Waltzing in the wild


At the last minute after leaving Moremi Game Reserve, we decided to spend the night at Magkadigadi Pan National Park. We managed to get a last minute booking at Khumaga camp as we knew that animals -mainly zebra and wildebeest- were migrating through that area at the time. Additionally, we had been there in 1999 and we were curious to see it again as we had good memories of the place, particularly the games drives along the dry Boteti river where we often saw lions as well as a huge crocodile that used to live in a water pool that somehow survived the prevailing drought.

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A view of the Boteti river in 1999.

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A similar view to the above, but in 2014!

We noticed that things would be different when, after going through Khumaga town and just before arriving at the Boteti River, our GPS stewardess announced, “in 300 metres board the ferry”. “This machine is confused again” I said and there was general agreement in the car so we ignored her and continued driving. And then we saw a mighty river with very clean water and, surprise, surprise, a ferry parked at the end of the road, waiting for us! So we apologized to the GPS’ lady and approached the ferry.

While driving towards the water’s edge we remembered hearing, sometime ago, that the water was flowing again in the Boteti (later literature check up mentioned 2012 as the year that this happened). The view was totally different and new to us, suddenly making the idea of coming to Makgadikgadi National Park much more interesting! I am sure it was a great positive change for the wild animals (clearly also for the domestic stock as well!!!) that suffered water shortage for many years and their recovery must be on the way

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Waiting to board the ferry at the “new” Boteti river.

After successfully getting the car on the ferry, under the expert guidance of the ferryman, we crossed the river in 15 minutes and arrived at the gate of the park, located on the other side of the river. We passed through the gate, drove a few km and, after seeing a large herd of zebra clearly returning from their afternoon drink in the river, we arrived at the campsite. The place was the same but now it was on the bank of a normal river, with water flowing and surrounded by green vegetation, a sharp contrast with our memories! It was a bitterly cold evening so we lit a good fire and were in bed early without seeing much!

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Our campsite in 1999.

The following morning, the coldest I remember while on safari, we decided to go for a game drive before departing for Francistown and Harare. This time the drive took us along the now green river banks rather than through its dry bottom and we could not help but express our admiration for nature for having recovered so fast from what earlier resembled a bone-dry place.

The road afforded us the chance to drive closer to the water in some areas and observe its prolific birdlife. We did not see many mammals, as they were probably grazing on the plains. The exception was a beautiful Greater Kudu bull with great horns.

Greater Kudu bull near the Boteti river.

The Greater Kudu bull.

It was during one of these river loops that we saw the marabou storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus). There were a few hundred adult birds. The first impression was of a group of elegant men in suits with coat-tails at a gentlemen’s club, getting ready for a ball and waiting for the ladies! However, the ladies were already there, dressed like men!

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The “waltzers” from far…

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They were well dressed… (Picture by Julio A. de Castro)

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The orchestra Director. (Picture by Julio A. de Castro)

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Showing off before finding a dancing partner? (Picture by Julio A. de Castro)

We saw a lot of interaction as birds were clearly courting and getting ready to nest. Apart from some birds trying their hand at various acrobatics and showing their superb flying and gliding skills, the more frequent activities were less spectacular. They consisted of offerings of grass to each other, accompanied by short jumps and beak clattering. The latter was a rather noisy activity, considering the size of their beaks!

After a long while observing their antics, a boat full of tourists approached and disturbed the birds, which flew away and landed again at a distance. However, the “magic” had been broken for us and we, unanimously, decided that it was time to get back to Zimbabwe while the bird spectacle was still fresh in our memories.

marabou flying snapshot

A video snapshot of the birds moving off. (Picture by Julio A. de Castro)


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