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The Smell of the ram

Intrigued by accounts of a secret migration, Laura Griffith-Jones heads to Botswana’s Chobe floodplains and the Boteti River to be dazzled by zebra

A gigantic slurping awakens me from my contemplation — not so dissimilar to the noise of a plughole greedily sucking dirty dishwater into oblivion — and I glance around sharply. An elephant is standing a couple of hundred yards away, glugging the contents of my plunge pool. Once finished, she slowly and silently plods to the next room along to empty theirs.

After the storm. A dazzle of Burchell’s zebra and a solitary blue wildebeest on the move in the Makgadikgadi.
Richard du Toit

“This happens all the time”, laughs Cathy Rann, Ngoma Safari Lodge’s relief manager, more amused than vexed. “There’s nothing you can do other than wait for them to move on and deal with the destruction then.” As if on cue, the great pachyderm snaps off a few branches unapologetically, chews them distastefully and spits them out, before lumbering down the vertiginous slope to a pitiful waterhole beneath the lodge. Once there, she takes deep swigs of the cool water. Soon others arrive; one by one they pause by each plunge pool to check for dregs, cross the burnt-umber lands to the dwindling lagoon where, with relief, they spray their vast, sunbaked bodies with the cool mud and slurp thirstily.

Nearby, the Chobe River trickles by lethargically, and beyond it Namibia’s straw-yellow Caprivi Strip stretches out to where the horizon meets a darkening sky painted with apricot brushstrokes. The ground is so dry that it feels as if a single match might ignite the entire landscape. “Suicide month,” Cathy says, as we sit in deckchairs, taking in the magnificent views from the decking. It is October in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, the hottest month of the year, and despite my ice-cold G&T, small droplets are beading on my forehead. At this time of year daytime temperatures hover around 40°C. Vegetation has dried up, and most natural pools have evaporated, so animals congregate around the only remaining water sources. Desperation hangs heavy on the air, like a bad smell. But if you can tolerate the relentless heat, wildlife viewing is superlative now on the banks of the Chobe.

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About Travel Africa

Botswana's secret zebra migration • Insider's tips on Cape Town • Madagascar for families • 10 Reasons to visit Mozambique • Wild Zambia • Conquering Mulanje • Sudan uncovered... and much more!