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Chobe National Park in northern Botswana is renowned for its elephant population, particularly dense during Botswana's winter months, May-September. The Chobe River attracts herds of them who come to drink, swim, and frolic in the mud. The best way to see this is to take a boat ride. And so we did. It's truly great fun to watch them playing in the mud. This was the best viewing I've had on any safari yet of baby elephants ... something I'm always craving to see more of. Simply glimpsing them standing beside their mothers and family is an adorable sight.

Adult, young, and baby elephant standing together on the banks of the Chobe River. Botswana.Little gangs of young elephants converge on one another. Chobe River, Botswana.

But watching them play and wrestle with each other in the mud was a delight of a whole new order.  Baby elephants on the bank of the Chobe River following one another into a mud hole. Botswana.Baby elephants wrestling with each other in a mud hole on the banks of the Chobe River, Botswana.Row of baby elephants stepping into the mud along the bank of the Chobe River, a row of adults behind them. Botswana.Row of baby elephants stepping into the mud along the bank of the Chobe River. Botswana.Very muddy baby elephants on the banks of the Chobe River, Botswana.Very muddy baby elephants resting on the banks of the Chobe River, Botswana.

But it's not as if the adults weren't getting a little goofy and playful themselves. I think this might be my favorite photo from the whole trip, this adult elephant in this comical position, head-first in the mud, back leg up in the air.  Elephant plays in the mud, head first in the mud hole, baby looks on. Chobe River, Botswana.

Naturally, we ran into several of one of the African waters' primary inhabitants: hippos. I always like seeing their titanic bodies out of the water. This one has a little egret friend with him. 

Hippo at the water's edge with reflection on the Chobe River, Botswana. His egret friend beside him.Hippopotamus wading into the Chobe River, taking water in and out of its mouth, reflection on the water. Chobe National Park, Botswana.

And the other more sinister ubiquitous creature lurking in the African waters: a NIle crocodile. I've become rather fond of crocodiles as a result of all my trips to the crocodile reserve in Mexico. But only when they are lying still and not menacing anybody! I like how the sun lit up his scales to a rather golden hue. Nile crocodile sunning himself on the bank of the Chobe River, Botswana. Bottom scales shining golden.Close-up of Nile crocodile sunning himself on the bank of the Chobe River, Botswana.

The elephants do not seem to mind these sets of vicious teeth all around them as they frolic. What a joy to see a whole family joining in the muddy fun all together.  Elephant family playing in the mud on the banks of the Chobe River, Botswana.Elephant family playing in the mud on the banks of the Chobe River, Botswana.Some other creatures stood along the banks during our boat ride. A young waterbuck, quite adorable, I must say, looking all shaggy and fuzzy, his white target ring just beginning to show on his butt. Next pic down, his mom and dad (presumably, though they could be complete strangers in the same place at the same time) -- a male and female waterbuck, and a couple impala in the foreground.

Young waterbuck standing on the bank of the Chobe River, Botswana.Male and female waterbuck and impala at the bank of the Chobe River, Botswana.

An African darter. 

African darter in the Chobe River, Botswana.

We  also had some more delightful southern carmine bee-eater sightings throughout Chobe National Park, whom we'd first spotted in Moremi. How can you not be smitten with these colorful creatures? Side view of a southern carmine bee-eater perched on a tree branch, Chobe National Park, Botswana.Front view of a southern carmine bee-eater perched on a tree branch, Chobe National Park, Botswana.

And this was unexpected to me ... another animal I love from my contact with them in Mexico: the spoonbill. These, however, are African spoonbills rather than roseate. You can probably guess that they're the guys standing on either side of the yellow-billed stork. I like when birds are given practical, obvious names ... much easier to remember!  

African spoonbills and a yellow billed stork drinking with their reflections, Chobe, Botswana.

Marabou storks ... hard to get a sense of scale here, but they're huge birds, standing about four feet high, and can have wing spans approaching 8 feet. They're also creepy. They're also cool. They're also little devils. I had to contend with them while I worked in the UWEC (Entebbe zoo). There was one who sometimes stood around the cafe patio where I ate, and he stole a big piece of chicken right off my plate. I was so diligent to keep an eye on the vervet monkeys so they didn't steal anything, and then that marabou walks by and snatches up my dinner. 

Group of marabou storks near the water in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Okavango Delta.

And of course the ubiquitous red-billed hornbill. I still think they're neat.  

A very non-ubiquitous critter is the honey badger. I caught a glimpse of one running away in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve the previous year, but we had two very nice sightings in Chobe. Difficult to photograph as it was surrounded by tall weeds and was mosting moving. These are very clever creatures ... I saw a TV show about one in a sanctuary who ingeniously figured out how to escape from an enclosure first by simply climbing the fence and unlocking the gate, then by digging a tunnel underneath a cement wall, then by rolling rocks over to the wall, stacking them up and standing on them until he was tall enough to climb over the wall, then by moving branches to form a ladder and climb over the wall, then any tools like rakes or shovels left by workers in the enclosure he used as ladders. Very funny. But they are also quite renowned for their ferocity. 

