Lions along the Chobe

A long awaited return to the Chobe river, one of my favourite places in southern Africa. The Chobe river demarcates the border between Botswana and Namibia. It is part of the Cuando-Linyanti-Chobe river system in the region of Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. The Cuando river flows from Angola down along the Namibia border with Botswana and turns sharply east, still forming the border with Botswana where it becomes the Linyanti river. This river flows through a seasonal lake, Lake Liambesi, and becomes the Chobe. The Chobe river flows along the Namibian -Botswana border into the Zambezi  just above the Kazungula Ferry.

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” ~John O’Donohue

The trip was hosted by Elana Erasmus, a superb guide with CNP Safaris. Elana is extremely knowledgeable and is an excellent photographer. One of the unique features of CNP Safaris is that it uses specialised photographic boats from which to shoot wildlife along the banks of the Chobe river. The boat provides a unique perspective, as you are invariably shooting almost at eye level and the wildlife allows the boat much closer than it would a road vehicle.

“The river has great wisdom and whispers its secrets to the hearts of men.” ~ Mark Twain

We visited the Chobe river in mid-June which is just past the time when the river is at its highest. The high water enables the boat to get much closer to the river bank in certain sections of the river.

On our first morning, after a cup of coffee and a rusk at around 6h30, we set off up river. There is a south and north channel past the Sedudu island. We usually take the south channel with the Chobe National park on our left and Sedudu island on our right. It must have been around 7h00 as we had just passed Pygmy Goose bend when we started to hear baboons barking and they sounded agitated. This is a place where we often find baboons beginning a lazy morning sunning themselves along the river bank.

“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.” ~ Laura Gilpin

But, not this morning. The reason was that a lioness was wandering through the bushes along the bank of the river. Baboons have excellent eyesight, so soon discovered her.

The lioness was walking back to meet up with the rest of her pride who were relaxing in the early morning sun high up the river bank among the crotons.

The large troop of baboons had climbed into a large Natal Mahogany tree and proceeded to shout at the lions from their safe arboreal lookout. When the lions got close to the tree the baboons had chosen, they started throwing branches down onto them and urinated on them. Neither reaction seemed to worry the lions much.

As we were watching the antics of the sub adult lions, the pride suddenly took note of a large male lion making his way along the river bank towards them. He had his eyes fixed on them probably to make sure there was no threat.

The male stopped briefly to see what we were up to and quickly assessed we were no threat and soon moved on toward the pride.

With the sunlight fully in the lion’s eyes while he was staring east directly into the sun showed it was still early in the morning.

As the male lion walked up to the pride it was clear that this was his pride and there was no animosity. Most of the youngsters steered clear of the adult male but one lioness seemed very impressed with him. It is not behaviour I have seen before. The female approached him from his right side then walked up behind him. She tried to catch his hind legs with her paws to slow him down. She positioned her head under his under his tail and actively sniffed his gentials without him so much as even turning around to stop her. I have seen male lions doing this to females but never the other way around. I was expecting him to spin around and give her a swipe with his paw but he never did. This was a snapshot from a video I took of this interaction.

A few minutes after the interaction with the lioness, the male went to the other lionesses and greeted them. The pride then walked down to the river and some lions drank from the river and while others started to play. The male lion did participate in the pride’s playfulness nor did he engage with the buffaloes.

Needless to say the baboons did not move from their high lookout. They continued to bark at the lions while they were drinking and playing along the river bank.

The lions were playful and youngsters played with the lionesses. This young female was running alongside a lioness and trying to give her a paw swipe.

“Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future” ~ Native American proverb

The youngster connected and hit the lioness on top of her head. Needless to say the female recovered very quickly and soon had the youngster on the ground – another lesson learnt.

The male lion did not partake in the frivolities. He walked back up the river bank in the direction he had come from.

The lions stopped their play once they saw the buffalo bulls walking toward them. The demeanour of the pride changed instantly. The lions were all of sudden more focussed.

These old buffalo bulls, “dagga boys”, were not going to take any challenges from a bunch of young lions. One buffalo bull sent the adults scattering while two youngsters watched from a gap in the bushes. Needless to say once he turned his attention on the two sub adult lions they quickly scattered into the undergrowth. The next four images were snapshots taken from a video of the interaction.

The three dagga boys eventually turned and ran up river along the bank. As soon as the buffaloes started to run away the lions gave chase. As is so often the case, human beings interfered with the natural course of events.

“It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it.” ~ Edward Abbey

The buffalo bulls ran past the vehicle but the lions pulled up adjacent to it, unsure of what it was doing there. An exciting build up to a buffalo-lion interaction was cut short by a tourist vehicle positioned off road and in the way!

We do not often see lions at the water’s edge let alone a buffalo chase. It was exciting to watch the goings on from a respectful distance. This is a key reason why I prefer the boat to a road vehicle.

“No matter how few possessions you own or how little money you have, loving wildlife and nature will make you rich beyond measure.” ~ Paul Oxton.

It is always a privilege to spend time photographing wildlife. The Chobe river attracts abundant wildlife and the birdlife along the river is superb even in the autumn and winter months when most of the migrants have headed north.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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