Day Five — Baby Ele and The Two-Minute Leopard

August 21

It's our last day at Camp 9, so maybe it's a good time to talk about the camp. Our camp faces out onto a small pond, and conveniently faces the sunrise (and moonrise):

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As always, we have big tents with comfortable beds in them and a private bath out back (pit toilet and hanging shower, along with a table and wash basin). Every tent has a dedicated camp steward, who cleans your tent every day, does any laundry you need washed, fills your wash basin and shower with hot water, and wakes you each morning when re-filling your water basin. 

At the ends of the 10 participant tents we put individual tends for the guides/drivers so that they are in position to deal with any animals that decide to come through (spoiler alert: that's foreshadowing). 

The mess tent is big enough to seat everyone, and one end has the power plugs from the generator (you can just see it poking in the left of the following photo), while the back side has a bar and cold drinks. You can see one of the ubiquitous wash basins just to the right of the hanging lantern in this photo:


Directly out from the mess tent we have our nightly campfire (also active when we come for breakfast):

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This photo must have been taken the first night, because as the workshop progressed, we started doing more and more night "activities" (more foreshadowing). 

Basically, we try to make the mobile camp experience about as good a true camping experience as you can have. 

Our day breaks down like this: rise before sunrise to a quick light breakfast and head out into the park as it opens. Which brings me to one of my complaints about most African parks: they have fixed hours, and how well those hours work depends a lot upon time of year. Moremi does change their hours slightly for half the year, but April through September there's no driving allowed from 6:30pm until 6am. Personally, I believe they ought to set hours around official sunrise/sunset times (e.g. half hour before, half hour after). In late August, we're using able to get sunrise photos with the park hours as they are, but not sunsets (we'd never get back to camp in time for the driving curfew). I'm all for letting the animals have the night to themselves; heck, I wouldn't complain if they had weeks or months where the park was off limits to visitors in order to allow the animals to be a little more "wild." But it's slightly counterproductive to have hours that don't facilitate human enjoyment. (There are private areas within Botswana that do not have the same time curfews; this only applies to the big National Parks.)

Our morning drive thus starts about sunrise and continues through the morning. We usually say we'll be back in camp by 10am, but in multiple times of doing this, we never have been ;~). There's just so much to see and photograph, after all. We usually get back to camp some time around 11am, sometimes a little later, and have our mid-day meal immediately upon our return. After lunch, I often do image review, but I try to make sure we all have at least 45 minutes worth of down time before Tea Time is called (3pm) and we start back out on another drive. Obviously, we are back at camp by 6:30pm—within a couple of minutes the entire trip—after which it is shower and some down time before dinner. 

I'll talk more about things that happen around camp in a later post, but right now you're thinking: you went on two long drives today, Thom, what the heck did you see?

We seem to be having a wonderful time with elephants. Lots of them, and plenty of interesting groups and actions. Today's elephant highlight for most folk were the babies:

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Babe is gray going to the water (Mark's photo at top), but near black after being in the water (note the water line on the mom's legs in my photo ;~). We had plenty of water action with the elephants, but I wanted to pull out these two photos to make a point about mimicry. Note the leg positions. I've long found that similar leg positions (and trunk positions, too) look far more interesting than random mixed leg positions. Likewise, a leg lifted better indicates movement than all legs flat on the ground. I call it "heel lift." If you don't have it, you're not suggesting motion. 

Okay, I know you're all thinking: Thom, you're stalling, what's a two-minute leopard?

Well, remember those park hours I mentioned before? Sometimes you don't stumble upon an animal until late in the day, and when that happens, you don't have much time before you need to pack up and head back to camp. Couple that with the fact that any predator will immediately attract every vehicle in the area, and sometimes you end up with subjects like the two-minute leopard.

This leopard has killed an impala and brought it up into a tree. Only problem: the only opening to where you could see this leopard is facing away from the road, which is one of the reasons why it took so long to find him. You can often tell that there's a leopard around (more foreshadowing), but not where it is. They're masters of disappearing in plain sight. 

Technically, we're restricted to roads within Moremi, though this is generally interpreted to "established vehicle paths." In this case, there was turnaround area that almost reached where the leopard was visible, and every vehicle then extended that a bit so that their passengers could see the leopard and its kill. The only problem is that there were seven vehicles (four of them ours), and only one vehicle at a time could really fit into the space that showed the leopard clearly. Moreover, it was getting mighty close to the time where we'd need to truck back to camp.

So in the end, each vehicle pretty much got only two minutes with our leopard. There's virtually no light here (completely shaded area with the sun near the horizon behind another group of trees). In other words: worst possible scenario for taking pictures. No time, no light, no great angle (best position was standing on the vehicle), and others wanting the same opportunity. 

And thus we have the two-minute leopard:

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