Botswana Part 11 last part and most amazing…

DAY 14

We get up very early long before sunrise and start talking about our very special day.  As we drive along Michelle who has become an amazing tracker suddenly spots a leopard in a tree and he has something in his mouth. Moss and Russell do not know this leopard and we approach with caution as he is not at all used to vehicles and people. We get a bit too close and he growls deeply and we all feel that familiar twinge in the spine.

Just another spectacular African sunrise
I have seen these for two weeks and still can't get over the colors
Carrying dinner down the tree
Carrying dinner away from us..
Oh NO Not that direct eye contact thing. I really don't want to get eaten. That was Jeff who moved in the vehicle not me...
Buffalo covered with ox peckers

The rest of the day is an unbelievable and rare treat. We are going to have an experience that almost no one gets to do. We meet a helicopter and the anti poaching unit along with a vet and some folks who have been satellite tracking elephants. Jeff is exceedingly dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and has contributed funds to allow an Elephant to be tranquillized and outfitted with a collar tracked by satellite. This is no small feat. Jeff, Michelle and I go in the helicopter and locate a herd of elephants. We coordinate with ground crews getting them near the herd.

flying above herd of elephants looking for one to collar
Ground team is directed to elephant from the helicopter
Anti poaching unit aids assistance
Jeff tries on the collar

The helicopter lands near the herd and the operation begins. First the vet takes out his medicine box and prepares the dart to tranquilize the elephant. The chopper along with Jeff and the vet take off and find the dominant female and as the helicopter hovers low, the vet takes his shot. Everyone is anxious. It takes an average of 8 to 10 minutes for the elephant to go down. The herd senses something and surround the darted female to protect her. The herd is scared off by the helicopter and leave the sedated elephant.

Vet selects the drug for the dart
Preparation of the dart
Final prep of the dart
Dart is loaded into the rifle
Collar is ready for the elephant
Helicopter pics up the vet for the darting
Taking aim at the elephant
Dart is fired from the chopper
The dart in the elephant
She starts to go down and the team must move fast

The helicopter quickly lands and we approach the elephant. She must be turned on her side and everyone pushes to turn her. I am the only one not pushing because I want to photograph this incredible event. Michelle helps do measurements and Jeff is given the task to put on the collar which ways 17 Kilos. The vet draws blood for DNA samples and finally Jeff gets to name the elephant. Jeff chooses Chloe after one of his nieces. The entire event is very emotional. Everything is completed and Chloe is ready for tracking. Michelle gives her a kiss on the trunk and Jeff give her an emotional hug and kiss goodbye. She is given the reversal drug by the vet and within minutes is on her feet. She touches the tracking device with her trunk and heads off.

Everyone helps to roll the elephant over for the collar
Out like a light for just enough time to get the collar on
The wound site is cleaned
Measurements and blood samples taken
Jeff puts the collar on
Hair on the elephants back
Michelle checks out the trunk
Jeff feels the air coming through the trunk
Emotions build as the team gets ready to wake the elephant
Final checks are completed
Jeff has an emotional moment with the elephant now named Chloe
The vet gives the injection to wake up Chloe
The vet notes the time from the injection
Chloe starts to wake up
She is soon on her feet
Once up she checks out the tracking device and collar

We get back on the chopper and head across the bush photographing wildlife from a great vantage point and head to a village called Gunotsogaa Village. We have to make two trips to the village because we bring a guide as well. Michelle and I land first and we are instantly swarmed by smiling children. It is amazing and quite emotional. They want to touch us and everyone wants their picture taken. Jeff arrives about 20 minutes later and we tour the little village visiting a school, a village center for meetings, a little store and eventually we are treated to a dance performed by the entire village. The faces are amazing and there are many stories behind the fantastic array of eyes and smiles.

