With my background in travel predominately being Australasia focused, I have been fortunate enough to see playful platypus splashing around a creek in the Southern Highlands and curious quokkas on Rottnest Island. But the larger, more iconic mammals which spring to most people’s minds when thinking of a wildlife holiday, had so far eluded me.
Travelling to Botswana was not my first visit to Africa, but it was my first true safari experience, travelling for four nights on a mobile safari starting in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, through the Khwai Concession and ending in Savuti. Even within my first half an hour of landing in the country, being helicoptered from Maun into the delta, the amount of wildlife I spotted blew me away: elephant, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, hippos, warthogs, buffalo, and African fish eagle – what an introduction to Botswana! I could have gone home quite content already with the sightings, but there was still so much to come.
I’ve always been fascinated with cats – from the pet cat I grew up with to awestruck watching of big cats in nature documentaries – so my desire to see a big cat in the wild was at an all time high on this trip. The adrenalin was really pumping when on an afternoon drive in Moremi, whilst we were admiring a dazzle of zebra, the news came through that a lion had been sighted and with that, whoosh - we were off! Racing through the park snatching glimpses of other wildlife, we were on a race to reach the lion before sunset, which would signal our time to leave the park. Slowing down to creep around a patch of shrubs, I was rewarded with my first big cat sighting – a handsome large male lion snoozing in the warm evening sun.
Lying there, occasionally lifting his head to clean himself, he put me in mind of my pet cats; although a much larger species, the mannerisms between the two astounded me. However, this cat’s peaceful rest was about to come to an abrupt end. With the sleeping lion and the setting sun behind him, this was the perfect classic safari photograph and by chance an elephant happened to stroll into shot – what a photo this would be for my first big cat encounter! Just as the elephant came into frame, he slowed down and flapped out his ears: he could sense a foe was nearby. Slowly he crept around the bush, the lion still obliviously basking in the sun, and then growing in confidence the elephant suddenly took charge – the chase was on!
Seeing the lion take off with the elephant close behind gave me a real sense of scale for the size of both these magnificent creatures. The big cat now even seemed more akin to a pet as compared to the elephant thundering down on him. The lion seemed to shrink in size again as he slunk away after the brief chase, his posture now diminutive and similar to one of my cats knowing their pride had been dented.
Continuing on my safari through Botswana, I was lucky enough to have three more lion sightings. Whilst all of them were incredible and gave me a different insight into the lions lifecycle, it will always be my first big cat encounter that will be the most memorable, cemented by my classic safari photo of the lion, elephant and setting sun. Whilst technically imperfect, it forever conjures up that moment for me.
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