Safari company & publisher
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
Klaserie Sands River Camp

Wild dogs hunt in packs amongst the floodplains of the Okavango Delta with close coordination that is mind-blowing to watch.

okavango(13)
Lycaon pictus means ‘painted wolf’ and each wild dog has its own unique coat pattern

With smoke pouring out of our car bonnet we barely made it to Maun, limping into the gateway to the Okavango Delta after a hair-rising drive in the dark, swerving to avoid donkeys and zebras on the road in. We left our broken-down Landcruiser in the oily hands of some bush mechanics and set off on a tour of one of the world’s largest inland deltas with Sanctuary Retreats. The flight in did little to dampen our sky-high expectations, soaring over the green and blue patchwork of lagoons, floodplains and palm-fringed islands.

We were taken straight from the dirt airstrip to a nearby jetty, jumping into a boat and weaving our way amongst reeds, hippo pools and hidden waterways. An hour or so later, we caught our first glimpse of Baines’ Camp, a well-hidden lodge with five suites built on raised platforms above the Boro River, right in the middle of the papyrus swamp. This intimate camp was to become one of our favourite places to stay in Africa, with its stunning setting right over the water and the extravagant surprises that just kept coming.

okavango(22)
Gliding through the narrow reed-lined channels of the delta in a traditional dugout canoe

Our first bit of excitement was one that we had been anticipating with dread for some time. Kate’s mum, having grown up in Zambia and knowing all too well about hippo attacks in the Luangwa River, had expressly forbidden her to set foot in a mokoro. To be honest, we were nervous about coming face-to-face with an enraged hippo in a flimsy dugout canoe, but we couldn’t visit the Delta without giving it a go. Our first mokoro ride was surprisingly serene, floating past lily pads and palm trees, the air filled with birdsong.

Somehow, we were able to forget that hippos and crocodiles were lurking just beneath the surface and could pop up at any moment. Instead, we settled back into the canoes and listened to the rhythmic splash as the polers propelled us along, drinking in the lush scenery. In this state of bliss we arrived back at Baines Camp to a moonlit dinner, followed by a surprise bubble bath set up on our private deck. The African romance didn’t stop there, as our bed was wheeled outside so we could sleep beneath the Botswanan stars.

okavango(28)
Spicing up the African romance with star baths set up on our private deck at Baines Camp

After our short but exceptional stay at Baines’, we were driven across to Stanley’s Camp, where we were met by the rumbling snores of a sleeping elephant. The young bull had made himself comfortable in a cosy clearing under a grove of jackalberry and sausage trees, stopping us from getting to breakfast but putting on quite a show. From Stanley’s, the wildlife spectacle continued on morning and afternoon game drives with the large numbers of plains game and predators that are drawn to the life-giving waters of the delta.

We flew back from Stanley’s to Maun and received the depressing news that our Landcruiser needed a complete engine overhaul. Sanctuary Retreats very kindly put us up in their staff quarters in our own cottage on the outskirts of town. Just as we were starting to lose sleep over our bank balance and whether our car really would make it back to Nairobi in one piece, Sanctuary surprised us once again. This time with a stay at Chief’s Camp, a luxury bush lodge in the Moremi Game Reserve, known as the ‘predator capital of Africa’.

okavango(1)
Driving between islands formed by the seasonal flood waters with fish swimming by

On game drives from Stanley’s and Chief’s camps, we focused mainly on finding rarely seen wild dogs. Having missed out on spotting these painted canines in both South Luangwa and Hwange, we ended up catching sight of a pack of wild dogs every day. The difficulty was keeping track of these swift hunters, staying with them only by driving between islands as the car filled up with water. We watched the wild dogs hunt, rest and play, and became completely enamoured of these highly intelligent and gregarious creatures.

Seeing wild dogs for the first time was a dream come true for Marcus and just part of all that the Okavango has to offer. As luck would have it, one of the most heart-stopping sightings was when Kate went out alone on a mokoro from Chief’s Camp and forgot to take a camera. She came within metres of two young bull elephants play-fighting in a hippo pool, locking trunks and splashing around. To our immense delight we did manage to come into even closer contact with these massive mammals, but that is a story for another day.

Wild dogs are endangered with a shrinking habitat due to expanding human settlement
Wild dogs are endangered with a shrinking habitat due to expanding human settlement
Wild dogs roam over a large range and are able to run for long distances without tiring
Wild dogs roam over a large range and are able to run for long distances without tiring

okavango(17)

The hunting prowess of wild dogs is due to communication between the pack members
The hunting prowess of wild dogs is due to communication between the pack members
Wild dogs are sociable and communicate with each other by touch, actions and vocalisations
Wild dogs are sociable and communicate with each other by touch, actions and vocalisations
Large herds of buffaloes cross between the forested islands to graze on the lush grass
Large herds of buffaloes cross between the forested islands to graze on the lush grass
Wild dogs stalking across the plains blend into the waving golden grasses of the delta
Wild dogs stalking across the plains blend into the waving golden grasses of the delta
Oxpeckers use their sharp claws to cling onto the sides of buffaloes to pick off insects
Oxpeckers use their sharp claws to cling onto the sides of buffaloes to pick off insects
The long-legged wild dogs differ from other canines in having four toes on each foot
The long-legged wild dogs differ from other canines in having four toes on each foot
Wild dogs hunt together in packs and are highly successful in bringing down their prey
Wild dogs hunt together in packs and are highly successful in bringing down their prey
Tracks in the sand from prowling lions and smaller genets in the Moremi Game Reserve
Tracks in the sand from prowling lions and smaller genets in the Moremi Game Reserve
 The channels look peaceful but hippos and crocodiles lie underneath the water’s surface
The channels look peaceful but hippos and crocodiles lie underneath the water’s surface
The stunning surroundings of one of the hippo pools with lily pads floating on the surface
The stunning surroundings of one of the hippo pools with lily pads floating on the surface
Watching the sunset from the water surrounded by the sounds of the Botswanan bush
Watching the sunset from the water surrounded by the sounds of the Botswanan bush
Wearing goggles on the way back to Baines’ Camp to avoid the swarms of flying insects
Wearing goggles on the way back to Baines’ Camp to avoid the swarms of flying insects
Afternoon teatime at Baines’ Camp is full of treats and served with a big African smile
Afternoon teatime at Baines’ Camp is full of treats and served with a big African smile
 Hamerkops sit beside the streams and wade slowly in the shallow waters to catch fish
Hamerkops sit beside the streams and wade slowly in the shallow waters to catch fish
The swimming pool at Baines’ Camp overlooking the lagoon and its abundant wildlife
The swimming pool at Baines’ Camp overlooking the lagoon and its abundant wildlife
Over 150,000 recycled cans collected by the community form the backbone of Baines’ Camp
Over 150,000 recycled cans collected by the community form the backbone of Baines’ Camp

All photographs © Marcus Westberg

For more information about Sanctuary Retreats go to: www.sanctuaryretreats.com
To find out more about the Okavango Delta visit: www.botswanatourism.co.bw

Africa Geographic Travel
Marcus & Kate

Marcus and Kate are a freelance writer/photographer team, contributing stories on travel, conservation and human interest from across east and southern Africa. They just completed a year in Kenya's Masai Mara where they conducted a research project on wildlife tourism and community-based conservation, including working on projects such as Elephant Voices and Living with Lions. They are a Swedish-Australian couple with itchy feet and a love for Africa, adventure and discovery. To see more photos from Marcus and Kate, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.