The elephants that broke the Internet
Camp Kuzuma in Botswana has a world-famous earthcam – but it’s even nicer being there, writes Sunday Times reader Dorria Watt
13 August 2017 – 00:00
BY DORRIA WATT
Once on the endangered list and hunted for their ivory, the elephants of Botswana are now protected and plentiful. The country is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa, estimated at more than 200,000.
We learnt a great deal about our wrinkled, thick-skinned friends while at Camp Kuzuma, a privately owned retreat in a natural elephant corridor between the Chobe National Reserve and Hwange Reserve in Zimbabwe.
Elephants are guests’ constant companions and we watched in wonder as they traversed the pathways to and from the manmade waterhole within metres of camp.
An earthcam focused on this drinking hole was chosen as one of the top 25 in the world for the uniqueness of its content.
Is there an elephant in my tent?
Camp Kuzuma works closely with Elephants Without Borders, the region’s leading cross-border research organisation, focused on elephant conservation.
So why the fascination with elephants? Physically they are the largest land animal yet they are minutely sensitive, with a highly developed brain and great memories.
They are also social creatures and you get a glimpse of this as they playfully lock tusks and the babies chase and splash each other, always under the watchful eye of mum.
Besides the rumbling and intimidating trumpeting, elephants purr a bit like a cat, as a means of communication. Although their eyesight is poor they have a highly developed sense of smell. Strangely enough, they favour one tusk over another, a bit like humans being right or left-handed.
As for those large, flapping ears, these regulate their temperature and they are also able to use their feet to listen, through vibrations in the ground.
MORE GAME TO SEE
Elephants are not the sole attraction at Camp Kuzuma. Game drives will take you up close to impala, warthogs, baboons, lions, bat-eared foxes, zebras, buffalo, spurfowls and more. If you’re lucky, you might spot a pangolin.
We were pleased to see plenty of towers of giraffe as they are now listed as vulnerable to extinction. Did you know their long necks have the same number of vertebrae as human necks? Just seven.
The changing geography of the area makes you acutely aware of nature’s complex ecosystem and the symbiotic relationships of all animals big and small, plus the importance of ecotourism, which underpins Kuzuma’s philosophy.
The luxury at this five-star camp is understated. It operates completely off the grid, using a solar panel system, while its ecogreen sewerage system recycles all water and kitchen waste.
Each of the five tented suites are built to blend in with the natural environment and be completely private while taking full advantage of the sunrise.
You can watch the dawn break from the comfort of your XL king-sized bed as you sip fresh coffee and nibble on rusks, curled up in one of the armchairs or out on the sundeck. The setting is breathtaking.
Exhilarating walking safari closes the gap between human & nature
Being closer to the equator, sunrise and sunset in Botswana happen quickly and spectacularly. As the day shuts down, trees are briefly silhouetted against the red sky or the trunk of an elephant or the criss-crossing Aubrey Hepburn-esque necks of the giraffes as they gaze – up to 2km – into the distance.
Sunsets can be viewed from a 4×4 out on a game drive, with a drink and a snack. Or you can sit back and relax in the central lounge and dining room/bar area overlooking a wooden deck, rim-flow pool and the waterhole.
The elephants, or some of the 196 species of birds, will keep you company as dusk turns to a dark sky.
CHOOSE YOUR BUSH THRILLS
Another great thing about Camp Kuzuma is the freedom of choice.
You can opt for an “African massage” or other spa treatment, do a game drive or a guided walk, or sit and do nothing but watch what nature has to offer. All of this between three-course gourmet meals and high tea.
Discreetly private and personal, the well-trained team of nine are always on hand to ensure your stay is memorable.
One of my highlights was a curated Chobe River Experience, a morning game drive in the Chobe National Park followed by a cruise on the Chobe River, which separates Botswana and Namibia.
Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls are a few kilometres downstream. Slowly and silently we floated, watching game along the river’s edge. Here the birds are the star attraction.
From the haunting lament of fish eagles to sightings of plovers, lapwings, jacanas, an ospey, and the tiny but colourful malachite kingfisher. Lunch is served at The Raft, a floating restaurant bordering Namibia.
Later, with sundowners, we saw yet another crimson show fade into a starlit sky, followed by a gourmet “braai” around the flickering campfire.
Gazing up, I reflected on the beauty of the bush and this incredible experience. Like a cat – or an elephant – I purred.