Posted by & filed under Maria Henson, Safari Stories.

Gasekgale “Kelly” Thebe is a crowd pleaser at Shinde and an example of someone in Botswana’s tourism industry who aspired to move up and did.

She first worked as a housekeeper in this camp when she arrived 20 years ago. She advanced to become a waitress and eventually a trainee chef. In recent years she has been the head chef, serving up anything from pork ribs to quiche to oxtail stew to granadilla cheesecake.

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During my stay she and the staff served dinner on the lawn near the lagoon under the stars with luminaria twinkling in the dark. The scene was storybook perfection, with an opening to the evening that included harmonious singing and foot stomping by the choir of staff members around the fire.

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“At night we come here to sing,” Kelly says, “to make the guests happy.”

Singing is one of her favorite activities at Shinde, as is the celebration each September 30 of Independence Day for Botswana. She makes cakes featuring the flag of Botswana, and celebrates with all the staff members, who come from different tribes and areas of the country to work here. Kelly calls them family. “When I have a problem, they talk with me. When I am sick, they can care for me. They treat me like my mother.”

Ask Kelly her favorite dish, and it is an easy answer: seswaa, pap (maize meal the consistency of polenta), and peeled and cooked roots of the water lilies. I refer to seswaa as Botswana barbecue. When she is at home, Kelly cuts beef into chunks and places the meat in water in a three-legged iron pot on the fire outdoors. Depending on the tenderness of the meat, she will cook it for up to four hours. Salt, pepper and a little vegetable oil will be the only other ingredients. Once the meat is done, Kelly pounds it into chopped barbecue consistency. Delicious!

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There might be one change once in a while at home – a change of chef. “My daughter cooks for me,” she says, pointing out that sometimes when she goes back home after cooking for all of the Shinde visitors from around the world she needs a rest. Well deserved, I would say.

Maria Henson was a guest in Ker & Downey Botswana's Shinde and once spent a sabbatical year living in beautiful Botswana

Posted by & filed under Isaac (Kanana Guide), Safari Stories.

A couple of months back we spoke to Doctor about the lion activity on the Kanana concession and he mentioned the Eastern pride, two incredibly powerful male lions who moved into the area, joining a group of females – the group is now known as the Kanana Pride. Click here to read Doctor's blog about the pride.

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Isaac recently witnessed a fascinating sighting involving the two eastern males which he documents below:

We were on an early morning game drive near paradise island when I saw a funeral of vultures circling ahead. I drove towards the area to investigate, as we approached a strong stench filled the air – I knew immediately that there was a dead animal nearby.

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As we came around the corner we saw the two males from the Kanana pride feeding on a sub-adult hippo. This is not a common occurrence but it didn’t surprise me as It wasn’t even two weeks before this sighting that I saw them dragging a huge male giraffe that they had killed.

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These two males are dominating the concession and have fathered three cubs since their arrival. This is such a positive sign for the lion population at Kanana and we hope to see their numbers increase gradually from here onwards

Story and images by Isaac Tapa (Professional guide at Kanana)

Posted by & filed under Relax (Shinde guide), Safari Stories.

Relax and his guests were on a leisurely morning game drive at Shinde when they came across this Bateleur sitting on a dead tree stump near the four pans area. It is not often that one gets to view these magnificent birds of prey at such proximity.

The name Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) means ‘tightrope walker’ in French because of the unbalanced side-to-side rocking movement it makes whilst in flight. As an adult bird, this species is certainly one of the more colourful birds of prey and it can be identified by its grey, black and tawny plumage and bright red face, legs and black beak, the distinguishing feature though is the eagles unbelievably short tail.

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The courtship display in breeding season is fascinating to watch; when the pair are soaring along the male will suddenly somersault and dive down towards the female, flashing his vibrant plumage in the process. This will attract the female and the breeding process will begin. The female will usually lay one egg and the pair will use the same nest for consecutive years.

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The bateleur mainly feeds on small reptiles and rodents such as snakes, rats, mice and squirrels. It will spend majority of the day flying and its ultra-sharp vision will allow for it to spot prey from a substantial distance.

We are lucky enough to view this beautiful bird in its natural habitat at Shinde!

