Our third game reserve was at &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge. Like all our moves within Botswana, we flew in small fixed-wing aircraft. The lodges have access to remote runways as flying is the only way to get to these locations. However, it’s not always straight forward with the planes having to circle the airstrip before making a final approach to ensure no wildlife are grazing on the airstrip.
The Sandibe Lodge is situated on a private concession on the Okavango Delta. Set among a forest canopy of wild palms and gnarled fig trees the lodge blends into one of Africa’s most breath-taking landscapes.
Rainfall from Angola flows over 1000 kilometres and eventually finds its way to the delta, taking about six months. It creates a wetland for the animals and provides much relief after the dry season. However, low rainfall in Angola this year resulted in a significant drought in Botswana and produced incredible stress for the animals. While there was definitely water, there was not as much as usual.
The delta is a maze of lagoons, lakes, hidden channels and extensive grassy floodplains. It covers an area of over 16,000 km2 when flooded and shrinks to less than 9,000 km2 in the dry season. The delta is in a constant state of flux expanding and contracting according to the rainy season. While some parts of the delta remain permanently flooded, others only experience high water levels from May to September when rainwater from Angola reach the outer stretches of the Okavango.
Like Mashatu, we had many great animal sightings and highlights, including two more of the big five, the buffalo and hippopotamus.
One evening on the way back to the lodge, a lion was sitting in the grass. Jonas, our guide explained the lion doesn’t have a pride and is a sole nomadic male. He has found a girlfriend, also a single lioness and has had four cubs to her. He sat roaring for 10 minutes, trying to make contact with her then left in a hurry in the opposite direction so the dominant male lion could not track him down.
We also saw over 1000 Cape Buffalos on the move to find water. We got extremely close to them. In mass, they are safe, but they can be very unpredictable if confronted individually.
This beautiful lion cub was one of four relaxing among small palm bushes, patiently waiting for its mama to return from a hunt. Sometimes they can wait up to four days. She is unlikely to bring back the kill, but with a full belly she will produce good milk.
We went back to the delta and saw the hippos in the water. They put on an excellent display moving around the delta, creating deep channels to reduced excessive flooding. They eventually got out of the water and what a sight. They are enormous.
We were also lucky to observe two sisters, lionesses. We followed them after hearing an impala’s distress call to find several wild dogs killing the impala. The dogs killed the impala by literally tearing the flesh from its bone. Sometimes the impala can still be running with its intestines dragging behind. It eventually dies from the stress, resulting in a heart attack. When the lions arrived, the wild dog’s fled. The brother of the two lionesses joined them. Eating the impala they growled viciously at each other as greed controls their mentalities.
On a cheerier note, we saw a’ kindergarten’ of baby giraffes. We did not see their mothers, but they would have been feeding nearly. The tallest (eldest) giraffe gave the youngest (smallest) two kick to get him to move when we arrived, so they were ready to run should we pose a threat to them.
We came across another kill, a Cape Buffalo killed by two lion brothers. We believe the kill may have happened in the night. One of the brothers had eaten enough and was sitting on the side of the delta. The other brother, a mangy lion who had fallen on hard times (as his father had thrown him out of the pride), was a nomadic rouge lion. With 12 hyenas waiting close by, he was reluctant to leave the carcass.
The Sandibe Lodge, situated on a private concession in the Okavango Delta was inspired by one of the Okavango Delta’s most secretive inhabitants, the pangolin. Pangolins or scaly anteaters are mammals and are one of the world’s least-known animals, yet one of the most hunted animals for their scales. They are sold on the black market for traditional Asian medicine.
The building reflects the curved shape of the pangolin. It is likened to the anteater’s body with a wooden skin of shingles mirroring the pangolin’s overlapping scales. Rising out of the trees the curved wooden roof soars high overhead. Organic and handmade, the contemporary structure blends in with the jungle surroundings.
Behind the lodge, golden-grassed floodplains inhabited by a variety of wildlife stretch into the distance as well as 12 elevated quest suites A channel of clear, cold waters runs directly in front of the suites, with unrestricted views over the delta. They are private and beautifully appointed with plunge pools.