Sarah Williams - Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Sitatunga Lives up to its Reputation!
As we gently drifted towards our island camp, our mokoro poler introduced himself - his name was Ambulance! This, I was to learn, did not mean that he had experienced an awful accident at some point in his life but simply the fact that he was always out in front!!
Ambulance was the skilled poler of our mokoro; a traditional mode of transport for the BaYei people. This was to be our restful 'punt style' canoe during our time spent at Kanana Mokoro Trails deep in the Botswana Delta as we searched for the elusive Sitatunga.
Each morning we would set off early before the sun had had a chance to turn up the heat. We would make our way along narrow, boat wide channels in total silence as the Sitatunga has extraordinary hearing! But sitting quietly in a mokoro does give you the opportunity to closely observe your surroundings and be so much more aware of your environment ...a bird call, a rustle in the bushes or a splash in the water all becomes magnified in the silence.
Surprisingly the delta is extraordinarily colourful, the reeds and papyrus providing so many different textures and shades of green and red, punctuated with delicate white and mauve water lilies. When the sun begins to set, a whole new colour palette magically appears.
We would travel along channels previously made by hippos or sometimes we would forge our own routes by tunnelling pathways through the reeds and papyrus. This meant that the person in front could not relax; instead they would have to thrust the reeds to one side in order to make room for the mokoro to pass. In the early morning the reeds would glisten with the webs of the Golden Orb Spiders and occasionally you would happen upon a delightful Painted Reed Frog. These small amphibians would change their colour from rust stripes to spots in a matter of minutes, in order to blend with their surroundings.
We also came across larger mammals such as Red Lechwe and Elephants who happily munched away completely oblivious to our presence, which being in a mokoro affords you.
Despite the Wattled Crane being an endangered species, in the delta you regularly see pairs of these wetland dependant birds as well as colourful Bee Eaters and Kingfishers. A superb sighting was a Pel's Fishing Owl who stared at us, with beautiful big blue eyes, from his lofty branch.
But we were in the delta to search for the Sitatunga and this is their ideal location, the reeds provide a good supply of food, great cover and if discovered the Sitatunga are excellent swimmers, they can even hide submerged with only their nostrils showing! On one of the islands we were shown the distinct footprint of the Sitatunga with its unusual hoofs which are perfect for living in this watery environment.
If you are really patient you may be lucky enough to see a Sitatunga! We came very close... we first heard an unusual call in the distance, a kind of deep cough. As we got closer to the location of the sound we heard movement within an area of particularly thick reed and although Ambulance tried to manoeuvre us into a position to observe this shy creature, we had to accept that the Sitatunga had lived up to its reputation of being the most elusive of the antelope species!
Click here for details of our Botswana itineraries.