Botswana’s history is a proud one and rightly so. In its 50 years of independence it has transformed from the fourth poorest country in the world – maintaining the highest rate of economic growth worldwide – to today’s stable, fair, non-racial government with the lowest corruption rating in Africa.
Needless to say, on 31 September this year, the 50-year anniversary of independence (locally known as Boiputso), there was much to celebrate. And what better way to do so than to be in the heart of northern Botswana camped on the banks of the meandering Khwai river, in one of the best wildlife hotspots that Africa has to offer.
Our morning started as a typical morning does on safari. Hot coffee cooked on the fire held closely between our hands as the morning glow appeared to our east. The familiar calls of the nightjars faded and gave way to the francolin and doves as they woke.
The night before had been spent with the local pack of wild dogs, and our aim was to try and find them again that morning. This pack of six adults with their seven three-month-old pups require a lot of food, and they can predictably be found hunting at first and last light each day.
The difficulty lies in the fact that a typical hunt can cover 10 to 20kms. So we headed out onto the main road cutting through the thick mopane to the east. This was going to be a good day. Not 20 minutes later, the group of adults emerged from the bush in front of us, wearing masks of blood from a fresh kill.
I have seen wild dogs chase roan antelope before, our largest antelope second only to eland, but I have never seen or even heard of them bringing one down. However, close by we could see a female roan calling to her lost calf – the prey that the dogs had found.
It would not be so simple for the dogs that morning, though; exhausted from the chase, they had just been run off by two large hyaenas who were now enjoying their meal.
We watched them tear at the carcas as the dogs rested in the cool sand next to our vehicle, recovering.
Soon the distressed mother resumed her alarm calls as a large male leopard approached, drawn by the sounds and smells of the kill. He sprang up a tree to assess the situation, but quickly decided that he did not want to take on the dogs or the hyaenas and disappeared back into the bush.
After about 10 minutes the dogs rallied, having recovered from their earlier hunt, and approached the hyaenas, encircling them, whining and yapping as the hyaenas tried to defend the kill from every side. Quickly, the alpha male saw his opportunity and bit down hard on the exposed rump of the larger of the two hyaenas. Enraged, the hyaena charged towards the offender, abandoning his partner and their defensive position. It didn’t take more than an instant for the dogs to capitalize, bonding together as a pack they chased off the hyaenas and regained their prize.
Defeated, the hyaenas slinked off to watch mournfully from a distance as the dogs made short work of the carcas.
The morning saw us continue to enjoy the spectacle, hanging out with the dogs, watching them call their pups with their echoing eerie hoop-hoop call. And then the excitement as the pups bounded in to share the kill.
Mornings like this don’t happen every day, but in the wildlife spectacle that is the Okavango, you’re lucky more often than not. It is such a privilege to be able to explore this area, unfenced and unchanged since time immemorial.
Thoroughly content we returned to camp to relax by the river through the heat of the afternoon. The celebrations of the day were far from over – but that’s a story for the next letter from the bush.