Flying over the delta to the village of Gunotsogaa via helicopter
The delta from the air is even more dramatic than the ground view
A herd of elephants along the Okavango Delta
The children in Gunotsogaa greet us with excitement as we land
face after face
shy,happy, inquisitive but all kids with big smiles
They wanted to touch us and of course see the pictures
Michelle has even a bigger smile than the kids
And my smile isn't too bad either....
Everyone comes to see us
Amazing color and amazing faces
cute, cute and more cute
Each face tells a story
Every generation comes to say hi
Amazing faces
HIV and or TB infect almost half of the village
sign from inside classroom
The bar and movie theatre. Amazingly the sign on the front says Avatar and GI Joe the rise of the cobra playing now
The village bread store
A dance when a girl is initiated into adulthood.
Even the babies check us out
Amazing color and faces
Another major gigage day for me
Every turn of the camera is another amazing face
Michelle and Seth joke about Jeff adopting 30 or 40 kids
Michelle is swarmed ( and loving it) as she shows the images on the back of the camera
Just amazing, amazing faces and the gigage just keeps growing
Every face tells a story

We eventually board the helicopter and wave goodbye and head back to camp. Along the way we photograph from the air which is simply amazing.

Eventually we have to leave and wave goodbye
The Okavango Delta is painting like from the air
A fish eagle flying next to our helicopter
Even our helicopter becomes a subject
Great herds look amazing from the air
The birds stay on the back as the buffalo bolts through the water
The hippos are not to sure about the helicopter
A thunderstorm moves across the delta

Jeff practices his zebra herding skills for one last sunset. He has graduated and  gets the zebras to move right into the perfect light.

Jeff has become a professional zebra herder
Jeff gets the zebras to run right through the water
Turn around and line up for Seth

We have a fantastic barbeque and continue with editing all the images and I photograph the stars at night.

The stars were incredible

DAY 15

I get up at 3 AM to photograph the stars and then we all meet for sunrise and head out into the bush to find Chloe. We are aided by Poster who quickly locates Chloe. She is fine but a little shy and we don’t want to bother her but are all feeling much better knowing that all is well.

After photographing the stars, sunrise starts and we have Venus with the moon
Poster uses a tracking device to help us find Chloe
Chloe has the tracking device and is fine:)
A few more zebras before we head back to the states
The patterns are incredible
My last frame from Botswana

We go back to camp and have breakfast and head to the airstrip. Russell the king of birdwatching accompanies us on the way to the airstrip. We all start calling out some of the birds and wonder if we will be inducted into the honorary bird watching society. Russell’s wife Bonnie was flying in and we met her briefly at the airstrip. She studies different kinds of grasses and spiders. We figure that being in the bush with Bonnie and Russell might be too exciting for all of us… We board our puddle jumper after clearing the runway of some impala and head to Maun for a transfer to Johannesburg. As we board the flight from Maun the flight attendant announces that they are going to disinfect the plane of bugs and sprays an obnoxious substance in the aisles. Kills all bugs but safe for humans to inhale… Right…..

In Johannesburg we have to form two lines one with males and one with females to be checked by security. The line was long and when we inquired if there was a line for Business Class we were told that there was one for men but not for woman. Too bad for Michelle who had to wait for quite sometime. In the meantime Jeff was flagged by security for a more in depth search. Evidently Jeff get caught last year attempting to bring a ham sandwich into US and it went on his permanent flying record. I guess the ham wasn’t kosher….

EPILOG

So the honest truth is that initially I really did not want to go on this trip. I had been to so many zoos and wild animal parks that I thought this would be essentially the same. I assumed we would have a guide and just like in an animal park in the US someone would say over there we have a lion.. I could not have been more wrong. THIS TRIP WAS ONE OF THE BEST I HAVE EVER BEEN ON and it was wild and very real and the images and light and experience was beyond anything I could have imagined.

This trip would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment to helping animals that Jeff portrayed. While he likes to show the brazen New York where he was born, he is a sweet gentle and amazingly kind human and we need more Jeff’sMichelle and I both want to thank Jeff for inviting us on this incredible trip.  We truly had an amazing time and it far exceeded our expectations – it is going to be a hard trip to top.  The three of us had such a great time together, really good company to spend two weeks in Africa with!

Lastly, I would like to thank Stephen and Brennan Rimer from Journeys Unforgettable www.JourneysUnforgettable.com who customized this trip for us. Stay tuned as we will be doing other African trips with them. Also I would like to thank Russell Friedman and Wilderness Safaris.com. Lastly thanks to Kelly Landen and the crew from Elephanats Without Borders.

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