2010 is proving to be the year of the big flood in the Okavango. Water levels have reached their highest levels in the past 30 years. When it comes to experiencing the annual flood in the Delta, the Jao concession is one of my favourite areas, with its stunning, open floodplains and picturesque palm-tree islands.
Lion sightings are not uncommon. Although the resident lions are few in number, they more than make up for their lack of numbers by spending much time out in the open. This makes for quality viewing. One particular sighting stands out for me. It took place in June 2007, when we followed a group of six lions as they moved south across the floodplains, in the direction of Jao. As they approached a deeper channel, I positioned the vehicle in a place I expected the lions to cross over. When they did, the adult lions did so in spectacular fashion, leaping right over the water. The smallest cub in the group didn’t even try the leap, and just walked straight into the channel. I managed to photograph her entry:
Just days ago, I was at Jao again, in the midst of this year’s big water. We were with the local lions and the very same female cub that I photographed in 2007 is all grown up now. Her female pride companion has four young male cubs. The cubs are around four months old, and were in good shape, their mother having just caught a wildebeest. A litter of four male cubs is a little out of the ordinary. We typically see litters of two or three cubs. When you combine the large litter size with the very wet conditions that the big flood has brought with it, you get some idea of the tough job that the lionesses are faced with.
The flood brings with it both challenge and opportunity for the lions. Whilst they are able to cross water and will swim if need be, the wet conditions slow down their movements and restrict the range that they usually hunt in. On the other hand, prey animals like wildebeest and zebra can be forced into drier, more vegetated habitats, making them easier for the lions to hunt.
In the coming days, guests staying at Jao, Kwetsani and Jacana camp are likely to be able to witness these ‘swamp cats’ as they go about raising the youngsters.
I am already looking ahead to my upcoming visits to the area, and will have my camera at the ready.