Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hazards while driving in Botswana.

Driving in Botswana can be a real adventure.  Last May I was passenger with Russell Frankish of Greenbushpig Safaris, guide for Britz Rentals self drive 13 day tour of Botswana from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and return. 4WD vehicles are necessary for the National Parks as road are often deep sand, with some hairy river crossings. Here's a few pics of the fun we had along the way. Click on each to bring them up full size then click ' back' on your browser to return to story.

4WD vehicles are necessary. We hired from Britz Rentals.

It's good to have a help get you out of the mud!

Guides are also useful for getting you out of deep sand.

Drive carefully. Kalahari-Ferraris have been known to overtake at speed.

Always stop for zebra crossings.

If you have the right vehicle, picking up birds is easier.

It is rumoured latest radar detectors utilise elephant ears.
We spotted this guy trying to hide behind a roadside tree just like any cop! 

Some pedestrians just step out in front without warning!

If you find a bakkie full of tourists all looking the same way,
 there's a lion close by.

Keep an eye out for these wee fellas.

Often a bunch of jaywalkers just stand there and gawp at you.

Old man kudu just couldn't give a damn about crossing the road.

Sometimes old guys think the highway is theirs
to sit and contemplate all the world's woes.

If you have a head-on with a 2 horse power Kalahari- Ferrari,
you could have a real nasty smash!

Right guys. We survived all those wee hassles, let's go have a great trip!


Oops. Stowaway on board!
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Botswana Elephant Traffic Jam: Or How Emmylou Harris saved my life.

I've travelled Southern Africa three times now: the countries of Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, and just last month I added Botswana to the list. Each time there have been unexpected and very close encounters with elephants. Here - Moonlight Nightmare  I told of how a large bull elephant walked up silently in the dark to within 13 metres behind me before Sam spotted him! And on a Kruger Park safari in 2009 my wife Kay and I had an unexpected adrenaline pumping incident I'll be writing about. I was going to do these stories in a series of Elephant Encounter Tales, but the following is such a mind blowing, scary, and yet beautiful experience it will be told now!

The craziest traffic jam I have ever been in!

After my EHRA 2 week volunteer project (second time) with desert elephants in Namibia in May, I joined up with Russell Frankish of Greenbushpig Safaris, guide for Britz Rentals self drive 4WD, on a 13 day tour of Botswana from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and return.

Driving in African national parks can be chock full of surprises as all sorts of wildlife roam freely in abundance. And you never know what is around the next bend, or what may step out of the bush right in front of your vehicle.

In Chobe National Park we hit a major traffic jam - a real snarl up of the elephant kind.
Coming across elephants browsing both sides of the track, we stopped to await the herd's moving off to allow us to drive through.

Oh dear, elephant jam ahead.

All seemed good until that baby elephant wanted to frolic right in front of our vehicle.

One big Mama rushes over.

"But Mummy, I just wanna play!"

Auntie runs up to join Big Mama and baby.

"Button up kiddo!"

Big Mama and now 2 Aunties gently guide baby in between their legs for safety.
This picture has to be the greatest pic of elephants I have ever taken.

Elephant family love and concern for their young summed up in how their trunks gently caress and guide the baby, keeping it safe. Great composition. Beautiful!

All this is happening a few metres in front of us. What you don't see in those frames is the larger matriarch of the herd coming up on our vehicle's right hand side, seemingly intent on checking us out closely. Other elephants were closing in, all concerned. With young to protect, elephants can be extremely aggressive.

We should have reversed out of there, but the second 4WD had parked right up our backside: they wanted good pictures they later told us! Yeah right?! Of  us getting killed!? No thought that we may need to get out of there quick smart if things turned nasty!

So our guide Russell did the only thing possible- he switched off the motor and said "Just sit quietly and don't move."
"And enjoy this!"

This is the last picture I dared take as the elephants all moved closer. Three with the baby kept between their legs, and also the big matriarch was out of frame now right up at our right hand side, possibly trying to walk past us along that side of the track. As the elephants walked slowly right up to our 4WD I put my camera down and just watched events unfolding....that close, you don't make movements they may interpret as a threat. And I also wanted to concentrate on the moment...maybe my last. A good way to go, actually, I thought.
Fear? Yeah, momentarily. You can't help feeling fear when you have 4 big elephants around you. From my seated position looking up at those animals, which were so close, they were monstrous! Right up against our bull-bars: I noted their knees were just as high!

