At almost all camps within the Okavango and the Chobe areas, chances of seeing a lion or an elephant are high. But there is something magnificent about seeing that wildlife while at the Duma Tau Camp because you will always see it in some engrossing kind of action.
One of those is to witness how amazing an animal the size of an elephant swims and floats in the deep waters of the Linyanti Swamps. During one of the sunset evenings, a once-in-a-lifetime experience happened. We got to witness a breeding herd of elephants swimming across the swamps while the crocodiles tried but failed to attack the elephant calves for their evening meal. What amazes more is that although the elephants are large enough to just walk in shallow waters, the swamps get so deep that the elephants get submerged. That’s when we got to see them floating and starting to swim across the swamps.
Remember that the breeding herd is accompanied by elephant calves, some very small, which are easy prey for the vicious and hungry crocodiles in the swamps that are always scavenging for an easy meal. While the crocodiles can easily kill and feast on an elephant calf, they can never do so to a grown elephant. So, when crossing the swamps, we witnessed the crocodiles lurking just behind, ready to pounce on the calves.
But the elephants formed an interesting pattern. Grownups led the way, the calves followed and other grownups brought up the rear. By surrounding the calves, no crocodile dared to attack. However, a highly experienced tour guide at Duma Tau Camp, Boikobo ‘BK’ Chinyepe, who made sure that we experience this amazing sight, says should a smaller calve mistakenly fall behind, it is as good as dead meat for the crocs, for it is soon grabbed and pulled underwater by the strong semi-aquatic creatures where it becomes their aliment.
Boikobo Chinyepe is affectionately known as BK and has been a tour guide at Duma Tau for years now. He tells an interesting tale of these swimming elephants of Linyanti where the swamps have permanent deep waters. Duma Tau Camp is situated on the southern side of the marshland known as the Mophane Woodlands whence the elephants prefer to cross to the Selinda Camp side. BK says this is because the massive mammals prefer to feed on different types of vegetation. There are the mature Mophane woodlands on the southern side soft vegetation like palm trees is preponderant on the northern side. The huge herbivores eat mainly in the mornings, they cross the deep waters of the Linyanti Swamps to the north in search of vegetation like the water lilies that people here call tswii and eat as a vegetable, as well as the palm trees. BK says the elephants can extend as far as the Kwando River and further into the Lebala Camp (belonging to Kwando Safaris).
Going further east from Duma Tau, other elephants swim into Linyanti River and sometimes cross to the Namibian side at a sliver of land previously called the Caprivi Strip that is now known as the Zambezi region. The elephants feed there during the day or at the Selinda side and swim back to the Linyanti Swamps on the Botswana side that they consider it a safer haven. In the Caprivi Strip,
Poaching has been rife in the Caprivi, hence elephants migrated from there to the Botswana side for safety. “The elephants have sharp memories,” BK explains with the confidence of a zoologist. “They remember the tragedies of rampant poaching at the Caprivi Strip, especially at night. So even though they may swim to that side to feed, most of them come back to spend night in Botswana side.” The Linyanti Rriver forms a natural boundary between Botswana and Namibia at the northwestern corner of Chobe National Park and flows further to become the Chobe River.
Due to a volcanic fault line, the gentle Kwando River changes course at almost ninety degrees from the southeast to the northeast where it becomes the Linyanti. This territory hold much fascination for historians, zoologists and the human and animal natives of the land because the narrow panhandle that is the Caprivi Strip is contiguous with Botswana in the south, Angola and Zambia in the north and Zimbabwe in the east. The visitor to the international nexus straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe and soon beholds the spectacular sight of the Victoria Falls that continuously send up a pall of smoke from the ‘thundering’ water as it hits the Zambezi River 885 metres below.
The Linyanti Reserve was created at the inner right angle of northern bank of the river on the Namibian side and home to prolific game and birdlife. The southern bank is in Botswana where the Linyanti Swamp and its gentle lagoons and mature woodlands lead to open grasslands of pasture and an ancient forest. It covers an area of almost 900 sq km and is contiguous with Namibia’s remote Mamili National Park to the north. It is remote and relatively inaccessible, hence a refuge for wildlife. The veritable Edenic park blends seamlessly blends with the Okavango Delta and its network of waterways that link lagoons in what God must have purposed to be an all-embracing ecosystem of flora and fauna.
On the other bank, the Linyanti Reserve forms a part of an enclave offour private reserves – Kwando, Selinda, Linyanti and Chobe. It covers 1 250 sq km in which three camps operate. The enclave being contiguous land, wildlife moves freely, attracted by the permanent water bodies and the lush green meadows. Concentrations of elephant and buffalo are very high in this area. There are also many antelope species like sable, impala, and red lechwe near the water bodies.
In the forests and on the plains, one can find wildebeest, kudu, baboons, giraffe, warthog, zebra and tshesebe. Herds of eland and roan antelope can be found further away from the water. Though cheetah are not that common, there are prides of lions and leaps of leopards in the woodlands while wild dogs can be spotted on the plains. Hyenas, servals and bat-eared foxes can also be spotted. Birdlife abounds and the area is known as one of the best places for the sound of chirping birds at dawn. But one of the most interesting experiences is the roar of the lions that inspired the name Duma Tau Camp, a Setswana phrase that loosely translates into “roar” almost always of lions. In accordance with conservation principles, most camps do not have the kind of artificial noise that comes from radio and television sets, the idea being for visitors to experience unadulterated sounds of nature and the wilderness. In the tranquil evenings and the wee hours of the mornings, we often heard the deep roar of the lions, as the king of the beast was only a few meters away.
After waking us up as early as 5am, BK tells me that we are going to track the lions that were roaring at night. After following their tracks for more than an hour, we spot two males resting in the middle of the road. Whereupon the experienced guide calls them by name – the Channel brothers! He describes them as once vicious males that dominated the Linyanti Reserve of over 124 000 hectares and presided over several prides of females in the reserve. From 2016, the Channel brothers took over the area and presided over three female prides called the Wapuka Pride (east of Savuti), the Matlhajwe Pride (around Kings Pool) and the Channel Pride, among which they enjoyed exclusive mating rights. Each of the prides had more than five cubs after mating with the Channel brothers.
According to BK, at their peak, the Channel brothers once defeated two male coalitions, the Chobe Boys and the Croc Boys, and pushed them out of the Linyanti Reserve about two years ago. In 2020, one of the strongest Channel brothers named Ranko disappeared and BK believes he may have died. This left the Channel brothers with only one strong male who was compelled to adopt one of the cub sons of the Channel brothers to help the remaining Channel boy protect the territory. But the disappearance of that Channel brother has left them weak and they are losing the Linyanti territory.
There is now another coalition of two strong males called Monnakaesi and Golden Boy that BK says are defeating the Channel boys. The roars that we heard at night were from Monnakaesi and his brother challenging the Channel boys that roared back. As we were looking at the Channel boys, another coalition called from the east end but the Channel brothers sat quietly, in what BK says was a sign of retreat. We witnessed the bigger Channel brother taking refuge under the bushes where the young one joined later. Their territory was now limited because Monnakaesi and his brother (Golden boy) were approaching. “From now on they will lead a nomadic life until they find a safer territory,” he says.
Operated by Okavango Wilderness Safaris, Duma Tau Camp guarantees an amazing experience and action in the wild. The cost of staying at Duma Tau, varies from season to season, but it goes up to approximately P35 000 per night. The costs however are justified; at the camps, one gets a personalised service offering. The staff is trained to study your personality as soon as you arrive and make sure they tailor make the service to your liking. In fact they over-deliver on what they promise at Wilderness.