Mombo camp requires little introduction. Situated in the heart of Botswanas’ Okavango Delta on the northern tip of Chiefs island, wildlife thrives like no other place I have ever experienced. A common misconception is that Mombo means ‘the place of plenty’ but in fact it means ‘peat fire’. These peat fires have taken place for centuries, whereby layers of papyrus and other decomposing vegetation build up on top of each other and dry out. Eventually combustion (usually from a lightning strike) causes this underground fuel to ignite. This is what creates the extremely fertile top soil, allowing highly palatable grasses to grow, which in turn attracts many grazing species, the predators which feed on them and ultimately gives rise to the game rich phenomenon that is Mombo… PHEW, that brings us to the end of our little lesson! Now to get to the good stuff…
On the 3rd of March I accompanied some very good friends and multi repeat guests of African-Born Safaris back to my old stomping ground as a private guide. With bush enthusiasts on board I knew we would be in for a super 4 night stay at Little Mombo (Mombo Camps’ smaller sister camp with only 3 rooms).
With our guests joining us from London and New York, our guests were met by MENZIES VIP handlers off their respective flights and escorted to our chartered Pilatus PC-12 which would be taking us directly to Mombo airstrip. A seamless 2h15 minute flight got us to the gateway of the Okavango, Maun. On route our appetites were satisfied with gourmet boerewors rolls (a traditionally spiced South African sausage on a hot-dog roll with a few fried onions) to which some may attest to have been the highlight of the trip! There were South African ex-pats on board who had not had the pleasure of a ‘boerie-roll’ in months so this is understandable…
After a 15 minute passport stamping session in Maun airport we were on board again for a 15 minute low level flight over the okavango delta to Mombo airstrip. From the air we could see just how dry the delta was and how badly it needed rain. Nonetheless, on the flight alone we managed to see several large herds of elephants and rafts of hippo in the dwindling deeper pools. This was a vast difference compared to our last trip during the the months (April – October) when the flood was in. This flood water from the Angolan highlands is what brings life to this otherwise desert environment outside of the rainy season (November – March).
Upon our arrival at Mombo airstrip we were met by an old friend and colleague, Doc Malinga, who would be our local knowledge on the ground for the next 5 days. Having spent years working with Doc in the past I was thrilled to again be working with one of the best guides in Botswana!
I’ve mentioned that Mombo is a wildlife wonderland and anyone who visits this paradise will agree with me. It always puts smile on my face to see guests faces when they realise the abundance of animals from the airstrip to the camp alone, a mere 1km drive. On this specific trip (literally a 10 minute drive) we managed to see giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala, red lechwe, warthog, elephant and hippo! Not to mention the 24 bird species we racked up…
The next few days involved a solid 10-12 hours of bush time per day. With some serious photographers and bush enthusiasts on board we did not fall into the typical safari time table of early morning safari, come back for lunch, siesta, afternoon tea followed by an afternoon safari. We strived to fill the days with as much bush time as possible and we were very spoilt to often have lunch bought to us wherever we may be. With our own private vehicle this made such a safari possible! We may have walked away with some very red skin and a few sore knees but boy was it worth it! The joys of taking a safari at a slower than average pace is, that often whilst you are identifying a bird or trying to get the perfect shot of a flower in the morning light, you can tune into the bush and this can often lead to some pretty radical stuff!
This was exactly the case on our 3rd day at Mombo. Although we had seen the majority of the general game the area has to offer, including a herd of over 600 buffalo, 2 prides of lions, and countless elephants, we still wanted to find one of the most elusive critters in Africa… The leopard. Whilst photographing a beautiful carmine bee-eater in the golden evening light, our attention was suddenly drawn to some impala snorting not too far away. Their alarm calls were most likely indicating the presence of a predator. So with a few final shots of the bee-eater, we raced towards the direction of the alarm calls. As we reached the impala we could see that they were alert but could see no sign of what had disturbed them earlier. So we sat and listened. A minute later we heard it. A leopards’ rasping territorial call, often likened to a person sawing wood. A few moments later and we found him, a massive male leopard!
After a thrilling 20 minutes with this incredible animal, we left him to carry on his evening duties of demarcating territory and made our way back to camp for another superb dinner and a peaceful nights sleep.
The following morning as we sipped our coffee and watched the sun slowly breaking the horizon we discussed ‘”The News”. Now in the bush this usually means what interesting noises you heard through the night! The night had been filled with the whooping calls of hyaenas, the bellowing calls of a pride of lions close by, a pair of jackals wailing their eerie cry and of course the ever present hippo grunts of the delta nights. Our plan for the morning was to get to the helicopter at sunrise for an hour long scenic and photographic flip which truly reveals the intricacies of the delta system. This was slightly delayed as we pulled out of camp and realised a female leopard had been in the camp during the early morning and her tracks suggested she was not far away! As a guide, over time you get to learn and understand individual territorial animals boundaries and ranges, and from the tracks Doc and I had seen countless times before, we knew who these pug mark belonged to… Legadema. Arguably the most famous leopard in the world thanks to the Jouberts’ film, Eye of the Leopard, which documented the first 2 years of her life. Within minutes, with the aid of some very upset monkeys, we found her, contently cleaning herself in the soft morning light.
After spending a precious 20 minutes with the celebrity cat, we made our way to the awaiting helicopter. A tough decision to make but luckily another vehicle stayed with her so we could spend some more time with her on our return. The heli-flip was superb and our guests managed to fire off some award-winning shots!
These are only a few highlights from one of the most magical and wild destinations in Africa. The Okavango delta ceases to amaze me and everyone who has the privilege to visit it. As one of the last remaining wildernesses in the world it is of the utmost importance that ecotourism continues to develop in this part of the world. Thanks to the people that want to see the wonders that the Okavango has to offer, it can thrive and continue on its most natural course.
Our 4 day trip at Mombo concluded with a total mammal count of 27 different species (red lechwe, impala, bushbuck, kudu, Burchells’ zebra, blue wildebeest, warthog, lion, leopard, buffalo, black rhino, elephant, hippo, giraffe, hyaena, wild dog, wild cat, black-backed jackal, chacma baboon, vervet monkey, slender mongoose, banded mongoose, tree squirrel, Peters’ epaulettes fruit bat, African civet, large-spotted genet and of course, tree squirrel).
With the delta being quite dry, we did not reach our estimated birding total but did walk away with an impressive 156 different species. Below are a few extra pictures from the place of plenty, Mombo.
To experience the majesty that the Botswana has to offer contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view Mombos eBrochure here.