Blog and images by Relax (professional guide at Shinde)

Posted by & filed under Safari Stories.

It was time to gather on the deck for high tea at Kanana, whilst sipping on an Arnold Palmer I noticed that giant cumulonimbus clouds had gathered in the distance, for what we hoped, was a signal of well-needed rain. A short drive had us arrive at the mokoro station, while Simon our guide loaded some refreshments into the vessel I noticed a pair of Malachite Kingfishers sitting on a bright green strand of papyrus. It looked like an adult and a juvenile bird and they were diving into the water in what seemed to be a ‘fishing lesson’.

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We emerged ourselves into the dug-out canoe and began moving down the channel in a very leisurely manner. Fish were darting off into the reeds and the water was lapping over the lily pads as we gently broke the surface of the water.

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T-Man, our Mokoro poler, spots something overhead, we veer off the main channel into a small opening in the reed bed. Standing up now, I noticed everyone was confused as to why we had stopped so soon into our journey but nevertheless we adjusted our eyes to the direction that T-man was pointing in.

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There, at the foot of a termite mound, was a large male lion, a lioness and their tiny cub that must have been approximately three months old. The three of them were feeding on a Sitatunga, a bitter-sweet realisation. Simon mentioned that these lions may be part of a pride which we have been seeing regularly around this island.

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We peered through our binoculars at this marvelous sighting for about twenty minutes before carrying on to the Heronry. The Heronry was buzzing with birdlife and the silent movement of the mokoros meant that the birds were undisturbed by our presence.

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It is hard to beat the peace and sheer joy one feels when floating on a mokoro through the Papyrus lined channels of the Okavango Delta.

Posted by & filed under Bee (Shinde Guide), Safari Stories.

At Shinde guests enjoy regular sightings of Side-Striped Jackal as they favour the scrub areas present in the concession. The Side-Striped Jackal is larger than its more carnivorous cousin the Black-Backed Jackal. The jackal will often inhabit the same area for long periods of time and unknown to most, the breeding pair can remain monogamous for several years.

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I was on a morning game drive with my guests and I decided that I wanted to show them something different. I knew that a Pair of Jackal were denning in the area and the female was seen to be expecting pups. We found spoor on the road and began to track the den, after quite some time our perseverance and patience paid off when we were rewarded with an encounter of six healthy playful pups. The average litter is from three to six young, so this pair have had a very successful breeding season.

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The Latin name for Side-striped Jackal is (Canis Adustus) and a member of the Canidae family (the ‘dog’ family), which includes all living dogs, wolves, jackals and foxes.

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Blog and images by Bee (professional guide at Shinde)

Posted by & filed under Bana Ba Letsatsi, Our People.

On, Friday, December 16th, twenty youth and four staff members of Bana Ba Letsatsi Rehabilitation centre hopped onto five Ker & Downey Botswana vehicles for Okuti, Moremi Game Reserve as the destination. The children looked both excited and nervous excited for what lay ahead of them, for most this would have been their first time in a Game Reserve. Noah, Solly, Moses and Opie (Ker & Downey Botswana guides) greeted us upon arrival and prepared us for the journey ahead, we were each given a bandana and some road snacks to keep us going and hydrated. The rain certainly did not stop the guides from answering each burning question posed by the children and they provided us with valuable information about the wilderness as we ambled along.

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It was a lengthy journey through Moremi Game Reserve but nevertheless an exciting one, we came across lots of game as we got closer to Okuti. When we finally arrived at the lodge, we were greeted with enthusiasm and graciousness. The Ker & Downey Botswana staff treated each child as a special guest and the children’s faces were lit with gratitude throughout the day. After enjoying a wonderful lunch with a riverside view, we gathered at the jetty for our afternoon boat cruise.

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On our boat cruise, we spotted an elephant submerging itself in the water as well as a big pod of hippo. The kids were thrilled and had to cover their mouths to prevent screaming in excitement and startling the animals. As we traveled back to the lodge to end our excursion, it began to pour with rain and everyone was soaked but this didn’t prevent the fun from carrying on, the Okuti choir and the children sung farewell songs to one another with such energy and you could feel the spirit flowing through the Camp.

