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Okavango Delta, Machaba Camp

From January-April of every year the highlands of Angola experience torrential rains, on the order of 30-40 inches. Much of this water finds it's way to the Okavango River which flows towards Botswana. It takes months for the water to move almost 1,000 miles. Despite being one of the largest rivers in Africa, the Okavango never reaches the sea. Instead it fans out and empties into the Kalahari Desert, eventually soaking into the ground. This is the largest inland delta in the world. It's over 100 miles across, and it supports an enormous concentration of wildlife. Below is a map showing the river system, and an aerial photo showing typical delta topography. Across the entire delta elevation varies by only plus or minus 3 or 4 feet, so the water spreads out and even at peak flood the water isn't very deep.

Map of Okavango River Okavango aerial

Our next camp was in this delta, and we reached it via a charter flight from Kasane to a small dirt airstrip. This picture shows the 'terminal' at the airstrip. It's modest, but no TSA! The pilot hopped out, introduced herself, shook hands with each of us and then loaded our luggage. No tickets, no security, no problems.

Airport terminal

Our new guide Shaun was waiting for us, and the ride to camp immediately turned into a game drive. Our first stop was to watch a large lion eating a Cape Buffalo he had killed earlier in the afternoon. We had seen female lions, and I would describe them as powerful, but also feline and graceful. This big male was more like a weightlifter, weighing over 400 pounds and really muscular. Taking down an adult buffalo is no small feat, but this was the guy to do it. As we sat there watching I was struck by the the sound of him cracking the bones as he ate.

Male lion 12 Male lion 01 Male lion 13

An impressive start, but then we got to see our "tent". It was beyond our expectations, these give new meaning to tent camping. There were four tents joined together. Our bedroom, a living room and Ciara's bedroom were all in a row, and then the bathroom tent attached at the rear of the living room. (It was a typical tent bathroom I suppose, dual sinks, a toilet, and indoor shower and an outdoor shower!) The third photo shows the main sitting room.

Tent bedroom Tent living room Tent lounge

When we were leaving the lion earlier, we could see hyenas creeping into the fringes of the clearing. They wanted some of that buffalo. So after dinner we went back to see what was happening. By now it was full dark, but with the spotlight we could pick out 8 or 9 pairs of eyes watching the lion. Also the hyenas had begun calling to each other. It sounded like a moan, like if you said "Ahh" for your doctor but then tried different vowel sounds.

They clearly didn't want to take on this lion, Shaun said he could break a hyena's back with one bite, but they weren't going away either. We watched the standoff for almost an hour. The lion would periodically walk towards the hyenas and they would retreat, but as soon as he went back to his kill they began moving closer. Finally the lion simply walked away, moving towards the river. Shaun said he probably hadn't had a drink since he killed the buffalo hours earlier. (He wouldn't leave the kill unprotected.)

The hyenas were still cautious, but soon they moved in to eat. These next two photos were taken with a phone, so the quality isn't great, but it should give you an idea of what we were watching

Lion eating buffalo at night Hyenas eating buffalo at night

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Created by
Terry Culhane
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