Kings Pool GM Neuman Vasco heads out across the Linyanti to retrace the tracks of an extraordinary full-day outing…
My earliest introduction to the Linyanti Concession included legendary tales of the Linyanti 500, and I always thought, One day is one day… Well, over the past two weeks I have completed it, not once but three times ! And boy, it is so worth it!
The 120 000 hectare Linyanti Concession has four camps, and the Linyanti 500 entails touching base with all these camps in one day. This drive showcases the different habitats and wildlife in different settings… all day long, with never a dull moment.
At 06h30 we departed Kings Pool with my super amped agents – Destination: Savuti Camp. The mopane is still green and the pans down in the Makgadikgadi and the Savute Marsh are drying up as the rains seem to have left us for the season. This is confirmed by the masses of elephant that move through the scrub, almost unidentifiable except for glimpses of the occasional termite mound-like back towering out of the bushes. Which explains why the mopane remains stunted… annual rummaging by elephants! About 150 elephants later we had made it to the Savute Channel, and the corner where our beautiful “old school” explorer-feel bush camp Savuti is nestled. It was mid-morning, and I thought we were doing well for time.
After viewing the area from the camp main area deck which overlooks the Savute Channel and the log pile hide out in front of camp, enjoying a most welcome cup of coffee and some delicious homemade cookies, we set off for DumaTau (DT). I decided we would follow the channel upstream to where it comes off the Linyanti River, and my passengers could not agree more. Before doing this though, we had heard of wild dog in the area!
As we know with wild dog, they can cover huge distances during those cool mornings and afternoons. There was a slim chance we would see them, but it was better than nothing… and besides, we had fresh tracks. So we tracked by vehicle, walked and followed, backtracked and continued … until, BAM! We found them strolling along the river’s edge. The world’s second-most endangered large carnivore in a healthy pack of 18, which we have come to know as the Zib Pack… we will get to the name a bit later on our drive and you will understand why. After a couple of pictures we were off, DT-bound.
Over the two-way radio I could hear a search for lion around DT; two males’ tracks had been seen in the area, so I planned to search as we got closer to the last location of the spoor. In the meantime the channel was amazing. There seems to be more water pushing in this year, made evident by some backflow areas that have previously had no water now hosting hippo! Even the red lechwe have moved all the way downstream close to Savuti. As it was warming up huge herds of elephant came to the river for a quick drink before crossing over to the other side to continue their ecosystem “engineering”. What a pleasure this drive is turning out to be, I thought to myself.
We got to an area known as Forest, where the mopane trees have grown tall creating a mystical feel… Then on the two-way, tracks of lion spoor from that morning seen heading in the same direction we were heading! What luck I thought to myself. They went off the road and we looked for a while but decided we had lost them.
Then our attention was captured by some elegant male kudu that were walking ever so gracefully, as well as wallowing warthogs and impala rams snorting and grunting as they challenged each other, battling for the beautiful. Not too much later we continued to out next destination.
Then around the corner, totally unexpectedly, a guest shouted LION in excitement! And there they were, the family sitting in the shade right next to the road. And yes we did stop and admire the impressive felines. It was the Channel Pride which is seen a lot along the Savute Channel – the two females with their five cubs. And if you know the Channel Pride, yes, all five cubs are still alive and well… awesome!
We continued following the meandering Savute Channel, enjoying the amazing birdlife it had to offer. As the road went up into a riverine canopy we saw a herd of elephant huddled together under a large feverberry, not too far from the water. We were about 15 metres from these mammals and in cool shade, so we stopped to spend some time with them, and best of all to observe their behaviour. Out of nowhere we heard an eerie rumble from behind that did not sound too amused by our presence. Little did we know that it was the matriarch of a herd that had split up through the foliage. We also noticed two very young elephant sleeping behind the group in front of us, the adults all standing guard, looking outward and very aware of our presence. The rumble in the jungle, as they say, was overwhelming and the matriarch came right up behind our quiet vehicle, and we felt honoured to be in their presence. A charge and a trumpet was their way of nudging us on, as if they knew the trip we had ahead of us!
We knew we were at the mouth of the Savute Channel as we spotted a swamp boat which is used by Savuti for their boating activities. This activity is offered all year round and can also be incorporated into a full-day excursion with a picnic lunch at a magical spot on the water’s edge somewhere. Right after the boat station is the DumaTau Star Bed, a raised platform that overlooks the mouth of the Savute Channel, and the impressive Zibadianja Lagoon. The Star Bed is offered to guests at DumaTau who wish for a luxurious overnight immersion in nature … there is no better place for guests to take in the wonders of the Linyanti than this unique geographical confluence. Now, remember my reference to the Zib Pack wild dogs we saw at Savuti? It’s a shortened version of Zibadianja Lagoon, which seems to be the core of the pack’s home range.
