"ADVENTURING IN AFRICA, Up Close and Personal with Wildlife" "
  Gemsbok at watering hole
High on Adventure


Up Close and Personal with Wildlife
Story by Lee Juillerat, Photos by Molly Juillerat

Chobe National Park, Botswana

  Botswana, Chobe National Park lions   Botswana, Chobe National Park lions  
Llion brothers
Llions playing

Lions napped alongside their safari rigs, and during other more wakeful times, were busy mating.

  Botswana, Chobe National Park, baboons grooming   Botswana, Chobe National Park, baboon  
Baboons grooming

The monkeys’ antics were fun to watch, but troublesome because they found ways to snitch camp food.

  Botswana, Chobe National Park, giraffe   Botswana, Chobe National Park, giraffes and zebras  
Giraffes and zebras

Giraffes were so tall they towered skyscraper-tall.

  Botswana, Chobe National Park, elephant   Botswana, Chobe National Park, elephants on river bank  
Elephant climbing out of the river
Elephants walking the river bank

And humongous elephants, were so bulky and heavy that giant trees shook as they thumped past along only a few feet away.

  Victoria Falls hippo   Victoria Falls hippo and baby  
Victoria Falls hippo...
...and baby

“So many animals,” Molly Juillerat says of her nearly two-week camping adventure in the wildlife-protected national parks of Botswana in South Africa. “It was like being in a National Geographic special every day.”

  Arriving in Chobe, Botswana   Chobe National Park elephant  
Arriving in Chobe National Park
Andy and elephant close by
  Capetown penguins at the beach   Capetown penguin love  
Capetown penguins at the beach
Penguins love
  Capetown penguins from the back   Capetown beach walking  
Penguins wade
Walk on Capetown beach
  Victoria Falls   Victoria Falls double rainbow  
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls with double rainbow

Molly, my daughter, and her husband Andy Hamilton, traveled and camped in South African wildlife refuges for 13 days during their three-plus weeks visit last summer. The guided, mobile safari to remote areas of Botswana was eye-popping, but it was part of a longer visit that included taking an aerial cableway up Table Mountain, seeing penguins swimming at Boulder Beach, walking on beaches at the Cape of Good Hope, and lying sprawled out in the shallow waters above a cliff where Victoria Falls plunged steeply down.

  Capetown, people on rocks   Cape of Good Hope signs  
R to L, Andy, Molly, and friends
Cape of Good Hope signage

It was a trip that Molly, Andy, and friends had originally planned two years earlier, but was delayed by Covid-19 restrictions. Delayed, but worth the wait.

“We were immersed in seeing and living with animals,” Molly tells of the experience. “I knew it would be amazing, just being that close to animals and seeing them in their natural habitat.”

“Everybody should go there at least once and experience it,” insists Andy.

Africa’s iconic wildlife was the marquee highlight, but both say there was more, much more. Through Royale Wilderness, which specializes in small group tours and features guides well-versed in Botswana’s history, the group of eight that Molly and Andy were part of was educated on multiple fronts. They learned how Botswana became an independent country, the impact of diamonds on the country’s economy, the system of protected lands, and the region’s diverse plants and animals.

“The guides take pride in their country and history. You could tell it was a passion. It’s a job, but it’s also a lot more,” Molly said of the guides, including owner Johnny Ramsden and guide Moronga Kandodi in her kudos. “I feel like I learned a lot. They know a lot about the animals and plants, about the people, the land and the country.” With genuine admiration and appreciation, Molly said that the guides were “very good at paying attention to the interests of their guests and tailoring the trip towards what they wanted to see.”

  Chobe National Park, Botswana, pelican punk   Chobe National Park, Botswana, yellow-billed stork  
Chobe National Park, pelican punk
Chobe National Park, yellow-billed stork
  Kalahari yellow hornbill   Capetown flower  
Kalahari, yellow hornbill
Capetown, King Protea

Because the group included botanists, biologists and bird watchers, they were all introduced to more than 200 species of birds and enjoyed stops to study and identify plants.

  Kalahari, author's friends   Kalahari safari rigs  
Kalahari, Johnny and Caren
Our Safari rigs

Their custom itinerary outing included nights in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Khwai Concession Area and Chobe National Park. The group of eight traveled in open-air safari vehicles, each with a guide, who do not carry guns.

  Chobe National Park safari kitchen   Safari cooking pots  
Chobe National Park, safari kitchen
Safari cooking pots
  Kalahari cape crow   Kalahari gemsbok  
Kalahari, cape crow
Kalahari, gemsbok
  Kalahari spotted eagle owl   Kalahari springbok  
Kalahari, spotted eagle owl
Kalahari, springbok
  Chobe National Park elephant eating   Chobe National Park baby elephant eating  
Chobe National Park, elephant approaching
Chobe National Park, baby elephant eating

At camps, where they stayed two or three nights–“It was more like glamping than camping”–they were joined by chef Peggy Sue and other crew members. The routine included getting up before sunrise for porridge, coffee and tea before heading out. Along with the iconic animal species, some sightings included gemsbok, springbok, goshawks, foxes, zebras, steenbok, eagles and kudu. “In most areas you are not allowed to walk around outside of your camp. In Kway we were allowed to go for a walk with one of our guides. Johnny led us to a curious young elephant that walked close to 10 feet away from us, flaring its ears and reaching out with his trunk before backing up and moving away.”

  Kalahari sundowner   Kalahari sunset  
Kalahari, sundowner
Kalahari, sunset

About noon they returned to camp for “really amazing” meals prepared by camp cook Peggy Sue, who also served up riddles and songs. Then it was back out for afternoon game drives before returning to camp to relax, sip iced tea and munch snacks. Sunsets included dinners and, appropriately, “Sundowners,” end of the day drinks, as the sun went down. “The sunsets were amazing!”

  Victoria Falls Zambezi sunset   Victoria Falls Zambezi boat sunset  
Victoria Falls Zambezi sunset
Victoria Falls Zambezi boat sunset

Park regulations require visitors to be at camp by dark, partly to help reduce poaching.
The many and varied sights included wild dogs that have no relation to domestic dogs. “That was probably one of the most amazing things, watching the puppies roll around, seeing the pups in their den.” The group watched as adult dogs that had had successful hunts and eaten their prey, returned to their dens and regurgitated their meals to feed the young. “It’s amazing that this is left in the world,” says Andy, noting, “That’s where humans evolved.”

“I knew it would be amazing, just being that close to animals and seeing them in their natural habitat,” Molly says of the experience. “It’s not like going to a wildlife safari or zoo. I didn’t expect it to feel so genuine. Being there and seeing the wildlife and experiencing it was a lot different than I thought it would be.”
For information about Royale Wilderness visit their website at www.royalewilderness.com or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/royalewilderness. The company is based in Maun, Botswana.

About the Author

  Lee Juillerat is a semi-retired writer-photographer who lives in Southern Oregon. He is a frequent contributor to several magazines, including “Southern Oregon Magazine,” “The AG Mag,” “Range,” and “The Cattle Mag.” He has written and co-authored books about various topics and places, including Crater Lake National Park and Lava Beds National Monument, and, most recently, “Ranchers and Ranching: Cowboy Country Yesterday and Today.” Lee has produced photo-stories for High On Adventure for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net.   Lee Juillerat