Michael Covey, garden coordinator and former chemistry teacher, spotted this cheetah in northern Namibia. He and his wife, Jackie DeLu (former middle-school science teacher) saw many different animals throughout their five-week trip to Botswana and Namibia.
Q&A: Michael Covey sees more than 50 different exotic animals on ‘epic’ trip to Namibia, Botswana (slideshow included)
Michael Covey, garden coordinator and former chemistry teacher, went to Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, with his wife, former middle-school science teacher Jackie DeLu. It was a five-week trip beginning Sept. 15.
Q: Why did you go to Africa?
A: Animals. My wife used to teach seventh-grade life science here, and a lot of what she does has to do with animals.
Q: What did you do there?
A: We spent the first week at a lodge game preserve in South Africa. Every day we went on a morning and afternoon game drive, either at that game preserve or at a nearby one. In Botswana we went on a two-week safari, and did the same in Namibia.
Q: What were the people like?
A: In Botswana the people were wonderful. It varies across South Africa because there’s a lot of crime in some places, but the people who were in the rural places of Botswana were incredible and very welcoming.
Q: What did you notice about the culture?
A: We saw a lot of people in a lot of situations. A few of the guys were of Afrikaner descent, and some of the bigotry was still hanging on from that culture (Afrikaners are the descendants of Dutch and Germans who colonized South Africa, and who instituted apartheid, a former system of racial segregation in Africa).
On the other hand, almost all of the people who we met were of African descent.
Much of our time was on safari. We were mostly with guides and animals, so there wasn’t much cultural interaction. The guides and staff were amazing, though, and of African descent. They made us feel very welcome, and I think there was mutual respect.
Q: What was the weather like?
A: We went at the beginning of their spring, and it was hot already – especially in Namibia. At times it was very comfortable, in the low- to mid-70’s, but in the daytime it got to 100 degrees.
Q: What animals did you see?
A: It’s impossible to name them all. I think we saw something like 50 different animals. We saw the classic ones, like giraffes, lions, zebras, cape buffalo, rhinos, elephants and hippos.
There were also about two dozen different wild cats and packs of wild dogs, which were pretty special. People will go to Africa multiple times and never see wild dogs, but we saw them three times. We also saw cheetahs, caracals, crocodiles, Nile monitors, baboons and monkeys.
My wife is also an avid birder, and she saw over 150 new species of birds!
My favorite animal was probably the leopard.
The sun sets over the Okavango river in northern Botswana. “Our guides on the evening game drives - or in this case, our evening game boat ride - would find a nice place to see the sunset and bring out a bottle of wine for a 'sundowner,’” Covey said. “It was a very civilized way to end the day.”
Covey said that the sand dunes of the Namib Desert of west-central Namibia form a "sand sea" 150 km wide and 400 km long. “Southwest winds blow the sand away from the southern Atlantic Ocean coast,” Covey said. "Over time the iron-rich minerals in the sand turn orange, so the Namib desert dunes are white near the sea and become more and more orange-red inland.”
Giraffes hydrate at a natural watering hole in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. Giraffes are so tall that in order to drink, they must bend their front legs substantially. They will often look out for each other as they drink, because they are quite vulnerable while drinking. “We watched a solitary giraffe scout a watering hole for almost half an hour before feeling safe enough to drink,” Covey said.
An African weaver bird is hard at work in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. Weaver birds make their nests from reeds. “This is one of several breeds of solitary weavers; a male bird of this species will weave a nest for itself to attract a mate,” Covey said. “Other weaver breeds weave communal nests that can hold several dozen birds in one nest with many entrances. A communal nest can weigh 1000 pounds or more and be occupied for decades.”
A large crocodile relaxes on the banks of the Chobe River in northern Botswana. “Right after this photo was taken, the croc ran down the bank and into the water. We decided to leave,” Covey said.
Cape buffaloes roam near the Chobe River in northern Botswana. Although similar in appearance to the water buffalo of Asia, the Cape buffalo has never been domesticated as a work animal. Another name for the Cape buffalo is “Black Death,” based on its dark color and aggressive behavior.
A young female elephant and her reflection stroll along the Chobe River of northern Botswana. “This elephant was part of a herd of a few dozen, and there were perhaps a hundred or more herds of this size in the area,” Covey said. “Anti-poaching efforts in this part of Africa are beginning to work well. In other parts of Africa, poaching is still a terrible problem.”
A painted dog, also known as the African wild dog, stands in the Savuti Marsh of northern Botswana. Painted dogs, an endangered species, hunt in packs and run down their prey with stamina, rather than speed. “This pack had just eaten a warthog,” Covey said.
A lilac-breasted roller stands alert in the grasslands of the Savuti marsh of northern Botswana. It's the national bird of Botswana - and just look at its coloring!
A male lion suns himself in morning light near the Kwai River of northern Botswana. Lions are usually nocturnal hunters, and can hunt alone or in prides of up to a dozen or so animals. “This one was solitary,” Covey said.
Two hippos swim in the Kwai River in northern Botswana. “Hippos are responsible for more human deaths than any other large animal in Africa,” Covey said. “They are territorial, big, and ornery.”
A cheetah rests in the grasslands adjacent to the Etosha Pan, in northern Namibia. Cheetahs are usually solitary animals, pairing only temporarily to mate.
(Photos used by permission of Covey; slideshow by Mohini Rye – hover over pictures to see captions)
Q: What’s your most memorable experience?
A: We get this question a lot: “What’s your favorite part? What was the best?” But how can you decide? It was all wonderful. After five weeks in South Africa, it was nice to be back home, but we were disappointed that we had to leave.
Q: Was it disorienting to be back in the United States?
A: No. Even after I lived in Taiwan for a year, coming back to the U.S. was not terribly disorienting for me.
Every so often you can connect to Wi-Fi in South Africa, so you don’t get as immersed as you would with Peace Corps or missionary work.
Q: Describe Africa in three words:
A: Wildlife, scenery…epic. That’s just describing what I’ve seen, which is a tiny part of Africa.
Three words are so difficult to come up with to describe a country. Even 50,000 words couldn’t do it all justice.