For the past two months researchers Rob MacFarlane and Leah Sampson have been working with Kai Collins, Group Conservation Manager for Wilderness Safaris, on updating the wildlife monitoring data that is collated annually for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana. This involves carrying out herbivore transects, bird transects, predator monitoring and updating the Predator Identikit Database so that this information can be used by the Department of Wildlife to conserve threatened species and wildlife populations.
Rob and Leah travelled through some of the Wilderness Safaris areas in Botswana as they carried out the Standardised Wildlife Monitoring Protocols developed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
The following story is one of a series written by Leah and Rob during their time at the Wilderness Camps.
Xigera – Eating With One’s Eyes by Leah Sampson
As we approached the Xigera airstrip for landing, we were welcomed by three wild dogs that dashed across the runway in a southerly direction. They were shortly out of sight amongst the dense plant life and plentiful waterways that dominate the environment. On the short ten-minute drive to Xigera Camp, our welcome was further extended by a female leopard lying in the cool shadows below some trees. The sweltering midday African sun was living up to its reputation and although we are different species, judging by the look on her face we shared the same sentiments.
The Xigera landscapes are astoundingly beautiful and words do not do justice attempting to describe them. Knee-high water covers the majority of the surrounding floodplains with shoots of all sorts of reeds, trees and grasses sustaining life through them. The flora radiate hues of golds and greens and when the strong winds blow through them, the sound of cascading waterfalls is created and carried across the plains and channels of the Okavango Delta.
Xigera is constructed parallel to a tributary connecting to the Boro River and a small bridge allows entrance to the camp. The raised wooden walkway through camp is stunningly enclosed by varying canopies of trees and bushes that take you to ten secluded luxury guest tents. During daylight hours the melody of woodpeckers, black-collared barbets and hippos is heard every day, while bushbuck, red lechwe and kudu are seen recurrently. As the moon rises and the antelope lie down, an alteration of wildlife occurs. Pearl-spotted and African barred owlets perch on the branches of elephant-ear leaves while down below, genets and African wild cats begin their hunt for a feast.
Two days apart we came across the same pride of nine lions. The first encounter was in the afternoon shortly after they had made two kills, one being a warthog and the other something unidentifiable (in other words, mostly eaten). The subsequent meeting was on the airstrip in the hours around dawn. Slightly off to the side in the bushes lay nine overgrown kitty cats cuddling together as one big family to keep warm and comfortable. Three lionesses were significantly older than the rest of the pride. They were accompanied by two sub-adult males and a sub-adult female and to complete the equation, three female cubs (no older than eight months). One massive paw began to flop into the air and onto the face of a fellow family member and soon enough one big cat rolled on to another, unsettling the sense of peace and harmony. Their morning yawns unveiled the power behind the mechanism of their jaws and teeth. Funny, they no longer looked like cute, cuddly cats anymore.
To top our week-long stay at Xigera, we took an hour-long mokoro ride, quietly gliding through the tributaries and channels connecting to the Boro River. Most of the ride is through open, cleared spaces but to make it a little more fascinating, a few diversions are made through the common reeds and sedges. Batswana women often use these sedges to create stunning, traditional baskets and carpets in a range of earthy colours.
The swamps are filled with two different types of water lilies. The blue water lilies (which open by day) are considered more common and their flowers can be slightly blue in colour, white or sometimes even a light shade of pink. By contrast the lotus water lily invariably has yellow flowers which open only by night. We watched a spectacular malachite kingfisher diving from the common reed shoots and hopping from one to another. A gorgeous, tiny Angolan reed frog, primarily white in colour with dark red markings, also held on to the stems to begin his night of looking for a female companion. Angolan reed frogs come in a variety of different colour forms which makes looking for this jewel-like amphibian even more enjoyable!
Written and Photographed by Leah Sampson