Savuti guide Goodman on drive: “Hi Nic, what is your location?”
Nic: “I am driving south and about to approach Dish Pan.”
Goodman: “Ok copied Morena, can you hear the impalas alarm calling? I think it is near Dish Pan - can you try and follow up otherwise I will have to cross the metsi.”
I am driving down to the Savute Channel from King’s Pool Camp hoping to get there before dark to check the water levels. Having just driven past a new pride of 11 lions and taken some ID shots I quickly approach the area I suspect Goodman is referring to and so I switch the car off and listen.
Nic: “Goodman I copy those impala alarm calling, it seems to be coming to the south of Dish Pan, I will drive around to the open area.”
Goodman: “Affirmative, but I think head closer to the channel.”
Camera trap shot showing the big concentrations of game around Dish Pan – buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, warthog
I copy the message and before I know it I am looking at some nervous impala staring in the direction of where a predator must be. I drive further south and suddenly see what appears to be two cats in the distance and I quickly close in on them. My mind wants to tell me lions but my eyes are telling me cheetah…it has been ages since I have seen cheetah here, but there’s no way there are two cheetah right in front of me! I can’t believe it and quickly tell Goodman! Goodman replies, “Ok, I can see your car across the channel, I am just leaving these two male lions lying next to the water, I will be right there”.
The cheetahs are slightly nervous, perhaps never having seen a vehicle before but I keep a visual on them as they make their way towards the water avoiding a place where a large gathering of vultures are waiting in the trees. This is amazing news because apart from the odd sighting or two per year, we are now starting to see these two young male cheetah (as well as another male) fairly regularly in the area. Perhaps they will settle down and become the new legendary cats of the Savute but for now we are just so happy to be seeing cheetah again.
Goodman manages to spend some time with the cheetah and his guests are thrilled with all they are seeing but he leaves them as it is getting dark. Meanwhile I pass a large herd of zebra and some wildebeest when Goodman comes onto the radio again “Nic do you copy the audio of the wild dogs No wait, I am with a jackal but it sounds like a wild dog…wait there is a wild dog here too!”
In September a pride of lions brought down three buffalo but the herd managed to rescue two of them by chasing the lions off!
Lion, cheetah, wild dog, and jackal… all within 500 m of one another – game viewing along the Savute Channel is once again at its best! Don’t forget the huge numbers of herbivores or even the birdlife though and with this being one of the driest seasons in many a year, wildlife is congregating in ever increasing numbers along the little flow of this amazing river.
Map showing how far east the channel flowed this year – it pushed no further east since the 10th October
The big news now is that the channel has stopped flowing (as can be seen in the map above) and since the 3rd of August it managed to wind its way a further 4 km east – that is the magic of the water coming down from Angola – it arrives here when the animals need it most! This has been monitored very carefully this year and around the 10th of October the water officially stopped pushing any further east. Higher upstream it was also evident as the flow was not what it had been some weeks before and the river started to show signs that it was going to start breaking up into pools. It’s sad to see in a way but it is the natural ebb and flow of this remarkable channel that has left so many lucky enough to see it, in awe over the years. This year is now officially the first year in almost a decade that the channel did not flow as far as the famous Chobe National Park. Unless there are some remarkable rains this summer, we can officially say we are back in a dry phase!
One big change since our last report is that we have noticed a huge decrease in buffalo numbers with most of the thousands that were around having moved off leaving fairly good numbers behind but nothing like we were seeing in August. As a result of this some of the lions have moved out leaving space for other predators to take advantage of this time of plenty; and the wild dogs have done just that! We have recorded at least six packs of wild dogs in the Linyanti concession in the last month with a total of 38 adults and 36 pups showing a very healthy breeding population of one of Africa’s most endangered species to be thriving here at present (Zib pack are eight adults +14 pups; LTC pack are six + nine; King’s Pool pack are eight + six; Possible Zib Break Away 1 are 5+7; Possible Zib breakaway two are six; Wapuka pack are five and may be denning). On one day we saw four of these packs of dogs on the channel between Savuti Camp and Zib lagoon!
Alert wild dog pups of the LTC pack
The leopard viewing is still good too but has decreased somewhat. It actually seems that with all the wild dogs running around that the leopards are hiding more from them than any other predator –well this is the talk among some of the guides at the moment and it certainly seems that way. We are fortunately still having daily leopard sightings though and watched amazed as we found two mating pm our afternoon drive.
With all the predators around there have to be many herbivores for them to feed on and that they are. We have seen good numbers of reedbuck for the first time in years along the channel and rare antelope like roan are becoming regular sightings. Eland, a very rare antelope species up here have not been seen for years but this year we are having multiple sightings including some big herds too! Also in the Dish Pan area we counted almost 400 zebra in close proximity; they form part of a natural migration that we are still learning so much about.
Predator viewing is typically at its best in the early morning and late afternoon but herbivores on the other hand tend to come out as the morning heats up. And with temperatures peeking into the 40’s (110F+), kudu, impala, waterbuck, warthogs and especially the elephants find certain spots along the permanent water areas and one day I counted well over 150 all drinking together with many more in the bushes around them.
A kudu bull feeds on the fresh leaves of some Kalahari Appleleaf – one of the few species of plant that give the wildlife some reprieve in the peak of the dry season.
The flow of the channel has also attracted many fish which in turn have attracted many fish eating birds. Fish Eagles perch on dead trees on every turn of this snaking river while saddle billed storks and goliath herons dot the length of the channel. Marabou storks queue up on the narrow sections for a chance to grab a fish moving between hippos-filled pools while kingfishers hover above. Bataleur eagles soar overhead and even a martial eagle swoops down to catch its prey but on this occasion misses. Close to the Bottleneck area of the channel I count more than 150 white-backed vultures that have descended to the water’s edge to clean themselves – a pleasing sign of hope for this endangered bird!
We are really lucky to be able to call this concession ours and to be able to traverse for miles up and down this famous channel without any other vehicles in sight. Savuti Camp is the closest camp to access the channel but Duma Tau is not far off and if you also stay at our King’s Pool or at Linyanti Tented Camp situated higher up in the Linyanti concession, then there is always the possibility of doing a day trip to this amazing part of Botswana.
Written and Photographed by Nic Proust, Wilderness Safaris Environmental Ecologist Botswana