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Botswana – it just never fails By Pete Oxford

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We are not sure of the exact number but reckon it to be more than 50 safaris that we have led to Botswana over the years, every one of them a gem!

Covid has severely impacted not only us, the travel industry worldwide but also of course Botswana. It was that extra special, deeply appreciated welcome from the lodge staff that started us all off with a warm and fuzzy feeling. They were genuinely as glad that we were there as we were to be there.  For Pete Oxford Expeditions it was the only trip we led in a full two years! We were happy too! The group had pre-formed themselves around a family whom we know very well. Our job was done and from the beginning it was pure fun.

We covered three regions in Botswana, the Makgadikgadi Pans, the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti region in the north, each with its own flavour and suite of wildlife. It was from Jack’s Camp in the pans for example that we saw our brown hyena, porcupines, yellow mongoose, secretary birds and cheetah a perfect habitat for them. Not to mention the totally habituated colony of meerkats that took advantage of us by climbing on our bodies to elevate their lookout points. It was a Christmas card clicking frenzy! We drove on the pans on 4-wheeler ATV’s, stopping to prove to ourselves how disorientating they can be in an hilarious blind-folded game where the core family ended up at all points of the compass.

The elephants were amazing and came into their own once we reached the delta where they fed from the very same paths we walked to our tents. Our friends were in awe, never believing, prior to the trip, that we would be so close, on foot, to the world’s largest mammals. The endangered African wild dogs on an impala kill was a huge bonus.We took to boating, passing pods of belligerant hippos while from mokoros we felt like royalty as we were polled serenly at water level, gliding past lesser jacanas, malachite kingfishers and tiny ornate reed frogs.

Lions seemed to be everywhere and our many hours in their company were very special indeed. The stare from an adult male, a few meters from the vehicle causing an unconscious shift, by those closest, towards the empty middle seat. Primordial was a word that came to mind repeatedly.

The Linyanti brought us a host more lions and more very cool behavioural observations. The lioness crunching the tiny baby warthog from a few meters away was harder hitting yet it was interesting to note, as she was separate from the pride, how she took an enormous amount of time to actually relish it.

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Elephants, zebra, kudu, wildebeest, lechwe, hornbills, lilac-breasted rollers and helmeted guineafowls were by now all fixtures of the landscape and it was leopard that proved the hardest to find. Not everyone had seen one as we were nearing the end, half the group had already spotted a mother and cub. Finally, our diligence paid off and we stayed with a big tom for a long while. He was so chilled that he would amble between the two vehicles and virtually rubbed himself on our front bumper.

Once again we maintained our record of 100% of our guests seeing leopard! With well over 200 bird species and in excess of 40 mammals we were all very happy. Once the nurse had flown out in a helicopter, to meet us during our game drive and do our PCR tests we knew all good things were to come to an end. A mild panic set in as none of us wanted to leave. The safari (as they always do) ended all too quickly and we headed up, as a group, for two days to the spectacular Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to see the falls, relax, shop and reflect.

Usually one of the busiest hubs in the country, Vic Falls was empty. The incredible artesanal market behind the Elephant Walkway was deserted of visitors. We were the ONLY ones. I did buy myself a 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknote as a keepsake to frame with my one Zimbabwe dollar note that I have from my travels there in the 1990’s!  Needless to say we did our collective bit to support the local economy and Craig even coming away with new Facebook friends!

Tigers, tigers burning bright! By Pete Oxford

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With having led well over 30 trips to India over the years we maintained our impressive record of 100% of our clients all seeing tigers! Many have left the subcontinent after repeated tiger safaris without ever having set eyes on the world’s largest and arguably the most beautiful cat.

This year we creamed it and got to see an impressive 8 individuals, over 9 sightings, from a single park. Not only that but we were often able to spend extended quality time with them. Half of the sightings we found the tiger and luxuriated in being alone with it way before others arrived. Perhaps the cherry on the top was a lovely female who we accompanied a long distance with her two adolescent cubs in tow!

