A Long Expected Party
October 20th, 2013
By Jonathan Piazza (Point Loma Nazarene University)
It was September 28th when we first departed from Dibatana Research Camp. As much fun as Khwai was at both the Magotho and Adventure Camp locations, the trip back to Dibatana was highly anticipated. Needless to say, our past week here in NG34 has been quite the party…
First and most importantly, the first rains of the wet season have blessed us with their presence. On Monday evening, heavy clouds began to roll over camp as the sun went down; thunder could be heard in the distance. Ben and I decided it would be best to waterproof our tent by dropping our window flaps and putting a rain fly over the top. That evening after dinner, the two of us sat up for a few hours and watched the lightning illuminate the horizon. Nothing like a good thunderstorm; the dark, skeletal shapes of barren mopane trees could be seen for miles and miles with every flash of lightning. Most nights this week have been cloudy and a few raindrops felt here and there. We are all looking forward to seeing the transformation that is to come.
A new campsite means new escort guides, which is always a lot of fun. One of my favorite activities since arriving in Botswana has been both getting to know and hanging out with the guides. I let all of them know they are my brothers and sisters from Botswana, which they find humorous. This week we met our first two guides from Sankoyo: Innocent and Smally. Innocent is a very tall, fit man. Prior to introducing ourselves to him, Anna had a washbasin stolen from her by a baboon. Shortly after the primate took off with her stuff, a man was seen (who turned out to be Innocent) sprinting after the thief. It did not take long for the monkey to give up his prize; I would be terrified if Innocent decided to chase after me as well. Smally is a quiet woman, but very friendly when you take the time to talk to her. She calls me by my Setswana name, Thuso, and we end most evenings eating gingersnap cookies together. It will be sad to see the two of them go, but I am excited to meet more guides from Sankoyo this coming week.
This past week was filled with plenty of animal encounters. The first for me was Sunday morning. Anna, Amelia and I were eating breakfast on the deck that overlooks the waterhole and watching large numbers of impala come to socialize and drink during the cool of the morning. I love to call out, “Dumela!” at the impala as we pass hundreds during the day on the way to transect start points or new campsites; Sunday morning was no different. The facial expressions they have when startled by vehicles or people yelling hello to them are priceless.
I was woken up Monday morning by baboons fighting in the trees near mine and Ben’s tent, and then again by Sixteen letting us know lions were near the waterhole. We drove out to them in the Land Cruiser before eating breakfast and leaving for transects; there were three female lionesses laying around and basking in the cool morning sun. One of the three was very pregnant!
A little later on the transect drive with Gen, Sixteen, Anna and Amelia, we saw a male elephant in musth while changing out memory cards at Lindsay’s camera trap stations. Musth is when a male elephant’s testosterone levels skyrocket for a couple day period; they are in mating-mode. They become very irate and aggressive. We pulled up to camera station NG20 and on the right-hand side off the road was a large male elephant. We decided it would be best to stay in the car and observed the elephant for a few minutes before driving away when signs of aggression became very apparent. We also saw a herd of 100-150 African buffalo in the Gomoti River as we drove along it that morning. That evening was when the rain came, as well as some locals. While cooking dinner, we had many wild residents of the concession pass by, including the three lionesses from earlier in the day and a baby elephant with its mother. That night, I slept in the tent by myself; Ben had a stomachache and stayed in Mike’s cabin for the evening. From midnight till 4am or 5am the next morning, numerous elephants could be heard grumbling and roaring outside of the tent, as well as lions contact calling in the distance. Tuesday morning, lion and elephant tracks could be seen in the wet sand around everyone’s tents.
If you’re thinking this past Monday was about as exciting as Botswana could be in a 24-hour period, you’re gravely mistaken. Almost everyday this week we have seen numerous lions around the waterhole (including an extremely large male which we followed for a few minutes in the Land Cruiser). We have also seen a number of honey badgers; Ben and I watched one licking inside a pot a couple of meters outside of our tent at 2am Friday night. The middle of the days have been spent in the pool with Sixteen, Innocent and our good buddy that works at Dibatana, Jon. We use the walkway leading up to the pool as a runway for aerial acrobatics into the cold water; mine generally being the back flop. Evenings consist of awesome dinners cooked over the campfire (quiche, pasta, curried vegetables, chicken that falls off the bone, etc.) and endless stories from back home in the US. A number of nights this past week a group of us went to Jon’s and sat on his deck with night vision binoculars looking at some of the more elusive animals of the savannah, including servals. Yesterday we took a group trip to Maun, which primarily consisted of souvenir shopping, Barcelo’s chicken and french-fries, Stoney Ginger Beers and 4 liters of ice cream that we attempted to finish but were unsuccessful.
I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to be on this program with such amazing people and experiencing fauna I have dreamt of seeing in the wild for as long as I can remember. As excited as I am to head back to the States and see my loved ones in mid-December, I am looking forward to what the next 8 weeks have to offer. My expectations have been surpassed daily since arriving in Botswana and I am sure they will continue to be for the next two months.