Onwards to our next camp. We had now left the Savute Channel and were heading along the Linyanti fault line, along which three of our camps are found. This fault marks the border between Botswana and Namibia. Before we got to DT I felt it very important to showcase how light our camp footprint really is. We stopped at the site where DT had previously been located before we moved six years ago. Believe me when I say you would never guess there had ever been a camp there! The location has regenerated and completely reverted to its natural state. It was 13h30 and we were almost at our next camp.
I radioed ahead and cashed in a favour (wink), deciding we would try to find the lions that were seen in that area after our stop at DT. We saw a couple of impala and kudu before we called again, five minutes from camp. The camp main area is hidden behind impressive jackalberry trees, and we were met with smiles and refreshing towels, a typical Wilderness welcome. I had a smirk on my face as I knew my guests had never been to DT and could only hope they had enough breath… as a lot of it was about to be taken away!
Particularly as you walk into the split main area of the camp, and see the floating deck extending out onto the lagoon which is currently festooned with water lilies… you really have to be there to experience the magic that is DT. My favour was cashed, we were offered a scrumptious lunch overlooking the Linyanti River and the swampy Namibian floodplains. By the time we pulled out of DT, stomachs full and good coffee in us, we felt as good as new.
We did not have to drive very far from the camp when the same guest as earlier shouted LION again… And as true as Bob, two male lions were spotted not too far from the road looking quite lazy. These are the Channel Boys, as we call them in the concession, and they dominate the Savute and DumaTau area of the concession. As we drove towards them one lifted his head as we stopped the vehicle, but only allowed us one shot before plonking back down again. It was mid-afternoon and I did not think these two would be moving, but as I reversed the vehicle and pointed it towards Linyanti Tented Camp (LTC), one male got up, stretched and started heading east. What a coincidence, I thought, that’s where we are heading! We watched for a bit and discovered he was not moving to a cooler spot, but rather was on a mission to somewhere. I followed and positioned the vehicle ahead of him and to the side for a ‘walk-by’. We followed him after he moved past and moments later he arrived at a kudu carcass that evidently they had been feeding on for at least two days!
We still had LTC to get to as we were determined to complete our Linyanti 500… We will get there quickly, I thought. It will be a straight drive, I told my passengers. But not a chance! We got to another magical place between DT and Kings Pool, a big open area scattered with ancient leadwood and mopane trees, currently decorated by a tower of giraffe and a dazzle of zebra. This same area is where we conduct our educational walking safaris from Kings Pool. In awe, we bobbed and weaved among the animals along the Linyanti fault riverine forest, eventually ending back at Kings Pool. We stopped in at the camp for a quick loo break and to pack high tea before continuing east to LTC, our last stop before heading back home.
It was a quiet drive… or at least we thought it was, until we encountered two male lions, the boys from Namibia that dominate this part of our concession. They were on a patrol in the area and we just happened to be driving along the same tracks (remember predators with their soft pads prefer tracks with little or no vegetation in order to cover ground), and the two-way vehicle tracks allow the brothers to walk side by side! Such respect they command as the francolin and impala almost serenade their flowing movement.
Onwards to Linyanti Tented Camp, and our last leg before we were done. LTC is a beautifully rustic camp also found along the Linyanti River in the far eastern corner of our concession. It is an adventurers’ kind of camp, with two main areas split across LTC East and LTC West, a huge open lagoon out front and intimate tents on either side overlooking the channel. As I looked over the papyrus and reeds from the LTC deck I saw sunset was coming soon! We really wanted to enjoy it here but we came to the conclusion that we’d have our celebratory gin and tonic back at home base; sad to leave, but we headed off nonetheless.
“All mobiles one koloi [vehicle] leaving LTC for 321 [Kings Pool] along the main tsela [road] for 321, operating mobiles, same tsela, please leba-leba [keep a look out]” went out over the radio as we pulled out of LTC. This is when I was informed of some peculiar wild dog activity not too far from where I was driving; in fact, the guides suspected they had a den! We were losing light but surveyed the area and were able to see six wild dogs at a den site; however, being a newly-discovered den site for environmental reasons we pulled out immediately after spotting them.
The sun was halfway below the horizon when we called our three-minutes out from Kings Pool. I had already ordered the gin and tonics to be ready when we arrived in camp – surely one of the most magical places to have a celebratory drink after a full day out in the bush.
Eleven lions were seen at three different sightings, roughly 300 elephant, about 60 giraffe and two different wild dog packs, to name just a few of the prolific species we saw on our concession…
And that’s the Linyanti 500 – done and dusted!