Almost everything about Wilderness Safaris’ Vumbura Plains Camp
, deep in Botswana’s Okavango Delta
, is designed to relax, to pamper, to soothe. The 14 “tented rooms” are arranged in a single line linked by a long boardwalk, and divided into two zones: “north” and “south”. Each cluster has a central hub where guests congregate around the firepit, or are fed sublime meals (the camp is so isolated that ingredients have to be flown in weekly). There’s an airy sense of space, of Botswana breathing out there. The “walls” of the rooms are made of netting rather than glass, the sumptuous furnishings and glorious wooden decking buffeted by a gentle breeze. My indoor shower took up a third of the vast space I had at my disposal, separated from the main area by billowing fabric; the outdoor version boasted an extraordinary view of slow-moving water, a tower of giraffes occasionally lolloping in the distance.
So why was I immediately drawn to the Species Checklist placed carefully by my (supremely well-upholstered) bed? Why, instead of kicking back and enjoying a sundowner, was I mentally dividing my day up into game drives, pencil at the ready, poised to tick off birds, reptiles and mammals? That checklist was no pamphlet, after all: it was a 40-page book, dense with common and scientific names. There was no way I’d be able to see everything during my two-night stay – and Emang, my guide, would probably respect me more if I just let the wildlife do its thing, without demanding to know what each and every animal was called.
And yet…I knew that the Vumbura Concession, which comprises about 60,000 hectares in the northern part of the Delta, was stuffed full of wildlife, from herds of elephant and buffalo to more varieties of bird and antelope than seems entirely sensible. Something within me demanded that I be allowed to catalogue it all in some way.
It really is terribly, terribly easy to tick off animals in Vumbura. My first sighting? A herd of sable (hippotragus niger, according to my little book), after which I was noting down antelopes by the truckload: blue wildebeest, red lechwe, greater kudu. And birds? Don’t even get me started. Oxpeckers, starlings, a pearl-spotted owlet, the grey go-away bird, a lappet-faced vulture or two. And, yes, on that first day I managed to note down sightings of four of the Big Five: elephant (hard to miss), Cape buffalo, a leopard playing with two cubs, and three lion pursuing a herd of wildebeest.
Amid all this bounty, Emang was quick to manage my expectations regarding number five: there are no rhino in this part of the Delta (although for a guaranteed sighting, visit Wilderness Safaris’ recently refurbished Mombo camp on Chief’s Island, home to black and white rhino that have been relocated from South Africa).
I told myself I didn’t mind, and my list certainly lengthened: more birds, more antelope, a pair of honey badgers, plenty of mongoose. I probably managed about 70 ticks in all, and was secretly quite proud, despite only scratching the surface of the menagerie I could potentially have observed. But I can’t lie, the absent rhino nagged a little.