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It cannot be overstated how gracious, kind, and compassionate the Guides and staff of Ker & Downey Botswana were to the children of Bana Ba Letsatsi Rehabilitation Centre. Many of the children BBL serves have difficult and tumultuous lives and Last Friday, they had the opportunity to understand how it feels to be a kid again. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

An account by Lauren, A Bana Ba Letsatsi volunteer.

Bana Ba Letsatsi

Bana Ba Letsatsi (Children of the Sun) was established in 2004 to support Northern Botswana’s orphaned, at-risk and vulnerable children. The charity’s Maun centre supports more than 250 underprivileged children by providing them with food, clothing, education, counselling, sports, arts and music activities. The children at Bana Ba Letsatsi are aged from 1-18 years, and without the centre would be lacking adequate food and care, while many would be living on the streets.

 

Posted by & filed under Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide), Safari Stories.

It was an early morning at Footsteps camp, I was hosting a walking safari with one guest and before we set out on the morning walk we sat down for breakfast and a cup of tea. Whilst eating we heard the baboons shouting and alarm calling and the next moment an impala came running through camp, almost knocking me over as I was sitting in my chair eating. She looked startled and trapped as if something was chasing her, then before we could stand up to scan our surroundings, an African wild dog rushed past us towards the impala who had now run into the water right in front of the fire pit area at Footsteps.

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It was the famous Golden Dog who we have been seeing fairly regularly on the concession (Read my previous blog about her sharing her prey with a hyena ) She is an extremely competent hunter and will often take down prey by herself, using tactics like chasing the animal into the water. The Golden Dog has five pups who are approximately six months old so she is forced to hunt with or without the help of the other adults in the pack.

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The dog started feeding on this impala in the water right in front of our breakfast spot, she has become used to people in camp so the fact that we were so close did not bother her in the slightest. She fed for a few minutes on the impala, it was graphic viewing and my guest was watching out the corner of one eye. The dog left the kill and started running out of camp, calling at the same time for her pups who must have been hidden in the area.

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About five minutes later the pups came bounding in, squeaking and yapping, almost as if they knew what was waiting for them. The pack fed and within minutes the impala had disappeared and the Dogs ran off into the wilderness. What an action packed breakfast it was and we were truly so lucky to have witnessed this encounter right on our "doorstep"!

 

Click here to see a short video of the encounter

 

Story and images by Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist guide)

Posted by & filed under Safari Stories.

A lot of emphasis and attention is placed on the animals that we view in the bush and we tend to forget about our feathery friends who form part of the awe-inspiring wilderness that is the Okavango Delta. Whether you are an avid twitcher or not, the Delta and Botswana as a whole offer some of the best bird viewing in the world.

The mokoro trip is the perfect opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of the Delta as the movement of the vessel is so quiet, keeping the surrounding environment completely undisturbed. Below are three species of birds which we have been seeing on the mokoro excursions at Kanana

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Purple Swamphen

This small chicken-like bird is often seen wandering on the edges of channels amongst the papyrus and on floating vegetation. The Swamphen feeds on the soft shoots of water plants as well as small frogs and insects.

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Whiskered Tern

Often seen skimming the water on the open lagoon at Kanana, this species is also a resident of marshy areas like the wilderness of the Okavango Delta. This skimming action seen is the bird feeding, they will fly low and skim the water taking in insects just below the surface. The tern’s breeding patterns are sporadic and they will usually build a small nest in a marsh or on a sand bank near the waters edge

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Malachite Kingfisher

This striking little kingfisher is commonly seen in the channels and waterways, flying between the reeds and papyrus. Its blue metallic colouration against a bright green papyrus stem really makes for the perfect photographic opportunity. The Malachite Kingfisher feeds on small fish and frogs; it will perch itself on a branch/stem over hanging the water and when its prey swims past the bird will dive down and submerge itself, hopefully bringing out with it, a meal.

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Posted by & filed under Our People.

The talented Smar is the chef at Okuti, her and rest of the kitchen team work tirelessly every day to produce the delicious and wholesome menu served at Camp. After completing her qualification at cooking school Smar joined the Ker & Downey Botswana family and has been with us for twelve years.

