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Sneaking up on wildlife aboard the Freedom 3 at Chobe

Charles and Lebo who is a guide at the Chobe Game Lodge
The morning game drive at Chobe Game Lodge starts at 5:30am. So, a wake-up call was necessary because the previous a night we “turned-up” but just a bit together with the international media personalities who had come to witness the launch of the first game drive electric vehicle (EV) in Africa.

No one wanted to be left out on this historic game drive because it was the official Africa’s first game drive on an EV, dubbed Freedom 3 by its engineers at Freedom Won. From its strictly EV parking bay, with 60A plug for charging, the vehicle enjoyed its photo-op moment from National Geographic, CNN, Gazette and Mmegi cameras before the ride. In the vehicle was also the co-owner at Freedom Won organisation.

There was a single debut #NotSenzoDad pose on the EV before Lebo, our driver and guide, pressed a button to glide us in silent into the wilderness of the Chobe National Park. The vehicle moves in peaceful silence because it neither has the engine nor exhaust but instead an almost inaudible humming motor. As we left the Five Star resort there was an orange sunrise that silhouetted the winter beaten trees that robs us of the perfect view of the sun spectacle. Lebo was asked to stop. There was a rapture of shutters as cameras captured the orange rising sun. The car silently proceeded.

I bet with Gazette’s editor Kealeboga Dihutso who would spot an animal first. He excitedly accepted the challenge and before he could even think about, I spotted a guinea foul but like a typical Motswana, he said it wont count because, “it is just a bird.” Not many our folks get impressed by birds. Lebo added a twist to the bet saying we are going to spot the impalas first. But the baboons disagreed as I spotted a congress of baboons crossing the road ahead of us. Dihutso accepted the loss.

There were more impalas as we moved closer to the riverside. Then the two international journalists in our group began showing us their huge interest on birds. Just mere flying birds that Dihutso and I never even bothered about. The kingfishers, fish eagles, hornbills, kori bastards spotting stopped the vehicle for pictures. Mere birds. Alison Wright from NatGeo was enjoying the vehicle because birds were not quick to fly, as there was no loud diesel 4X4 engine to scare them. CNN’s Erin Conway-Smith was even armed with the popular mobile app Sasol e-birds to assist her to identify the birds.

As we headed further west more game appeared. Our guide Lebo received a radio call from the other ladies (All the guides at Chobe Game Lodge are female) notifying her that there has been a

sighting of lions on the other part of the park. Predators sighting is highlight of any game drive. So Lebo shot to the location. At the spot there were eight other vehicles, not EVs. No one heard us when we stopped at the tail end of the queue for right spot to see the large cats. Chobe National Park has strict regulations that vehicles are not allowed to veer off the tracks. So when there is a special sighting there is competition for space. The lions were about 200m away from the road but we could not move closer so binoculars and telephoto lenses got to good use. It was not such a pretty sight-the lions were lazily sleeping.

Then our vehicle became a tourist attraction too. From the small crowd of tourist vehicles, our EV started getting amazement stares from fellow tourists. The other guides and drivers were in disbelief about this silent vehicle. The vehicle is written, “Believe it... it’s electric” on the driver side and “Chobe’s FIRST pure EV” on the passenger side. “Hey Lebo o vaya ka motakase?” other guides asked our driver who was feeling like hero for being the only driver in the whole of African game parks behind the wheel of an EV.

Then we spotted a huge buffalo herd of about 700 beats. Our state of the art vehicle quietly glided to a spot where they were to cross the road and waited. Patience is key when photographing the wildlife and if you using a silent vehicle, it put you in a better advantage to get the amazing close up shots. As the buffaloes slowly eclipsed us crossing the road, I thought of the South African vice president Cyril Ramaphosa’s R19.5million bid to buy a buffalo cow and her calf. But Ramaphosa lost the bid to Jaco Troskie of Bloemfontein (now that’s the name of buffalo bidder, not Ramaphosa). Troskie paid P20 million for the two animals. As the herd went past us, I counted millions that we could get from Troskie.

For the following morning game drive, Chobe Game Lodge put us in a diesel-powered 4X4 just to feel the difference from Freedom 3. And it felt a world apart. The diesel engine scared most of the birds and animals that heard us from a distance. We could not sneak up on animals like we did on the Freedom 3.






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