide says.  “More people killed by angry hippos than any other animal.”
“What kind of birds are those?” I ask, pointing at two small grey lumps swimming towards us.
“Oh, Oh,” says the guide. “Those are hippo ears.  There’s a hippo swimming right towards us.  Be very still.”
We hold our breath as the hippo glides by not three feet away.   
After an hour of poling up river, we pause for coffee and cookies, then get back in our mokoros and head back to our starting point where Shaka is waiting.

During the afternoon we spot a leopard.  We actually don’t spot the actual leopard.  We see the signs that a leopard is nearby – namely five other cars surrounding a tree.  We drive up to see what they’re look at to be treated to a leopard fast asleep in a tree - no doubt dreaming of leaping down on one of those pesky cars and scaring the bejesus out of the occupants.   After a while the other cars depart and we wait a bit.  Our patience is rewarded when the leopard, seeing the show is over, nimbly climbs down the tree and slinks off into the bush.

Tomorrow another travel day to our final camp.

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