Safari in Chobi National Park, Botswana

     If you’ve ever looked down the throat of a hippo (through the tele lens), it’s not hard to believe the story of Jonah being swallowed by the whale. The hippo is a strange animal – with its tiny pig like ears and massive heavy head. Robert and I are on a one day Safari in the Chobi National Park of Botswana. We spent three hours on a boat cruising the Chobi River, followed by another three hours on land.

This hippo was trying to intimidate an approaching safari boat. Hippos are vegetarians. Lying submerged in the river in pods during the day, they scramble up the banks at night to feed on whatever plants they can find.

This hippo was trying to intimidate an approaching safari boat. Hippos are vegetarians. Lying submerged in the river in pods during the day, they scramble up the banks at night to feed on whatever plants they can find.

     Crocodiles lie submerged along the shore, waiting for thirsty delicate gazelles. Monitor lizards stalk the water’s edge, keeping the crocodile population in check by eating their eggs. Birds of every size and colour flit through the brush. A water snake winds a swift path through the river.

     We’re fortunate to see a family of elephants lumber down to the shore to drink. Usually when it’s this ‘cold’ (cold enough to need a sweater in the morning) they don’t need to come to the river often. One mama sprays her baby with water to cool it down; a bull tosses sand all over his leathery skin. Later we watch two ‘toddlers’ roll in the mud. Botswana has 80,000 elephants, due in large part to a very successful anti-poaching program. They certainly can cause a lot of destruction, judging by the scraggy brush along the river.

Other African countries are looking to Botswana for clues in how to stop poachers hunting elephants for the ivory from the tusks.

Other African countries are looking to Botswana for clues in how to stop poachers hunting elephants for the ivory from the tusks.

     The lions lie passive in the dappled shade of a bush, heavy from the previous night’s feed. They help to keep the large gazelle herd of the park in check. The vegetation seems sparse and dry, and the dry season has only begun. We wonder how the park can carry such a large animal population. Our guide, ‘Six’ (he was born the sixth), assures us that the park is huge and can easily feed everyone.

     I’m not sure southern Zambia is good at feeding everyone. It seems a harsh land. The maize fields we see are stunted and spare. Our driver this morning, Patrick, says farming is a very hard thing to do here. Most people live by carving souvenirs for the tourists. But tourists are not turning up in large numbers this year. No wonder I feel a bit like the gazelle with a herd of lions when I near the souvenir stalls at the Victoria Falls! I must seem like prey to the many local vendors.

Victoria Falls: So much water, and so dry along the shores...southern Zambia is known to be drought prone, and many NGOs are engaged in helping locals to become more food secure.

So much water, and so dry along the shores...southern Zambia is known to be drought prone, and many NGOs are engaged in helping locals to become more food secure.

     The mighty Zambezi River, starting in the far north-western corner of Zambia and flowing 3,540 kilometres to the Indian Ocean, is at its peak this time of year. The massive amounts of water thundering over the Victoria Falls sent fountains of gist so thick and high we never do see the falls in their whole width and height. The falls are one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Spectacular, magnificent, awe-inspiring…

     Thursday we leave Zambia again, for Switzerland. Time has gone far too quickly. We’re sorry to leave friends, old and new. Sorry to leave such a beautiful country. But the people we partner with are very capable of carrying out the work themselves. It’s time to move on again for a bit.

 

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