Honey badger running through the weeds in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Sable antelope are quite shy and not terribly common to see either. We saw some up in northern Namibia in Bwabwata and the Mahango Core Area. But these were the only ones we got a good, if fleeting, look at in Botswana. Their latin name is kind of funny: hippotragus niger. They don't seem very hippo-like to me, haha. 

Small group of sable antelope, Hippotragus niger, in the woods in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Another little creature not terribly common to see was a slender mongoose. In these poses, I'd call him plump before I'd call him slender! But his long tail seems like his most distinguishing feature! Were it me, I think I'd name him a black-tipped mongoose. 

Slender mongoose sitting on a rock, his tail curled around him. Chobe National Park, Botswana.Slender mongoose sitting on a rock, his tail curled around him. Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Botswana's Chobe National Park borders Namibia along the Caprivi Strip, the two countries divided by a ribbon of water. We spent our evenings down near this stretch of water with elephants and lions all around us. The lions were typically on our side of the water watching the elephants typically on the opposite side. 

Lone elephant drinking at the border of Chobe National Park and Namibia.Elephant family coming to drink water in the evening, Chobe, Okavango Delta, on the border of Namibia and Botswana.Elephant family coming to drink water in the evening, Chobe, Okavango Delta, on the border of Namibia and Botswana.Elephant coming to say hello, Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Not the grandest photo in quality, but I just really like how that whole line of elephants is drinking. Obviously a thirsty bunch. 

Now ... are you ready for some lions?? We watched this pride come back from the water to their homebase in the bushes as the sun was setting. Something magical about a big family trotting home after a hard day watching elephants and zebras and other potential prey. But first, before heading back, this little lion practices his fiercest expressions. Gotta be ready for when the day comes he's old enough to hunt himself!

Young lion at the water's edge, Chobe National Park in the Caprivi Strip across from Namibia.Young lion at the water's edge, Chobe National Park in the Caprivi Strip across from Namibia.Lion pride heading home at sunset from from marshy plains in Chobe National Park in the Caprivi Strip across from Namibia.Lion pride heading home at sunset from from marshy plains in Chobe National Park in the Caprivi Strip across from Namibia.Lion pride heading home at sunset from from marshy plains in Chobe National Park in the Caprivi Strip across from Namibia.

So as we're sitting in the vehicle, the water at the Namibian border is on our left, we're parked just outside a kind of wall of low bushes along the edge of the marsh on our right. Baboons are sitting along this same strip quietly grooming each other as the sun nears the horizon. The lion pride reaches the bushes in front of us and disappears into them as if it's some kind of magical doorway, like the fabled hole in the back of the wardrobe. The bushes don't seem dense enough or extensive enough to hide a pride; I expected that when we drove our vehicle back through the bushes toward camp, we would see them on the other side. But we didn't. They vanished somewhere. We saw the same thing the following night. And driving by there another time during the middle of the day, a male and female emerged as if by magic from that same doorway. It was peculiarly mysterious. Sisters sit near the "doorway" here. 

Lioness sisters at the edge of a marshy plain in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

This is from a different part of the park and at sunrise rather than sunset, but you know how I love capturing a critter with its tongue out. Even very large, intimidating critters. 

Male lion walking with his tongue out, licking his chops, Chobe, Botswana.

And guess what: We weren't done seeing leopards! So in three of the four parks we visited in the Okavango Delta, we saw leopards. Considering I had hoped to see this animal in particular on this trip, I think we did pretty well! Can you pick out her face in the first pic below? :-) 

Leopard carefully slinking through the bushes in Chobe National Park, Botswana.Lioness sisters at the edge of a marshy plain in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

While the leopard is the manifestation of stealth and grace, the cape buffalo can generally be taken as the dictionary illustration of "cantankerous." The males in particular being notoriously ill-tempered. But sometimes they look sweet as can be, like they would never scare a fly. The first one below calmly lets his oxpecker friend clean his hide, not minding the indignity of having a bird perched on his face. And I think the last buffalo is hoping to get on the cover of GQ Buffalo. Maybe he's singing, "I'm a sexy beast!"

Cape buffalo with an oxpecker on its face. Chobe, Botswana.Cape buffalo with an oxpecker on its face. Chobe, Botswana.Cape buffalo posing for a picture, Chobe, Botswana.

OK, dear reader, thanks for hanging out with me on yet another virtual safari!  If I'm still maintaining this blog next year (2019), you'll probably get to join me on a whole new set of safari adventures. (and p.s. if you're not already a subscriber, if you don't want to miss when a new post goes up, enter your email address into the "Updates" bubble on the right!) 

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