Written and photographed by: Denise Ackerman
6am wake up call. I strain to identify the diverse sounds of the African bush, while somehow simultaneously brushing my teeth and scrambling to dress. I had already learned that being organised and thinking ahead makes life on a mobile camping safari much easier – especially when aiming for a quick start in the morning by the dim light of a lantern. Just before sunrise I exit the tent to sip hot coffee in the crisp autumn air. I am brimming with anticipation of what we might see as I jump on our vehicle for a morning game drive. We are heading to the famous Savuti Marsh!
The drive starts with a bang. Moments after we leave camp, a wild dog stands in front of us on the sandy road. One of the world’s most threatened carnivores, the African wild dog is high on my personal wish list, so this sighting is a real treat. Not far off, four members of his pack lie in short grass, keenly observing their surroundings. They are next to a soccer field close to the Savuti Camp gate where, upon our arrival the previous evening, the staff were enjoying a game. Only in Africa!
I am fascinated. Soon they start the hunt for their next meal, trotting along the road leading past the gate and we follow them for a while until they disappear into the thick bush.
I feel the warmth of the early morning sun as we slowly drive through the ancient hills bordering the marsh. In short order we spot a number of species including giraffe, elephant, a herd of over 200 zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, various antelope and many different bird species.
Then we arrive at a waterhole where two members of the ‘Savuti Marsh’ lion pride are relaxing next to the quiet pool. Once in a while they languidly lift their heads, or take a few lazy steps to the water to drink.
After a while we leave the waterhole in search of the rest of the pride. Leabo, our guide from Lelobu Safaris, amazes us with his incredible spotting skills. Nearly invisible under a small bush just metres from the road, lies a lioness. We approach slowly.
Only after we stop do we hear the crunch of bones breaking. The cracking sound gives me goose bumps and my imagination runs wild. I am unable to see what is happening from this angle. We inch closer. The bush is thick and the grass is high but I finally get a glimpse. A magnificent male lion feasts on an impala nearby. The blood on the paws and hide of the lioness indicate that she probably provided the meal. Yet the dominant male has snatched the prize, and she must wait patiently for a share.
Three young lions approach on the narrow road. They pause metres in front of our open vehicle, evaluating the situation. The teenagers lie down briefly in the shade of a bush, rising again a few minutes later.
They pad towards us. It feels like they are looking straight through me. I see their huge paws silently kick tiny puffs of sand into the air. My heart thuds against my chest. I hold my breath and time seems to stand still. The royal family of the African savannah passes by a mere metre away from me, not deigning to notice us. I feel the energy and raw power of these beautiful beasts, reminding myself that they see the vehicle and its passengers as “one item”, which is not on their natural grocery list. I know that I am safe in the vehicle, but I feel immense respect for these amazing animals.
Checking in on the dominant male, the youngsters realise that impala will not be on their menu today. They soon stroll off across the grassland, and Leabo suspects that they will head to the waterhole to join the others. He is right! As we return to the waterhole, we see the lions greeting their close knit family, rubbing heads and enjoying a drink together. The three young lions quench their thirst at the waterhole – a beautiful sight!
The pride sprawls lazily at the waterhole, and we start to think they are probably settling down for the day. Little do we know.
From my vantage point, I spot a band of mongooses scurrying towards the waterhole. Seconds later a lioness picks up the movement. In one graceful movement she is up and gliding forward, stalking the unsuspecting mongooses. The pride collectively tenses in anticipation.
The lioness explodes. The mongooses swiftly reverse direction – all except one panicked individual who splits from the band. The melee is brief. The huntress emerges, proudly carrying her hapless prey. She soon shares her snack with another lioness, while some curious zebra stop to observe the action from a safe distance.
The pride retires together under a shady tree. It’s time for their nap. Some time later we drive into camp, still animatedly reliving our adventures. I reflect on the anticipation I felt while enjoying my morning coffee. Once again Botswana’s reality exceeds my wildest dreams – wild dogs and the legendary ‘Savuti Marsh Pride’ in action – in one morning drive. Pure, raw Africa I will never forget!