Dead tree and long grass
Animals,  Botswana,  Eco-tourism,  Monday walks

A walk on Sausage Island: it’s all about the elephants

While the safety of a jeep is comforting and often necessary on safari, there is nothing to beat the experience of walking through the African countryside on foot. A slight frisson of danger accompanies you as you step carefully through the long grass. The only sounds are those of the wildlife around you and the breeze through the trees; the only scents those wafted on that same breeze.

The morning after our walk with Slade on Palm Island, he took us to Sausage Island (named for the sausage trees that grow there, not for the meat!) After our light early breakfast we set off in the motor boat for the ride to the island. It was a little less cold than yesterday, probably because there was more cloud cover overnight. But the sun was breaking through the clouds and the light was as lovely as ever.

Sunrise over water
Early morning view from Xugana Lodge

We landed and Slade loaded his rifle, as he had done yesterday. Then we looked around and almost immediately saw an elephant in the distance, among some trees. A couple more appeared, one of them a youngster; this confirmed for Slade that this was a breeding herd of females. I set the camera on full zoom and grabbed some photos, assuming this was the closest we could get on foot.

Flat landscape with parched grass
The elephants are just visible in the line of trees

But Slade proposed taking a circuitous route through a shaded area to get closer to them without being seen. We set off through the long grass till we reached a couple of trees that would help to hide us. There we stopped to take photos – lots of photos. With my zoom lens I could get some pretty cool shots! We realised that there were several very young babies in the herd; they were so small that they could barely be seen above the tall grass!

After a while Bones, our other guide, spotted another elephant off to our left. It was a large bull; Slade said he was probably checking out the herd of females to see if any were on heat. We were rather in his path, so it was time to retreat!

Large elephant in long grass
Bull elephant

Back at some distance from the herd we could see that the bull turned away again; so we were able to continue our walk round the island.

We soon came across a large group of red lechwe, with more on the far side of the channel. Many of those on our side, spooked by something (possibly us) started to cross the water to reach the others. It was interesting to see them run, with their longer back legs helping them to spring forwards. Lechwe are adapted to live in marshy areas and use the knee-deep water as protection from predators. These longer hind legs make it easier for them to run in the water.

We continued our walk, with Slade stopping regularly to show us something of interest – the feather of an owl or of a guinea fowl, the bones of a hippo, the footprints of an elephant or lechwe, and even dung!

It was surprising how much he could tell us about the latter; not only which animal had produced it but also what it told him about their eating habits. This is kudu, for instance, and he explained that here in the Okavango their dung is moist and clumps together; whereas in drier environments, such as in Namibia, the kudu have to retain all the moisture they can, so their dung is dry and won’t stick together.

We saw a variety of birds, including this African Green Pigeon (who knew pigeons could be green?!) and a Red-billed Hornbill.

Then we came across another solitary bull elephant, eating among some dead tree trunks and branches, the consequence of elephant activity; they knock them down to get at the fresh green leaves near the top. Unlike the females we had seen earlier, he clearly knew we were there. But he must have decided we didn’t pose any threat, and carried on eating while we took his photo.

Large elephant with tree branches
Bull elephant

We finished our circuit of the island, returned to the boat and had some drinks before starting back to the lodge. On the way we came across a mother elephant with her baby, down by the water’s edge. They retreated as we approached, but not before we had grabbed a few photos; although unfortunately the calf was so hidden in the papyrus he was impossible to capture properly.

Elephant standing in water
Protective mother

It was a great ending to our walk which I’m sharing, as with Palm Island, for Jo’s Monday Walks.

I visited Botswana in 2018


    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 🙂 It was an amazing experience and yes, the lechwe were new to me too. It was interesting to see their running style – I wish I’d thought to shoot some video!

  • Fergy.

    Another brilliant piece Sarah and you photography is nothin short of superb as always.

    As you know from out many discussions, Africa holds no attraction for me and even before current events precluded it I would never have considered visiting but I thoroughly enjoyed this day out. Like you and probably Chris, I prefer to fly solo but the local guides obviously added so much. Who knew that a piece of s**t could offer up so much information? Well, guys like Slade and Bones perhaps.

    Naturally, as an ex-soldier I am fascinated to know what ammo he was loaded with for charging elephants but I am fairy sure you never asked! I believe it takes a fairly huge or explosively charged round to bring down a charging “elly”.

    Utterly beautiful.


    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Fergy, I really appreciate the feedback 🙂 There are places I prefer to be without guides but also many where a local guide really helps you get the best out of the experience. And of course, no visitor would be allowed to walk unaccompanied in the wild like this!

      The rifle was for protection against whatever animal might pose a threat and in fact the greater danger would have been perhaps from a hippo if we’d started one on land, or if a big cat had found its way on to the island as occasionally happens. And the intention would always be to frighten it off with shooting in the air – aiming to kill would be an absolute last resort, if nothing else worked. Slade told us that in many years of guiding he had never had to use it, which I was pleased to hear – for the animals’ sake as much as my own!

      • Fergy.

        Absolutely true. As you know, weapons were the “tools of my trade” for some years and they are only to be used as a last resort. I’m glad Slade never had to use his although I am sure he would have been perfectly capable of doing so.

        Is there a potential for poaching there? I would quite happily use a weapon against poachers. I know it is a huge problem all over Africa.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Yes, poaching is an issue for both rhinos and elephants. They have a very active ranger programme and lots of government support – plus the high prices you pay for accommodation in the region go partly towards supporting this. But they still lose too many animals every year 🙁

  • wetanddustyroads

    Ah, I love this post Sarah! To see wild animals (on foot) in their natural habitat is quite a privilege. Your early morning view picture is stunning – for me, it captures a feeling of peaceful happiness 😊. And of course, all your photo’s of the elephants are really special … and yes, who would know there is something like a green pigeon – that was a surprise!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much for those kind words about the photos 🙂 I love that early morning shot too as seeing it immediately takes me back to Xugana!

  • starship VT

    Absolutely fabulous! Great account of your walk on this scenic island, and all your photos (of course those of the elephants are my favorites) are just divine! Hope the future holds an experience like this for me someday. I think you’re making many people like me quite envious!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia 🙂 I know you share my love of elephants so I do hope you get to experience something like this one day! You would love the Okavango Delta 😀


    Sounds like a terrific experience Sarah. It’s great to walk without a guide, but then when you walk with a knowledgeable guide like yours, they make you feel like you’ve been walking with your eyes closed!

  • Nancy Gordon

    Wow absolutely amazing animal photos. I love the look of the landscape and the way you describe walking through the grass but I’d be afraid of a dangerous encounter. Thank you for giving me a virtual tour!

  • maristravels

    That was quite a walk, Sarah, and I’m glad you lived to tell the tale. Elephants can be very protective of their young and you wouldn’t stand much of a chance if they decided to charge! I was always more afraid of the big cats though, in Africa, and snakes.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Mari 🙂 we felt completely safe with Slade and Bones – they know what they are doing and if necessary Slade had his rifle with him (although I’m glad it wasn’t needed!) Apparently hippos are the most dangerous of the large mammals in Africa, but the animal that kills the most people by far is the mosquito!

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