I was really excited when I was invited to visit Limpopo-Lipadi a private, shareholder-owned reserve on the banks of the Limpopo River in South-East Botswana. Although I have worked in many African countries Botswana holds a special place in my heart: my first trip to Africa was in Botswana, almost twenty years ago.
Less then six hours from Johannesburg I passed the border post and found myself in a beautiful protected wilderness area. We left our luggage at River Camp and went exploring the surrounding bush. I wanted to get a feel for it, learn about the place and, as a wildlife biologist, discover its potential. We drove along dirt roads which unravelled through mopani trees following tracks and sighting zebra, wildebeest, impala, kudu and eland. Much nicer than what I expected, more thrilling than what I was told.
River camp, where shareholders usually stay, is located right next to the Limpopo River and the loud hissing, snorting and grunting of the hippos sounded like a blast in the middle of my first night.
The next morning I walked along the sand banks and, to no surprise, they were covered in tracks. How exciting owning such a place!
I was told there is a pack of dogs at Limpopo-Lipadi and my mission for the rest of my stay was finding them. I have never been very lucky with dogs. I saw them on my first trip to Botswana, 20 years ago, without knowing how difficult it is to find them.
It was just a few hours later that we saw dog tracks along the road and we decided to follow them on foot. There were plenty of tracks and they were clearly going in one direction. We were slowly wandering along, checking and following the tracks that strolled through the mopani trees and back to the road. I suddenly smelt the strong scent marking of a dog and we decided to follow the smell, moving through the mopani, into the wild. I took a glimpse through the branches hoping to capture a moving head or the swing of a tail. Everything was still and silent when the bark of a dog made us all jump.
We moved closer together and started approaching slowly through the trees. I held tight to my camera, ready to shoot. In nature anything can happen within seconds. Two, six, then eight dogs slowly moved towards us. My heart was pounding out of my chest. By the time I started breathing again we were surrounded by 22 wild dogs.
We waited, trying not to scare them, we were told not to move in case the dogs stopped being friendly. They moved closer and closer. Staring at us; the intruders. As soon as I realised that the adults were totally relaxed by our presence I started shooting pictures, one after the other.
The younger ones were moving in and retreating, playing with us from a distance, pushed by curiosity and testing their fear. They were less then 10 meters away from us. I had never been so close to dogs, not even in a car.
I felt a grip on my heart that only Africa can inflict. I stopped shooting and connected to the wild. It was one of those moments: walking with dogs… an encounter that happens once in a lifetime! Surreal and possible if you own your own piece of Africa at Limpopo-Lipadi!
From : Africa Geographic
By : Alessandra Soresina
About Alessandra Soresina
Alessandra Soresina has worked on a number of wildlife projects around the world. In Saadani Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania, she was involved in a mammal monitoring project which led to Saadani being upgraded to a National Park. In 2001 she setup the lion project in Tarangire National Park, northern Tanzania, and for over 5 years concentrated her efforts on lion-human interactions. After setting up a snow leopard project in the Himalayas with the Università degli Studi di Siena, she is now involved in mammal monitoring projects in Mozambique, Tanzania, Gabon and Botswana which are essential to the implementation of new protected areas. She has published two books and the third is due out in July 2014. Since January 2013 Alessandra is an Expert Member of AIEA – Associazione Italiana Esperti d’Africa.