Tag Archives: hippo

Khwai Me A River

Botswana has many amazing campsites, especially in the Okavango Delta, and they can be jolly pricey to stay at too.  Just occasionally you strike it lucky and come across a place that was merely meant to be a stop-over en route to somewhere great, and find that it too is an absolute gem.  We found this when travelling from Savuti to Xakanaka.  We decided to head for the Khwai Community Campsite, having heard that it was reasonably priced and a good place to stop between the two.  And what a lovely spot it turned out to be.  In fact a stay of more than one night was warranted.

Road to Khwai

The sandy track that we turned on to just outside Mababe Gate took us on a narrow and windy drive to the Khwai Community Campsite.  Only once we turned off it onto the main road did we realize that it was a shortcut and we could have taken a much easier route.  It was fun though negotiating the narrow track and dodging the bushes (when the thorn trees scratch your vehicle on both sides it’s known as a “Kalahari car wash”.  We certainly had that! ) There didn’t appear to be any locals manning the campsite when we arrived, so we drove around and settled ourselves on campsite no. 3, right on the banks of the Khwai River.  There were no amenities whatsoever, but that made it more special as it was quite wild.

Sunset on the Khwai River

A safari vehicle pulled up in the afternoon and informed us that there were lions on campsite no. 10 – gosh, that was exciting news!  We hastily made our way a few hundred meters along the river and found a pride of nine lions enjoying an afternoon rest.  Most of them were lying on their backs, feet in the air, trying to keep cool while they slept.   This beautiful lioness showed only a glimmer of interest in us as we drove into the bush alongside her and waited for some movement from the other sleeping cats.  Alas, it was not to happen – they all appeared to be settled for the rest of the day.  It doesn’t matter how often you see lions, they are always a thrill to spot in the wild.  They are such majestic animals – you just know that they rule the bush.  It was quite exciting knowing that they were just a few campsites away from us.

Beautiful lioness

The broken trees around the campsite bore testimony to the elephant activity in the area.  This  place is a conservancy, but is not part of the Moremi Game Reserve, so seeing wild animals is a real treat.  We woke up to find that we had a visitor occupying the river just meters from our campsite – an enormous hippo wallowed in the shallow water and kept an eye on us as we ate our breakfast.

Hippo meters from our campsite

The birdlife along the river was amazing with Openbill storks, African jacanas and White-faced ducks feeding in the shallows.

White-faced ducks

Openbill Stork

In the campsite we were visited by this beautiful little Barred owlet, which, at the time, we identified as a Pearl-spotted owl.  It was only when we got home and saw the photographs that we realized our mistake.  This is something we have learned with our birding photography – it’s very easy to misidentify a bird in the field, so it’s good to have a photo to confirm what you actually saw.

Barred owlet

 It’s a veritable Garden of Eden there – well worth stopping off for a day or more, and by doing so you will not only enjoy the amazing wildlife, but you will also benefit the local community with your tourist dollars.

The Hippopotamus or River Horse

Picture this … Two tourists climb into a boat with a guide and as they glide upstream the guide tells them that if they are confronted by an aggressive hippopotamus they mustn’t even think of abandoning the boat and jumping overboard into the water.  Yeah right!  We’ve heard lots of scare stories that tour guides dish out to wide-eyed tourists visiting Africa for the first time.  As seasoned South African travelers, we figured this was a good line to use with foreigners – gets them a bit edgy and expecting some adventure where there is none.  Well, how wrong we were …

A bit too close for comfort

We took a tour on the Kwando River in the Caprivi with a birding guide.  Expecting to see some great birds and perhaps the odd buck or elephant at the water’s edge, we really sniggered when our guide gave us the line about the aggressive hippos.  About two kilometers upstream, in water that was less than a meter deep, we came across a pod of about seventeen hippos wallowing in the shallow river (see the photo below).  The guide stopped a fair way off and dramatically whispered to us that we should be quiet so as not to upset them.  Whilst we were taking photos, one rose halfway out of the water and started to charge towards our boat!  It was a heart-stopping moment seeing this enormous hippo running effortlessly along the bottom of the river and rapidly gaining ground on us.  Our guide quickly put the boat into reverse and took us out of harm’s way.  Okay, so we won’t be such cynics in future.

About to charge at us

Never mind all the stories you’ve read or heard about dangerous animals and the Big Five – hippos are considered amongst the most dangerous animals on the continent.  Whilst they are not meat eaters and so won’t eat a human, they are extremely aggressive and if they catch anyone between them and the water, the human has little chance of surviving an attack.  If the victim is not trampled to death, the hippo’s powerful jaws and gigantic teeth will make short work of them.

A great specimen

Male hippos are only territorial in water, where they lay claim to certain stretches of rivers or lakes and protect up to twenty-five females.  They are agile both in the water and on land.  Being herbivores, they are solitary feeders, eating short grass found alongside rivers – mainly at night after dusk.  They do all their socializing in the water and mud, which is where they prefer to remain during the day in order to keep cool.  They can also be found sleeping on riverbanks during the day.  Hippos don’t have sweat glands, but are said to sweat blood because they secrete a red fluid which is thought to help keep them cool.  No-one is quite certain what the purpose of this fluid is, but it also flows in large amounts when they are excited.

Taking a daytime nap

These huge mammals can weigh between one and a half to three and a half thousand kilograms, with males being substantially heavier than females.  Like crocodiles, their eyes, ears and nostrils are situated on the top of their skulls, enabling them to remain mostly underwater and thereby preventing sunburn.  They aren’t able to stay completely submerged for longer than about six minutes without having to come up for air.  Youngsters can hold their breath for less than a minute.  Talking of youngsters, the gestation period for a hippo is two hundred and forty days.

A big pod of hippos

Hippos are preyed upon by lions and crocodiles, but their main predators are humans, who hunt them for the ivory from their teeth and for their meat.  Young hippos also have to be protected against their own kind, as male hippos are known to kill them in the water.  If you’d like to read some interesting facts about hippos, click here.

In the pink

And so I end this little blog off with a moral – do listen when a tour guide tells you a scare story – sometimes what he says really is genuine and not just a story to add a bit of adrenaline to the outing – you just have to be astute enough to sort the wheat from the chaff.