BIG CAT SIGHTINGS ON FOOT WITH KER & DOWNEY BOTSWANA
I recently had the pleasure of guiding Tim Johnson, a visiting journalist from the Globe & Mail in Canada, on a visit through Ker & Downey Botswana's concession areas within the Okavango Delta. Tim is extremely passionate about Africa's big cats, and wanted to experience as much of the Okavango as possible during his stay. Naturally, the best way to do this is, is to step out of the vehicle and submerge your senses on a walking safari!
We enjoyed several excellent walking safaris at both 'Footsteps Across the Delta' and 'Shinde,' but by the time we arrived on the final leg of our trip in the Kanana concession, we were yet to see any of the big cats. Kanana is an area best suited to exploration by canoe and on foot being a myriad of crystal clear waterways, dotted with wildlife rich islands.
An early morning excursion, found us heading to a large island in a mokoro (a traditional dug out canoe and the main form of water transport within the Delta), as we had heard the urgent alarm calls of a baboon troop coming from the distant treeline. As we neared the island, the baboons' barks were joined by the rapid chatter of vervet monkeys. Such distress among monkeys and baboons is a sure sign there is a predator in the area and I knew we would have to tread carefully.
After about an hour of slow and careful walking, checking tracks and listening to the sounds in the area, I pointed out several giraffes to Tim. Despite the fact we were standing in the open a hundred yards away, they were clearly ignoring us and were focused on something else. The only potential threat which supersedes a human being, would be one of the big cats! As we focused on the area in which the giraffes were staring, a herd of impala burst from the undergrowth and headed in our direction! The impala ran directly at us before passing close by, scarcely giving us a glance! The immediate question was of course, what was following behind them?
Seconds later, our question was answered. A female leopard strolled out into the open plains, as relaxed as could be. Even more amazing was the little ball of fur which followed behind her. A very young cub, still with its dull grey colouring, was clearly only several days old! An incredible sighting at any time, but on foot this was extremely unsual and very exciting! While the female leopard was well aware of our presence, she completely ignored us and we were fortunate enough to be able to observe the pair for over ten minutes.
The following day we decided to walk on the 'mainland' concentrating on tracking down members of the concession's lion pride. Other guides and guests at Kanana had seen lions on a game drive a day earlier and so we were able to concentrate on this area of the concession. The walking was eventful and filled with general game, but none of them were exhibiting any of the signs of predators being nearby. As we had seen so clearly when we spotted the leopard and her cub, large mammals such as impala, kudu and giraffe as well as monkeys, baboons and even birds will let you know if there are any predators in the area. But all was quiet in the bush this morning, no tracks or sounds to alert us to the presence of any cats.
And then they were there. As we rounded some low bushes, no more than thirty meters away, lay two huge male lions staring directly at us. The lions had clearly heard us coming and were, thankfully, not surprised by our appearance. They remained sprawled upon the grass, eyeing us with a level of disdain that only cat lovers will truly understand!
Our behavior at this proximity was extremely important and I reminded Tim that whatever happened he was not to make any sudden movement, let alone think about running! We stopped moving and evaluated their behavior for several minutes. Once it was clear they were extremely relaxed and did not consider us a threat, we slowly moved further away from them, before stopping to enjoy these magnificent animals. So relaxed were the lions that one of them even fell asleep while we watched them!
Tim was extremely fortunate to experience a wide variety of game and habitat on while walking in the Okavango, but undoubtably the most vivid memories from our time together, will be our exciting and humbling interactions with two of Africa's apex predators!