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When Smar was asked what her favourite item on the menu is she answered “all of them are my favourites but I love making the different cakes for high tea, especially the coffee cake” Smar believes that anything is possible through teamwork, dedication and keeping a smile on your face at all times, no matter how stressful the situation is.

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See below for Smar’s coffee cake recipe. The secret to this cake, she believes, is good quality fresh coffee at the right strength!

Cake

3 large eggs

1 cup (250ml) sugar

1/1/2 cups (375ml) cake flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

2 tsps. coffee dissolved in ½ cup (125ml) hot milk

3 Tbsp. sunflower oil

Icing:

1 cup (250ml) cream

1 Tbsp. coffee powder dissolved in 1 Tbsp. hot water

2 Tbsp. castor sugar

Method

1. Heat oven to 180C

2. Line & grease base and sides of cake tins with baking paper.

3. Beat eggs until light and frothy and then whisk in sugar until well combined.

4. Sift dry ingredients together and fold into the egg mixture.

5. Whisk in the hot milk, in which the coffee has been dissolved, and the oil.

6. Pour batter into the cake tins and bake for +/- 30 minutes.

7. Allow the cakes to stand for 5 – 10 minutes in the before removing them to a cooling rack.

8. Beat together the icing ingredients until stiff.

9. Sandwich the cooled cakes with icing and spread the rest of the icing on the top.  Decorate with chocolate shavings

 

Posted by & filed under Bonolo (Shinde guide), Safari Stories.

Shinde is known for its fantastic game viewing and it certainly lived up to it's reputation on this particular day. It was time for the afternoon game drive, there was a breeze blowing and the weather had clouded over making for a lovely cool afternoon. We headed out towards the Footsteps area and got to a forest of hard-wood trees, in the shade of a giant sausage tree we saw lots of little ears pop up from the long grass.

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It was one of our resident packs of Wild Dog consisting of six pups and three adults. The pups were active, playing chase and yapping at one another however the adults were only interested in an afternoon siesta.

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We left the pack to rest and let the heat of the day pass and we moved on to see what else we could find. The rains have just began which means there are a lot of offspring around. Tsessebe, an antelope we find in the area, are starting to drop their calves. These antelope breed once a year and are usually found in open savannah grassland areas like the environment on parts of the Shinde concession.

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Dusk was setting in and it was time to go and check on the Wild Dog to see if they had started to awaken. We headed towards the same area where we saw them earlier and only saw the pups, this meant that the adults were on the hunt, hopefully nearby. We headed towards the open area where they had been seen by my colleague and as soon as we got there we saw the three adult wild dog chasing impala. It happened within seconds, the adults used a nearby termite mound to ambush the impala. We could see that they were in a hurry to engorge themselves as fast as possible to 1. avoid other predators from stealing their kill and 2. To get back to the pups for the regurgitation process.

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Once the dogs had finished eating they set off towards their pups who were eagerly awaiting their arrival on the other side of the channel. The water is fairly deep and because it was getting dark, the dogs were a bit apprehensive about crossing. At this point I decided that it was best to leave them and get back to camp. It was an action packed afternoon and there was a lot of chatter coming from behind me about the sighting. It wasn't over yet though, Relax another colleague of mine had radioed in about a leopard sighting. It was getting late so we had to get back to camp but I was going to make it my mission to find the leopard in the morning.

We left early the next morning and headed straight towards the area where the leopard had been seen the night before. We arrived at the area, the grass was as high as the vehicle but finally we spotted her and her one year old cub lying in the grass feeding on a Reed Buck. It looked like they were both quite full so they moved off their kill quite soon after our arrival.

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The adult climbed up a termite mound to keep a watchful eye on her kill and she certainly was very protective over it as she gave us a snarl as if to warn us from getting to close.

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Her cub, in the meantime, was circling a huge Jackalberry tree a few metres away, scanning to find the best way up. She jumped into the tree and went straight to the top in a series of three or four leaps and bounds.Once she reached the top she realised that it was maybe too high and there were no comfortable branches there so she moved back down and settled on the left fork of the tree.

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Both the adult leopard and her cub looked like they were going to settle there for the rest of the day. We left the sighting and went for morning tea at hippo pools, it was a spectacular twenty four hours of game viewing at Shinde.

Story by Bonolo (professional guide at Shinde)