Indian wildlife is, however, about so much more than just tigers. We heard leopards mating, saw sambar and spotted deer, chinkara gazelle, blackbuck, wild boar, a sloth bear, nilgai, striped hyena, Hanuman langurs, rhesus macaques, flying foxes, crocodiles, jungle cats and a plethora of exotic birds including thousands of demoiselle cranes, painted storks, woolly necked storks, kingfishers, thick knees, parakeets and the omnipresent ‘trash’ birds the unlikely peacock!

Our trip included a large dose of Rajasthani culture, ancient forts, markets and the amazing people living close to the ground in the countryside. We could not have been better received or more welcome and posed with locals for selfies too numerous to mention. I just love full immersion into a culture of strangers, always remembering that when we travel to far flung destinations we are the foreigners not they. We laughed hard, gelled as a group and maintained a high level of ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling as we breezed through each day marvelling at daily life and the cows that were everywhere.

The timing of the trip was centered around the amazing Pushkar camel fair, said to be the largest camel fair in the world. A true exhuberence of India condensed into a single venue. An assault on every sense from a riot of color, blaring music, Holy men, pilgrims, a longest moustache competition, Yogis, exotic flavors and pungent odors to the rough texture of a camel herders handshake. There is something about camels. They are always taller than you think and can be somewhat imposing. Yet, despite many kilos of decorations adorning necks, heads, backs and feet or the intricate patterns that cover their bodies or intricate shaved designs in their pelage they always seem to remain aloof. They crave no affection and stoically perform their duties where the reward of a full bag of fodder at the end of the day justifies their effort.

City smog was bad, terrible actually and an industrial agricultural revolution seems to be advancing fiercely. Of course, it’s always good to be home but no sooner had we landed back in South Africa than we were ready to go back. Incredible India – we miss you already!

*Keep checking our website for our next India itinerary.

Pantanal

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Pantanal

Once again we had an incredible time in Brazil’s Pantanal this year. Jaguars of course are the main target species and I always marvel at how it is possible to virtually guarantee exceptional jaguar sightings. I remember when our tour operator first started the jaguar tourism in the northern Pantanal. He called me in, as a photographer, to see if it was even possible to see (and photograph) these cats in the wild. We camped (there were no luxury floating hotels) and a driver and I plied the rivers, about a 1000 kms in a ten-day period. The results were exceptional and I saw 7 jaguars, two of them a mating pair and one in particular that lay on its back and watched us from a few meters for half an hour or so.

It was amazing. I had previously worked and lived in the Amazon rainforest and to see a jaguar – or even fresh tracks – was rare indeed. Once processed I took the images to the National Geographic Magazine in DC and showed them to the chief editor who was running a jaguar corridor story. They did not believe that my shots were of wild jaguars, let alone non-camera trapped, direct one-on-one images of the cats. Most previous jaguar images that the public had seen were taken in captive situations in the Belize zoo, or the military zoo in Manaus, Brazil. Finally convinced, after much back and forth, they published a suite of images in the article. Of course those shots have all been bettered but it remains a testament as to how well jaguars have been protected and valued by the locals in the Pantanal. I feel proud to have been there from the beginning and delight in seeing many of the same individuals from one year to the next.

This year was a personal record, not likely one that I will repeat, with 16 individual jaguars sighted on our trip. We watched, two cats interacting, one steal a fish from a heron, twice chasing caiman, swimming, stalking, relaxing, posing on logs and a host of antics from true quality sightings. Our largest feline in South America, it is, as Alan Rabinowitz said, truly an ‘indomitable beast’.

More personal records were set for one of our trips with an unprecedented 6 tapirs sighted and two giant anteaters! Giant river otters were often seen, hunting fish, scent marking and socializing, we were even present when a family of otters met two jaguars (just out of sight but very close by). The vocalizations were extreme and blood curdling!

Birds were of course as exceptional as ever and there were a host of other animals such as crab eating foxes, ocelot, peccaries, capybara, coatis, agoutis, caimen and anaconda.

Without doubt oil and gas revenues will be a blessing or a curse and need to be carefully applied and distributed for the sake of the wellbeing of the peoples and biodiversity. We remain attentive.

Quite simply the Pantanal is an outstanding wildlife destination! We have two trips in 2020 – one full and the other almost full plus a full trip in 2021 but might consider adding another. Please watch our website for updates. You may also like to read the many reviews on our website to see what others have said so far.