We flew east out of Oddballs from the Delta airstrip, leaving the green delta behind; then across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:
The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills, but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. I’m up in front, co-piloting.
At the Savuti strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day.
Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of Kiwis, Aussies, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.
Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s semi-roughing it: YUM!! Fresh food, cold beer!
Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey and a gifted artist; he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ (or Maomi) was the focus. Gotta see lions; Lions gotta have names.
So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light we’d hare back to camp – Lloyd’s Camp game drives are in Chobe, a national park, so you can’t be out after dark. Once on the way we saw two ratels or honey badgers, ambling along busily, stopping occasionally to skoffel around. At least we did slow down to watch them awhile. A very special sighting for me – my first ratels in the wild.
In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans – two guys and a lady – were frequent repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.
The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide, so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they – turned out there were three of them – came running straight onto the carcass and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they were all fat as ticks, but had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.
Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:
In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet him! Pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature, and no longer in hair.
It was 2001 and the Savute / Savuti channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River. Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile up under an overhang in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.
skoffel – rummage; being a badger; badgering?
Some history from Lee Ouzman’s Jacana Enterprises site: The Wilmot family first came to Botswana in the early 1900’s. Grandfather Cronje Wilmot’s son Bobby Wilmot was part of the group that were involved in the early exploration and opening up of the Okavango Delta at a time when it was virtually unknown and unexplored. Bobby’s son Lloyd, once a hunter, now a conservationist, is a veritable mine of information. You name it – he’s done it. Swimming with elephants, tracking lion, leopard or cheetah on foot, building hides to view game at remote waterholes, following the amazing African migrations and more. His famous Lloyd’s Camp in Savuti was a legendary place of wonder and excitement and not surprisingly probably more credited in wildlife documentaries than any other camp in Botswana. It was here that Lloyd developed his special affinity for lions. It is not surprising that one delighted guest wrote of Lloyd Wilmot: “While Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”
Lloyd has since retired and written his memoirs in a rollicking book of mischief, daring, fun and – yep, occasional recklessness! He identifies the South West Airlines people as Doug Reiser, Mike Costello and Linda Fuller. I’m going to search to see if any of them have written something about their hairy adventures with the naughtiest little boy (aged about 70 now) in the bush! (. . . haven’t found anything)