Mahango National Park
By PH Jofie Lamprecht
It was the year 2010 at the Dallas Safari Club convention when Paris Jenkins was in the booth every hour tussling whether to book his one and only an expensive plains game safari with myself or book a cheaper hunt elsewhere.
It was March of the same year after the show when I got an email from Paris with a check on the way. Paris arrived a year later, dressed in his greens and incredibly well prepared for his safari, both physically, his shooting ability as well as his gear. On that safari we successfully hunted the biggest oryx of my career, and one of the biggest kudu – with a broken tip for character as well as a great warthog. Around the campfire Paris savored his drink and told me – “I will have to make a plan to come back”.
At the same DSC show but now in 2020, I greeted Paris as he marched into the booth with purpose. He set out his plans for his fourth African safari with me in 2021 for a trophy and non-trophy buffalo. On his second safari we also harvested a trophy and non-trophy buffalo and his third incredible hippo and crocodile.
And this is where our story begins. Paris and Cindy arrived in Windhoek in 2019 at the international airport and met by one of our staff and transferred to a night in a wonderful guest house in Windhoek. The following day a short transfer to a commercial flight from Windhoek to Rundu – a two-hour drive from our concession in Mahango National Park and Mukongo Camp. It is always exciting to wait at the airport for old friends, when you know what to expect, and you know their preferences and have everything prepared the way they like it. Conversation flows and memories and jokes of their last safari are easily revived and relived – with much pleasure being taken as jousts back and forth at highs and lows of previous safaris. Any good safari should have a fair number of both, this is the way of Africa in the always true old acronym of A.W.A. (Africa Wins Again).
We were after the aquatic species of hippo and croc, as well as an impala for bait. Goats from the local community would make us the balance of our baiting requirements. Our pre-baiting was moderately unsuccessful to say the least, not bringing in any big crocs – a leopard stealing one and a variety of other carrion eaters feeding on the rest. We had seen several crocs in the territories that were in the size category that we wanted. Hippo in Mahango – it is simply a matter of time and selecting the right opportunity.
In Namibia, a flowing river is a rare sight. Only six perennial rivers form borders of our magical arid country – with only two of them having Namibia on both banks of the river – the Okavango and the Kwando, before they snake their way onwards to Botswana. Next to the Okavango in the deep shade of a riverine forest with giant wild fig, knob-thorn and jackal berry trees, our camp stands in the lazy breeze with sweeping views of the Okavango river. A tranquility onto its own, with adventure around every corner. To be woken by the roar of lions at 2 AM, only to snuggle back into the warmth of the comforter for a few welcome hours of sleep before the next day’s adventure dawns. It could have never and has never been home to me – other than safaris conducted on both banks of the Okavango, in tents – glamping if you will. It is however a second-generation tradition of hunting these shaded white beaches, an allure that I have been unable to shake and probably never will. My father left his tracks here in past decades and he is missed still.
With rifles checked I could see Paris was enjoying every second of his time in the bush, with now an old friend, as first guests in our newly finished camp, as well as a second safari with one of my apprentices – Jack. What I could sense was of grave concern to Paris was the shot placement of the croc and the danger of – if the shot was not placed right, the croc jumping into the water never to be recovered again. As a PH it is my job to coach my clients and friends through this and help them where I can to subdue their concerns to the best of my ability and to try and present the best possible shot for the greatest chance of success. Mentor, shrink and friend – one of the many roles a PH pays while on safari.
After taking a great old impala ram in the first few days we worked on scouting for crocs and hippo by slowly walking the banks of the lavish Okavango river. We got wet a lot and bogged down in the mud a few times while on foot – but all was in good humor and evening around the campfire were well deserved, and the three course meals savored before falling asleep to cavorting hippo and patrolling lion.
Croc was both not far from Paris and my mind as a point of concern. We had not reached the halfway point of our safari yet when while negotiating a southern stretch of the river I happening to look back up-river and told our procession to stop dead. We eased away from the bank with four sets of eyes inquiring as to what I saw. Croc! At least two, one maybe ‘size’. On a sand bank under the cover of a tall embankment of about 14 feet guarded this place from view. The perfect place for these dinosaurs to hide.
We slowly got out of the view of our prey and then formulated a plan. The thick undergrowth on the 14-foot-high bank of the river was great but noisy cover. Estimating how far back upriver was the big challenge and I left our small team behind and started a recon through the thick bush like a snake. With bated breath the team looked on as I made my way in and out. Finally, I peered down to see a big croc just 20 yards away on the sand bank. Through the bush I could make out a big knarly head and with two big bumps for the nose. I motioned for Paris and Jack to make their way into my position. Moving sticks and leaves as they went it took some time. While I waited, I studied the croc again. I started second guessing myself and look at where the croc lay on the bank, in a depression on the white sand – I would not have been able to see this croc from downstream?
Paris and Jack made it to my position, and I got Paris set up. “Look at the shot, at the angle”. – “You got it?” – Paris’s icy blue eyes nodded in absolute concentration. Then I whispered – “this is not the one”. We backed up and I started the snaking move all over again. This time I found the island I had seen earlier, with a croc slightly bigger than the one we were on just before – but bigger all the same. 25-yard shot. This should be ok for Paris’s nerves. We got set up, Paris sitting on his knees on “sitting sticks”. I gave him the go ahead and got ready for my own back up shot. It got loud. The croc never even knew what hit him.
The ice on the “tough shot” now broken, we went home for a cold beer and got some great trophy photos. Now for the hippo.
A few days later, sitting in the reeds, we had hippo on land and in the water 180-degrees around us. Their lips plucking grass loudly – they not further than the croc shot. The herd bull was eating water lilies in front of us. We had made a firm decision that we were NOT going to shoot a hippo in the water. We wanted to have him out on land. The bull hippo turned from his right to left side – and I saw something amazing etched on his thick skin. As the midday sun started baking our backs, we quietly backed out and left for camp, lunch and a siesta – “we will come back later this afternoon and see where they are in these reeds.
After a delightful lunch and a short rest, one could feel the pace and enthusiasm was high. We walked back into the bank of reeds and waded through some waist deep channels and started looking for our target. As the sun started dipping towards the horizon our daylight was fading, but not as fast as our enthusiasm. A dark spot in the reeds close to the bank brought our team to a halt. Movement. One, no, two shadows moving towards the shallow channel. One huge, the other smaller. As they splashed into the ankle-deep water, the larger was obviously a bull – lower tusks pushing his upper lips into two big lumps next to his nostrils. And then the etching on his side became visible, the shooting sticks went up and it was on. At 40 yards, Paris made a perfect side brain shot, and with this single strike of lightning, our hunting success was secured. There was no need for a back-up shot.
Approaching the enormous beast, safety first and then handshakes, high fives and hugs. I then walked around and showed Paris – there was a perfect P etched into the hippo’s thick hide, bigger than a man’s hand – P for Paris. It was meant to be. We still had several days to explore this magical place called Mahango.
‘Cocktails with elephants’ is what it was dubbed as in the maiden safari year of 2019 in Mahango park, at a waterhole deep inside the park. We set a table, complete with tablecloth, chairs, snacks and then the cocktail of your choice of course. Late afternoon sees a lot of action – especially elephant. The bulls come lumbering in at times at 30 to 40 feet away from our guests. Roan, sable, kudu, zebra, the odd warthog or a lonely old buffalo bull make up the cast of species that are often seen during this event. Don’t forget the odd leopard hiding in the shadows…
Paris, see you soon, for in Africa we never say goodbye – it is until we meet again old friend.
Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht