Ecologist Gordon Orians thought he’d arrive at camp with enough time to enjoy a cool beverage with the setting sun. It didn’t happen.
We flew northeast from Seba Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta to the Chobe airstrip. A rich network of wildlife trails clearly visible from the air told us that, despite the apparent barrenness of the landscape, animals were abundant beneath us.
After landing, we quickly drove westward toward the Savuti Channel, a linear oasis in a landscape otherwise lacking surface water at the end of the dry season. The only water available for many miles, Savuti is a magnet for herds of buffalo, zebra and impala and for solitary giraffes, kudu and warthogs. Egyptian geese and jacanas graced the shoreline, African fish eagles filled the air with their ringing cries, and an osprey, a long distant migrant from Europe, dove for its fish lunch.
Our reward? Finding a pack of wild dogs with six half-grown pups resting in what little shade they could find at the bases of the leafless trees. The adults were clearly successful in capturing enough prey—probably impala—to satisfy six hungry mouths and their own.
Guided by information he received over the radio from other guides, our capable expedition leader Thuto Moutloatse spotted a cheetah resting beneath a shrub. The bush had just enough leaves to cast a streak of shade from the hot afternoon sun.
Although we were protected from the sun by the canopy of our safari vehicle, we too welcomed natural shade. In our case, it was beneath spreading fig trees along the bank of a channel where grunting hippos peered at us while we ate sandwiches.
Thuto’s keen eyes soon spotted a pride of lions resting in the bushes on a low ridge overlooking the water. A group of nine females and young males, they were clearly assessing the options for their evening hunt.
“See that solitary buffalo?” Thuto pointed out. “The lions are going to kill it tonight.”
He may have been right, and we wished we could have stuck around to find out. But our destination for the night was still a long drive away.
“We must hurry,” Thuto reminded us, but then he couldn’t resist stopping to point out another pride of lions along the way. We also repeatedly halted to let elephants cross our path. They were heading for water—their version of happy hour, perhaps?—but were indifferent to our need to reach camp before dark.
The last traces of pink remained in the western sky when we finally approached arrived at camp. We were tired and hot—and, yes, thirsty too—but none of us would have preferred to arrive earlier.
Ecologist and author Gordon Orians is a emeritus member of WWF’s Board of Directors and professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
©WWF. Reprinted with permission.