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I had the hardest time deciding how to divide up the photos for two posts on the Nxai Pan, because to put them all in only one post would result in a behemoth. I could choose to include fewer photos, but what's the fun in that? I had such a good time with my new cameras and lenses, I see no need to restrain myself. So do I divide up into different types of animals per post? Chronological order of my three days there? Close my eyes and select a random assortment from my file folder with my mouse? Honestly, it's such an inconsequential decision, I mean it doesn't really matter at all, that I can't even admit the exact amount of time I spent thinking about it. In the end, I went basically with the last mode of selection. An assortment of different animals, but with a loose theme of lone animals, or at least alone in the photo.
The Nxai Pan (pronounced "nigh" pan) is part of the Kalahari desert region of Botswana. It's a relatively small national game park situated in a salt flat (a "pan"). The title of this virtual safari is "circling the Nxai Pan" because that's basically what we did every day, as there are only a few routes through the small park, unlike some places such as Kruger NP where you can drive for days without retracing your steps, we mostly just circled through the park over and over. Traveling as a one-girl private safari with my awesome guide, Jane, of Ulinda Safari Trails, Jane secured a private camping spot available only to guides who belong to a particular guiding association, far away from the public campground -- just a clearing in the trees in the middle of the bush. I can't tell you how refreshing it was not only to get back to Africa but to be out in the quiet bush in my little tent (well, actually the size was quite generous) with no people around save the safari staff (who were all there to cater just to little ol' me).
My first night, though, I spent in a hostel in Maun and Jane picked me up the next morning to begin the safari. It was a lovely place with huge tents for accommodations, and a river to view right outside the tent. So I spent that first evening split between drinking Tafel at the bar and testing out my new lenses. There was a pied kingfisher on a tree branch above the river that I tested my 150-600 on (below). There were hippos in the river, but too far away to get a picture of.
So off to the Nxai Pan. I had low expectations for seeing wildlife, which are not numerous in the Kalahari region to beging with, and in the rainy season animals are more scattered throughout the parks rather than gathered at waterholes as they are in the dry season. But there was reputedly a reasonable chance of spotting the big cat predators during this time, and also, unlike the Central Kalahari Game Reserve which was my other destination, elephants were said to be a possibility to see here as well. These are all of my favorite animals in Africa, so it was at least worth a shot!
And how pleased was I when we saw an elephant almost immediately?!? Well, I'll let you guess. And look how friendly he was, to boot! Erik captioned this photo that the elephant just needed a top hat and cane, as he looked like he was about to break out into song -- "hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal ..." He was easy to identify when we ran into him again in the future because of his lone tusk. And he really was a performer! I almost wonder if the animals have a Far Side-esque Broadway production unit, and this guy was at the waterhole practicing his performance for the humans before his big night on stage with the animal audience. Check out his dance moves in the second photo.
And then this fella came along, friendly as could be, as well. He was very interested in us, indeed, getting a right proper sniff of us at close range.
And then I was super excited to get a photo of a giraffe with oxpeckers on its face. It's not an original subject by a long shot (heh), but it's one that having seen other peoples' captures of this common scene, I have for whatever reason always felt envious and wanted a shot like that for myself. So, yay, I finally got one.
But the awesomeness only ratcheted up as time went by. I had seen few lions on my prevous safaris to that point ... which was a little disappointing, but not severely so, since I had seen at least a few. I had seen only one male, in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park in South Africa, but he was old and emaciated and it was dusk and I only got one blurry photo of him. So I was a joyous little me to see this beautiful specimen standing underneath a tree looking at me. He walked on close enough to the road that we could follow him (he was still quite far in the distance, below, zoomed at 550mm and cropped in). He stopped to mark some territory.
Jane tried to predict his trajectory and we drove faster past him to a spot where she thought he might end up crossing our path. And so my joy meter just about maxed out and broke when indeed he did show up, and not just that, but came directly toward our vehicle in a slow, regal pace. A male lion at close range! I couldn't ask for much better.
Lionesses are regal creatures, too! We saw a pride of 13 lions, and I'll show more of them in another post. But what a beautiful couple the lion above and this lioness would make!
This young lion knows how to pose! He and his pal were snoozing in the road. And you might know by now that I love pictures of animals with their tongues out. I have no idea why, I just get excited everytime I see that I captured a tongue. :)
It's understandable why so many people call the lion "the king of the jungle." I always presumed it was an accurate title until I volunteered in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi national park in South Africa where we walked on foot through the park taking census data on the herbivores. Each volunteer was paired with an armed ranger to protect us from dangerous animals. One of the first things we were taught by the Zulu rangers was that there was another animal who trumped the lion. They would ask us, "Who is the king of the jungle?" And we quickly learned to reply, "The elephant!" One ranger was fired for telling the volunteer in his charge that if they came across an elephant, the volunteer was on his own, the ranger intended to run. (read another ranger account, "Run!" in my Tuesday Tales) No other animal would cause a ranger to call off a transect than an elephant. Lions they would walk by, no problem -- cautiously, but without any real hesitation. Elephants ... different matter.
So I had to laugh at this scene one evening at a waterhole in the Nxai Pan when a male lion was hanging out peacefully, all relaxed and chill. Then a male elephant came sauntering up to the hole while the lion eyed him warily, and it was as if the lion had an invisible line in his head that if the elephant crossed it, that was it for him. Well, the elephant crossed it, and the lion jumped up and walked away, a bit annoyed at having to leave his cozy spot. I wish I had had a wide-angle lens on so I could have captured both ends of the scene, with the elephant and lion in the same shot. But I couldn't, so here's the elephant approaching, and the lion leaving.
Now here are some more elephant performances. Allow me to recommend this troupe for top-notch entertainment whenever you are in the area!
Well since we're on the theme of solo animals ... here's one of solo traveler me beside an 800-year old baobab tree. We had to drive quite a ways from our campsite in the Nxai Pan to reach them, they're known as Baines Baobabs after a painter who made a famous painting of them in the 1800s. Pretty impressive specimens. Apparently, baobabs grow vigorously for the first 250 years and then slow down. This grove of trees looks almost identical to the way it looked in the 1862 painting. This grove isn't special to have lived this long, that's just the normal life span of a baobab if left alone. I've seen pictures of them on the internet so big that people have carved out of the trunk whole rooms such as a bar and a post office.
I'd never really seen a vulture up close until now. This is a lappet-faced vulture, whose head, although it spends its time inside of rotting carcasses all day, is rather pretty.
He had been hanging around waiting for another scavenger to finish his meal -- a black-backed jackal. Unfortunately I botched the photos of this scene, but it was interesting to watch the jackal with this fresh springbok carcass (probably eaten by lions in the night). He really wanted to drag it off, probably to his den, and he tugged and tugged at it and managed to drag it along for a short distance. But finally decided it was easier to just sit down and eat there.
There were many zebras in the park, and typically we saw them in close quarters with one another in sizable herds. But of course there are always the loners. But if the zebra below was hoping for a solo portrait, he was photobombed by the little zebra poking his head up behind him.
And we'll close out today's virtual safari with a look at my sweet digs, at our private campsite inside the Nxai Pan national park. Wherein I kept Jane up far too late drinking wine and chatting after dinner.
Goodnight! You can just glimpse my bed inside on the right where I fell alseep each night so peaceful and content, so free.