 But a strange thought flew through my mind - they reminded me of the gang of attendants that surrounded the vehicle at the last filling station. I was laughing to myself when I thought I should ask them to wash our windscreen...just a quick flip over with their trunks squirting water would be so easy for them.

"C'mon Jim, this is serious stuff. Stop horsing around." another thought cut across my mind.

In tense or difficult situations I rationalise out my fear; it's just a natural defense response to keep you safe.
So I ask myself  " How do you feel about this?"
"Yeah, OK. But I'm apprehensive."
"Do you feel you will survive this?"
"Yes. No harm will come to me." is the response.
I 'sense' I will come through this unharmed. My instinct tells me so. I reckon I have a strong intuitive sense so have learned to trust my instincts.
"So why be afraid?"
"I am not afraid because I know the future and it tells me I will be OK."
I convince myself I know the outcome: and if I know the outcome is OK, why be scared?
A simple, quick little conversation with my inner self and fear disappears, and I move on and enjoy the excitement of being surrounded by these huge beautiful, wonderful animals just 2 metres away from us.

One step forward, a lunge and that ele with the 2 feet long tusks would have left me looking like Swiss cheese. I noted my passenger side window was rolled down - she could hook her trunk through and have me....

Then Emmylou Harris starts singing, so gently, so clearly in my mind - 'Gold' from her 'All I Intended To Be' CD. She's singing this song in my mind, while I'm concentrating on that huge lovely elephant! Calm and peace filled the scene. I think that ele enjoyed the telepathic transference of Emmylou's singing because she stood there, eyeballing me, enjoying every word I'm sure, and that melody sure kept her calm.

Amazing what thoughts flowed through my brain during those moments. Well, crazy, but seemed to work...yeah well I'm still around. Others could have sat there screaming their heads off really bringing those elephants on!

But all the time those eles were really telling us they wanted to get past. The Mexican stand-off. We couldn't move...and they wanted through. What would they do? 

Sit still, stay calm, enjoy that huge ele with the longest tusks.. I could count the hairs around her eye...every crinkle in her skin...every pore stood out so clearly. Those tusks looked pretty long and rather sharp too.

Meantime the big matriarch checked us out.

Fred's pictures tell the story. She is up so close to us in the lead 4WD.

Yes, that close!
Hours seemed to pass, but in reality probably 5, maybe 10 minutes of 4 huge elephants around us. Then the matriarch probably decided she couldn't get through beside us, and turned and walked slowly away and around that bush on our right hand side. The 3 eles in front of us seemed to take their cue from her, and slowly edged around to our left, up close by my open window. So near I could have stretched my hand out and touched them. Baby stayed safely tucked between their legs.

 I actually felt sad that the moment was over, although it wasn't quite over yet as they stood and watched us as Russell started the motor and we all drove through slowly. I was thankful to have such an experienced guide with us.

Our guard of honour?

We are watching you!

There is a story within this encounter story. We may be afraid of such huge wild animals, but these elephants while being protective of their young one, did not harm us. All they wanted is to be safe from the threat we may have posed, and go on about their business. Left alone all they want is access to food and water, and to bring up their young in safety and follow their traditional migratory routes.
We don't have to fear them. We need to respect them, understand them, change Asian attitudes to ivory and above all protect their wilderness areas from human encroachment

As more and more farms bordering Chobe National Park are fenced off, animals that traditionally would have roamed across these areas are now being cut off from water or grazing. Where public roads are now fenced off on either side, elephants are becoming confused or trapped within this maze of narrow corridors, unable to follow their usual routes. Conflict with farmers bordering Chobe when elephants break down fencing often results in them being shot.

More on that later.

NB. All the photos showing the 4WDs are taken by Fred Hodgson, driver of the last vehicle. Thanks Fred. Others are by myself. Sorry about poor pic quality but all are taken through dirty windscreens.

Emmylou Harris sings 'Gold' here.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

This moment – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words June 24th

This Moment- A Friday ritual.
 A photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment you want to pause, savour and remember. “This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man which I then kidnapped from Almost there by Sarah-Jane.

And borrowed often from whomsoever is carting it around. But a great idea and credit to the originators.
My Moment is a favourite photo dedicated this week to all my Indian blogging friends, and travellers who have enjoyed travelling India as much as we did.

Now guess where this was taken? Easy eh?

BTW You see that wee 'Share/submit' gadget just below, well hit it, spread the love and help save elephant babies in Africa please!

Man - eating lizard! Discovered in Namibia.

