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A young male giraffe in the central Kalahari of Botswana appears to be smiling a welcome to the strange little creature in the 4×4.

I recently traveled to Africa for the first time, and stayed a full 3 months.  I traveled all over southern Africa, from Cape Town to Lake Malawi.  After a few days in Victoria Falls, I went to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.  I arrived at my beautiful riverside chalet on the edge of Flatdogs Camp in the evening.  In the gathering dusk, I heard some tree movement towards the river.  Looking over there, I could just make out a few tall, gangly shapes: giraffes.  My first African animal (save birds) and it was what turned out to be my favorite African animal as well.  The next morning at sunrise I walked out and a large female was just striding along the river gracefully (image below).

A real splurge for me, Flatdogs was actually quite reasonable.  A chalet with kitchen on the edge of the National Park and steps from the river for about $100/night.  A real deal compared to the camps that lie inside the park, which can be $500/night and up.  I bought my meals separately and had to pay for each game drive, while the all-inclusive camps throw that in, but it still ended up being less than half the price.  The one downside to Flatdogs is you can’t bring your own camping gear and set up, as in other camps in Africa.  They used to do this but decided awhile back to move a bit more upscale.

South Luangwa is becoming quite a popular park in Africa, which means it can be crowded during high season (late Summer/Fall).  But it’s for good reason.  At times it seemed like I was in an (excellent) wildlife safari in the U.S.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but there sure was an abundance of wildlife, and diverse!  The quality of guiding there is generally top notch as well.

Later in the trip, in Botswana, I got very close to a group of giraffes (sometimes called a “tower” – haha!) in the intense desert heat of the Kalahari.  They were sheltering under some trees for shade, and I pulled right up to them in my 4×4 (which you definitely need if you do the Kalahari on your own).  One young male leaned down to look in the window, licked his face (that looong tongue) and then just smiled at me.  I caught a shot of him (image above), but had my focus on his tongue and did not have quite enough depth of field to get perfectly sharp eyes.  A mistake that marks me as still being on the learning curve of wildlife photography, which has its own challenges like any branch of photography.

By the way, you might be wondering how I was able to tell male from female.  It’s not the way you would think (giraffes are subtle that way).  You look at the horns.  If they are smooth with no hair on top, it’s a male.  Females have furrier horns by far, since they don’t spend time butting heads with other males.

Africa was awesome.  And everything about giraffes is just plain charming.  For my first few posts I’ll share some of my best experiences from there.  Enjoy!

A female Thornicroft’s giraffe strides along Zambia’s Luangwa River in the early morning.

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