Savannah landscape under blue sky
Botswana,  Landscape,  Monday walks,  Nature and wildlife

A walk on Palm Island: hippos, hogs and crocs

It was early morning in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. As we stepped ashore from the small boat our guide, Slade, immediately stopped to load his rifle. It was a somewhat disconcerting start to our walk, to say the least. He then gave us a short briefing on how to stay safe during our time on Palm Island, one of hundreds that dot the delta.

Man in long grass holding rifle
Slade with his gun

We were to walk in single file, an arm’s length apart, with him at the front and our other guide for the morning, Bones, at the rear. We should talk in lowered voices and watch for Slade’s hand signals. And if we encountered what he termed a PDA, a potentially dangerous animal, we were to bunch together so that we looked like one large animal, make some noise and, whatever else we did, not run.

Reassuringly he added that he had never yet had to use the rifle; and also that he had never had to deal with a serious threat to any group of visitors.

But still …..!


Setting off

So we set off as instructed in single file, wondering what we might come across. The island is around eight kilometres across when the water is low in the winter months, so there is plenty to explore. We followed one of many narrow paths made by animals, heading towards a large termite mound which Bones climbed to scan the area for wildlife.

Savannah landscape under blue sky
The path across Palm Island

We passed a so-called sausage tree. Slade explained how the San people (the native hunter-gatherers of this region) use its seeds to make coffee.

We saw a Hooded Vulture flying overhead and in the distance some baboons climbing a wild date palm; one of the many which give the island its name.

Then we came across a small group of warthogs, who eyed us for a while before continuing to graze.

The nearby impala were much more cautious, watching us carefully all the time we stood there.

We got a glimpse of a pair of reedbucks walking through the tall grass, but no chance for photos. But we had a much closer look at a pretty Little Bee Eater which posed nicely for us.

The hippo pool

Then we started to make our way towards a large area of water from which hippo noises had been emanating. Sure enough, it was full of the creatures. This was our PDA moment, as hippos are considered the most dangerous mammal in Africa, based on numbers of people killed. Around 500 people in Africa are killed every year because of them; but of course, mosquitoes and tsetse flies are even more deadly.

Large pool with hippos
The hippo pool

Here though, Slade assured us that if we stayed on the bank, well back from the water’s edge, they would not feel threatened and would therefore not threaten us. Most attacks from hippopotami occur when they are on land, not in the water.

It was such a special experience to stand so close to these impressive animals and to go eyeball to eyeball with them like this. We watched them for quite a while, and also saw some babies on the far side of this lagoon.

There were so many here that I assumed sightings were pretty much guaranteed. But talking to the other lodge guests later I learned that this is by no means the case; they hadn’t seen hippos on their visit to Palm Island the previous day. As with any other safari experience, it really is a matter of luck, as well as great guiding!

Eventually we left and started to walk back to where we had left the boat. Slade spotted some elephants in the distance which it was just possible to photograph.

Long grass, trees and elephant
Elephant passing

We also stopped by a scattering of buffalo bones, which Slade explained had been in this spot for around four years. He showed us the groove on the rib bones which allows each to slot into the next, providing protection for the internal organs.

Time to leave Palm Island

Back at the boat Slade offered refreshments. Then we headed back to the lodge, stopping for a closer look at a big crocodile we had seen earlier – a much closer look! He was now basking on the bank; so Slade brought the boat in right alongside him so we could get some good photos.

Crocodile's head, mouth open
Crocodile's head, mouth open
Crocodile near Palm Island

A great ending to our morning’s walk, which I’m posting for Jo’s Monday Walks. And if you’re curious to see what this amazing landscape looks like from above, please watch my video of our flight!

I visited the Okavango Delta in 2018


  • Graham

    Awesome walk, Sarah and great photos of everything, especially the hippos and crocodile. Sounds like we have similar cameras. I the Lumix because I don’t have to lug a bunch of gear around when I’m out walking.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Graham 🙂 Yes, I love my Lumix for exactly that reason! Actually I have two – one of the little compact ones (a DMC-TZ70), which I use when just popping into London and might see something worth photographing; and a bridge camera (DMC-FZ200) for serious photography at home and on my travels. The latter is my real love and the majority of travel photos in my blog were taken with that, but the compact does a pretty good job too.

  • restlessjo

    I’m liking this, Sarah, but in truth, it’s not for me! I have a dread of crocs and I’m happy enough to watch wildlife on the big screen. Kudos to you for being there, and thanks for the link 🙂 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Jo 🙂 I guess it’s not for everyone but as long as I’m with someone who knows what he’s doing (and in the case of the croc, in the safety of the boat) I’m never happier than when photographing wildlife, even the scary sort!!

  • Anonymous

    What an amazing post, I loved seeing all the wildlife! It sounds like it’s been a great adventure, thank you for sharing it.

  • Marie

    I’ve just come from your Iceland post to this!!! What wonderful experiences you’ve had …. and here’s to many more!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Marie 🙂 Yes, we’ve been so fortunate to be able to travel and enjoy these experiences – and of course we would love many more, once we can travel again!

  • SandyL

    Fabulous photos Sarah. I’m assuming that you used a zoom lens? how powerful a lens did you use? how close were you to the croc & hippos ?
    Glad for you definiton of PDA up front. I started reading in the middle & was puzzling about the Public Displays of Affection with the hippos 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Sandy 🙂 Yes, I use a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera with a fixed lens that zooms to 24x. But I didn’t have it on full zoom for these shots. According to the image metadata on the yawning hippo shot it was taken at 108 mm, while the crocodile was much closer at 66 mm (so pretty close to a standard lens). I could have prodded him with a long stick had I been feeling stupidly reckless 😲


    Fabulous walk Sarah, amazing photos too. We got a glimpse if a couple hippopotami in Tanzania but not great shots as the kept bobbing under the water at the crucial moment. Did you book the guided tours once in Botswana or ahead of your trip?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😊 We pre-booked everything for this trip. The Okavango lodges and camps get booked up well in advance, so you have to book those and the flights to get you there. Once there everything is included in your stay – meals, guiding, and at Xugana where we stayed, even laundry! We also had great sightings of hippopotami in the Chobe River, from a boat. We’d pre-booked our stay in the national park there too, but I think you can book day trips on the ground. Although as our best sightings were at sunrise maybe staying in the park increases your chances?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      And thank you for visiting and commenting Teresa 🙂 They are indeed amazing and I do hope you get the chance to see them in the wild one day!

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! And please include your name in case WP marks you 'anonymous' - thank you