I may have discovered the world's smallest man-eating lizard! Found it in Namibia while taking pictures of desert life. But first a few great pictures I'm fond of.
I've been practising photographing insects,butterflies and lizards. While in Namibia the later than usual rains had kept the area from drying out and consequently insect life was prolific. Plants everywhere were flowering providing nectar for butterflies to complete extra generations, so numbers and variety were flourishing. This abundance of insect life meant lizard populations were also booming; everywhere I walked many species of lizards were scuttling out of my way. Last time I was in the same area in 2008 I cannot remember such an abundance of so much variety of life in the normally dried up land for that time of year.
So I was snap happy for the butterflies. Here's a few!


And here's a chameleon, and an agama.

And now ladies and gentlemen, the world's smallest man-eating lizard!

A man-eating one apparently...or at least he thinks he is!

Hopeful sort of guy. Probably grow up thinking he's a crocodile!

If you enjoyed all the butterflies and the man-eating lizard please hit the Share gadget and spread this around. Any money earned from this site goes to adopting baby elephants!

And I'd like to read your comments also. Many readers visit and must have information to share about the posts I publish. I know Fred will turn up and identify all the butterflies for us all, so thanks Fred!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011


We've seen your devastation,
Bent and broken on the ground.
But it's just bricks and mortar fallen,
Your spirit can never be put down.

Mother Nature may be quaking,
Sending shockwaves through the ground.
But while family lives are breaking,
Our politicians dither round.

Earthquakes may leave you badly broken.
Tallest buildings may fall down.
But spirits even though near breaking,
Survive if we all rally around.

 Politicians may be pontificating,
Words espoused may sound profound,
But true heroes just get on and do it,
The ones beside you on the ground.

Don't feel you are forsaken,
Keep your feet firm on the ground,
It's just bricks and mortar broken,
Your spirit will never be kept down.


"Please save my brother's life!"

"Please save my brother's life!"

Unspoken words...but so loudly communicated!

Total submissiveness; ears back, that imploring look in her eyes, totally fixed on me as she sits there silently, begging us to help. But it's more than that...she's placing her total trust in strangers... in the hope that we can help save her severely injured brother - her companion.
Not once did the injured dog snap even though in obvious pain and shock!

How did both dogs know to trust the humans who were intent on helping?

I had been on a game drive with Dr Clay Wilson, Honorary Veterinarian for Chobe National Park, Botswana (who also operates a private veterinary practice in Kasane) and his partner Laura in the park that afternoon. We had just spotted a pride of lions on a kill when the frantic call came in to Dr Clay. At one of the game lodges, as the driver of a pickup pulled to a stop, a dog had jumped off -  straight into the path of a passing vehicle! The distraught dog's owner was not sure if the vehicle had run right over the dog, or if it had taken the full impact from the front and bounced off.

We made it back to Clay and Laura's house where they have their clinic. In heavy shock the dog was failing fast and Clay rushed the dog in for emergency treatment. Whether the dog was paralysed or not couldn't be ascertained. He was in bad shape; whether he would respond or die Clay didn't know, so he decided the dog should stay in the clinic overnight and he would take appropriate steps in the morning. Painkillers and strapping his broken front leg made him a wee bit more comfortable. Later that night, we were thrilled to see him responding well. 

Alone, the dog's sister sat forlornly in the pickup until the owner who had stayed overnight with the injured dog, brought both dogs out together on the lawn to rest in the warmth of the morning sun. Now the bitch's eyes never leave me, boring into me - begging for help. Placing her trust in we strangers. They're beautiful dogs in Botswana. A good sized animal - a bit smaller than a retriever or Newfoundland but oh so finely featured! The dark muzzle and almost pencilled eyebrows giving their faces so much expression...and she was showing it, so intently. Does she know we were helping? Does she know strange humans actually care?

Dogs in Botswana don't have an easy life. All the dogs I have seen were skinny, often ribs showing or some were mangy - scouring the streets for any scrap. Most owners don't care if their dog gets sick or injured; often they are left to get over it themselves, or die. Cheaper to get another pup than to pay for treatment. Plenty of pups around as most dogs are not neutered or spayed. At Clay and Laura's, there's a pack of 7 dogs, two of their own and the rest were abandoned so they have had to take them in. What else can they do? Having treated them, do they just turn them lose on the street? 
One young bitch found on the streets abandoned, was brought in for treatment. Her 'gift' in return to Clay and Laura was a wee puppy. What a surprise! Such a big rolly poly puppy from such a small mother! But cute as the puppy is, he's just adding to the cost of looking after the pack of 7 dogs! Thankfully there are some owners who do care for their dogs as the injured dog's owner did. The cost of treatment for a severely injured dog doesn't come cheap as any dog owner will know. Even in Kasane, drugs and equipment cost heaps.
And wait! There's more! Out in their back garden, Clay and Laura are looking after a baby zebra, and a baby sable antelope! Both mothers were killed by lions. Clay has to chose between looking after them or leaving them to the lions.
What choice would you make?
Zeby drinks heaps of milk. 3 or 4 large plastic coke bottles at a time, twice a day. The fast growing sable is doing its best to catch up also. I helped with their feeding.

I was travelling with Russell Frankish of Greenbushpig Safaris, guide for Britz Rentals self drive 4WD, on a 13 day tour of Botswana from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and return. But I jumped ship at Kasane, and rather than going on to Victoria Falls ( a place I have long wanted to get to ) I took the chance to meet up with Dr Clay Wilson of Chobe Wildlife Rescue. I've long supported his conservation of wildlife efforts in Chobe National Park by donations and publicity. There will be several posts coming up on my experiences with Clay, and his work. Game drive in Chobe by 4WD and along the river by boat. Now that is one  helluva way to see wildlife! Spot them drinking from well out on the river, cut the motor and float silently close to shore.

Chobe Wildlife Rescue needs donations! A charitable trust has been set up, Clay will announce trustees later, and plans for expansion of the Trust activities.

Meantime all these animals need to be fed and sheltered. While feeding the zebra, I resolved to make a donation on the spot to help feed Zeby and Saby.

So I presented Clay a donation of $400US and I suggested that the McIntosh family 'adopt' them!
Along with two baby elephants at David Sheldrick Trust, Kenya, a painted or African wild dog at Naankuse, Namibia, we now have a zebra and sable in our family worldly 'adoption program! Cool!

What do readers reckon? Want to help?

Donations can be made here-
Chobe Wildlife Rescue


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Saturday, June 18, 2011


I find Travel Poetry is a very challenging and difficult way of writing about a destination or place, but it appeals to me. Writing in such a style can be unique, interesting, and reveal much more than the usual narrative does by allowing the readers' imagination to interpret the verse the way they may wish to.

For the following, I loaded up a few pictures of the area I explored while on a volunteer project last May. These significant features show this part of Damaraland, Namibia at its best.
I have attempted to interpret each picture with verse, thinking I could then delete the pics and have a stand alone poem that would fully illustrate the beauty of the area.

However, I feel the words and pictures work their magic optimally together.

I welcome anyone's own verses for any of the pics!

Looking out over Damaraland towards Brandberg Mountain.

Your body so entrances
Like a lover takes another partner in
Seduced, I accept all your advances
As desire sends light dancing across your skin.

Evening light filters through the grass seed-tassels.

Sol blazes over horizon
Darkened land performs its burning show
Scorching spears of light stab all around me
As silver grass-heads burn fiery in the glow

Morning's light sets the country ablaze.

Boulders balance high upon
Silent granite koppe sentinels
Nature's game of marbles over aeons
One touch, and in an instant would they fall?

Koppes are small conical weathered hills. Often topped with balancing rocks.

In butterfly leafed profusion
Elephants leave you broken, bare, forlorn
Stripped naked, and left in desolation
With summer's rain your cloak of green reborn

The Mopani tree is a prime species in the area. They can be absolutely demolished in minutes when desert elephants party on them. Very resilient, and that pruning  encourages the tree to become very bushy with its regrowth.

You've been dutiful custodian
A Covenant kept with the old Gods of this land
Your jagged, rocky valleys' conservation
Of art reverently painted by an ancient hand.

Over 10,000 rock paintings and carvings, dating as far as 30,000 years ago, have been recorded around the rocky valleys of the Brandberg Mountain area.

With colours ever changing
Camouflaged you perfectly can blend
Jetting tongue shoots its sticky invitation
Chirpy cricket becomes reluctant dining friend.

Chameleons in abundance represent how prolific insect life is in the region currently.

I drink in of your beauty
Like intoxicating ancient mellowed wine
I draw comfort from your world laid out before me
Because there’s an aching sadness deep in mine.

I had incorrect camera mode select when taking this shot. But I was thrilled to see the effect.

Inspired while sitting on a koppe overlooking the Ugab River, Namibia.

All photos by the author.

Stunning Ugab River scenery.

The mopani or mopane tree  (Colophospermum mopane ) butterfly leaf shape.

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