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A BOTSWANA BIRTHDAY LIKE NO OTHER BY PETE OXFORD

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Glenn wanted to celebrate his 60th, with friends, in Botswana. He came to us to put it all together. It was a roller coaster with Covid-19 raising its ugly head at every turn. Finally, it happened, and a group of long-standing college friends and spouses had the trip of a lifetime to celebrate Glenn’s 62nd – it didn’t matter and was well worth the wait!

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We carefully chose three luxury camps in the incomparable Okavango Delta, one of the planet’s last great wilderness areas, raw and exciting – as Africa should be.
It began with a kill (a little one) as we spotted Africa’s largest owl, the Verreaux’s Eagle owl, perched on the sturdy bough of a low tree, flashing its pink eyelids while clutching a mouse after swooping down to catch it. Two gorgeous bull giraffes were next as they stood flank to flank in the sunset, facing each other in a classic head-butting standoff. It was a good start.

Spotted hyenas are seemingly becoming harder to observe yet one was spotted by the guide as it ears twitched above the grass. It was an incredible spot and as we drove closer to have a look, we could see that there were two of them. My excitement grew as we watched one of my all-time favorite animals feeding on a large carcass. One left and the other effortlessly picked up the carcass. I reasoned it would find a place to hide it underwater which it did, leaving just enough poking above the surface to be interesting enough for an African fish eagle to land and scavenge, all the while being mobbed by an irate blacksmith plover ‘plinking’ away in its aerial aggression.

Elephants were everywhere and soon became very familiar as an expected addition to the landscape, some choosing to give us some rather close inspections before ambling away to continue calmly feeding.
The actual birthday came early in the trip and, like any celebrity, a helicopter flip seemed to most fitting activity. It was Glenn’s first helicopter ride and with the doors off on the chopper it was quite thrilling for him to see the vast expanse, dotted with large mammals from the air. We even got to see the hyenas again!

Cats are high priorities on anyone’s Africa wish list and here we totally excelled, beyond even our best hopes. Leopards were regularly seen, all spectacular views. We got to see them calling from a few meters, posing as if they were paid models, hunting warthogs, and even crawling under the vehicle and out the other side, slinking to squirm under like only a leopard can do. Why she simply did not walk around us we will never know.

Lions were definitely ‘on form’. Over a couple of game drives, we spent the entire time watching a whole pride ravenously devouring an adult male giraffe, their bellies gorged. We became part of the furniture and sat close by in awe as they walked around us, ate, rested, played, fed, and interacted with each other. Amazingly we got to see another adult giraffe pulled down by a different pride and spent a long time immersed in the primordial spectacle. Not one, but two giraffes killed by lions is unprecedented in all our 50+ trips to the Delta.

Cheetah often harder to spot than leopards, were outstanding. A family of five put on quite the show, firstly relaxed, in gorgeous light, allowing us real quality time to watch their behavior, they would even climb a small dead tree for us, pose and give chase to a herd of impala only having to walk away unsatisfied. There was not much else to hope for, particularly after we finally got to see a previously unknown pack of wild dogs – at the airstrip before our last light aircraft charter flight!

Throw in a black mamba, a honey badger, serene mokoro rides through the lilies and it really was quite the trip.Our last stop was the inimitable Victoria Falls, from the grandeur of our colonial hotel to the drenching spray of the falls in full flood, to the huge variety of quality crafts in the Vic Falls artisanal market what can we say?
Simply that we look forward to our next African adventure together. See you in Uganda Glenn and Erika!!

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.