African Odyssey: From the Maasai Mara to the Okavango DeltaMar 09, 2022 10:43AM ● By GLENN OSTLE
Africa beckoned as my partner and I began our trip to join a group of photographers for a two-week safari through Botswana, from Chobe National Park to the famous Okavango Delta. We were excited, as this was our first time in Africa, a place we had always dreamed of visiting.
Before meeting up with the group at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we elected to spend a week by ourselves in Kenya, visiting such iconic places as Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and especially the Maasai Mara National Reserve, featured in so many articles and documentaries about African wildlife.
Our week in Kenya was exceptional. From a rugged safari vehicle, we photographed animals that we had seen only in zoos, and many more that we had never seen at all. Lions, in particular, were a surprise, as we never realized that such fierce animals could be so loving within their family groups and so seemingly oblivious to our presence. At one point a large pride walked by within just a few feet of our vehicle, and one large male took the opportunity to find some shade by plopping himself down next to a tire.
WATER IS AFRICA’S LIFE BLOOD
Most countries in East and Southern Africa have two seasons, wet and dry. We arrived in late July, at the tail end of the dry season, and soon found that water plays a major role in the lives of the animals, as well as the people.
Lake Nakuru, located in the brackish Rift Valley 90 miles north of Nairobi, at one time was home to more than 1½ million pink flamingos. Over the past 30 years, however, this population has shrunk drastically, primarily because of encroaching urbanization and the changing salinity of the water.
In the Maasai Mara National Reserve we saw thousands of wildebeests, part of the more than one million animals that follow the rains in a clockwise loop from southern Tanzania to Kenya—the largest land migration in the world. These wildebeests walk the same paths that their ancestors have traveled for thousands of years, each animal covering more than 1,700 miles.
As we drove over the Maasai Mara and later in Botswana, we witnessed animals congregating around water holes or working their way toward rivers and streams.
In Botswana, many species rely on the Chobe River, from those that only walk down to the river’s edge to drink, to others like the baboons that live out their frantic lives along its banks.
One fascinating sight we observed was a herd of elephants preparing to cross the river from Botswana to Namibia in search of sweeter grasslands. The group was timid at first until one large elephant waded in and the herd followed. In water up to their tusks the elephants made their way slowly across, including a number of small juveniles that at times were almost completely submerged with only their trunks poking out of the water to breathe.
The Savute Safari Lodge, where we spent two nights, was located next to a huge watering hole that allowed visitors to spot various types of wildlife coming and going. Late at night we could see the faint gray outlines of dozens of elephants in the darkness, just standing still in the water.
Toward the end of our trip, we flew over the Okavango Delta, typically a place of bright blue waterways and lush green fields. From the air, however, it appeared to be more hard-packed dirt than a water paradise, a situation that would quickly improve with the changing of the seasons.
TOURISM, FRIEND OR FOE
During our trip, our safari vehicle was just one of dozens rushing to find the perfect vantage point for a photo. We were part of the thousands of tourists who travel here each year for the African experience. This onslaught of people obviously brings badly needed revenue to the country, but at the same time so much human presence can put undue pressure on the animals that live here.
That said, we were impressed with how hard our guides worked to protect the animals and stressed the need to be respectful of them. We were also awed by the way the camps worked to live in harmony with the animals and the land. As a result, we came away with a renewed realization that as visitors to these fragile environments it is up to us to do everything we can to help protect the treasures that we find.
Glenn Ostle is a long-time TOTI contributor living in Charlotte, North Carolina. For almost 30 years, he and his partner, Pam Hadfield, have traveled the world pursing their interest in underwater, wildlife, and bird photography. Ostle’s photos and articles have appeared in a number of dive and travel magazines. To see more of his photos go to featherandfins.smugmug.com.