Top 10 wildlife moments Northern Botswana


| March 3, 2008

Paul Tyler travelled to Botswana with Cox & Kings and here he describes his top ten wildlife moments from the adventure.

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During the second half of November I had the privilege to travel to a part of the world known for its incredible array of wildlife. From an early age I have had an avid interest in animals, particularly birds, so I knew I was in for a huge treat.

Botswana is a shining light on the African continent having enjoyed continued peace and political stability since it’s independence from Britain in 1966. It is also a very wealthy state; it’s the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value and has stockpiled foreign exchange reserves worth over $7 billion in 2005/2006. It has a population of 1.64 million and it’s other big money spinners are tourism and cattle ranching.

My trip was to focus primarily on the Okavango Delta; I was also to visit the Linyanti, the Savute and the Kwando River concession. I was to stay at 9 different lodges, viewing a further 9.

November is considered the low or "Green Season" in Botswana. Situated in a summer rainfall area (October to March) the bush tends to be rather thick at this time of year making game viewing a little more difficult, however it is also the time when animals are giving birth, the migrant bird species are around and generally the bush is buzzing with life. During the winter months, the bush dies back considerably (virtually no rain falls between late April and early September) making game viewing easier.

The Okavango Delta is a complex wetland system, consisting of oxbow lakes, channels, lagoons and palm dotted islands. The Okavango River is the longest river to not flow into the sea and its delta is the largest inland delta in the world. It begins its journey in the highlands of Angola, flowing southwards for 1600 kilometres, forming the border between Namibia and Angola flowing through the Caprivi Strip and finally into Botswana.

The delta is subject to seasonal flooding. The water levels start rising in March and reach their peak in June/July. During this time the animals are forced onto the islands and game viewing is at it's best. Chief's Island is the largest of these, and is considered by many as the best game viewing spot on the planet.

After 11 days in Botswana I had some magic wildlife moments; here is my top 10 (in no particular order):

1. We were to spend two nights at Duma Tau Camp in the Linyanti. Shortly before we arrived a pride of lions had brought down a giraffe. For the duration of our stay we watched them devour the carcass, during the latter part of our stay the hyenas and vultures moved in, it was fascinating how they interacted with the lions. By the time we left, the bones had been picked clean of any flesh.

Lion are found throughout the Savute, Linyanti and Kwando Concession and are a lot more sporadic in the Delta.

2. My favourite animal is the leopard. I was very fortunate in having two separate sightings of this elusive cat during my stay. The first was a young female (seen near Tubu Tree Camp-on arrival I was told that there had been a leopard under my tent that morning), the second a young male (near Stanley’s Camp), both were in a tree with unobstructed views, stunning...

Leopard are found throughout Northern Botswana and may be encountered anywhere, however due to their skulking habits they are notoriously difficult to find.

3. We were out early one morning in the western part of the delta when we came across a pack of hyena hassling a female giraffe. She was protecting her dead calf, which had been killed by another carnivore, a leopard perhaps which could have been scared off initially by the hyenas or the giraffe. The mother would not allow the hyenas to come close, thrashing out potentially fatal kicks toward the hyenas. Initially there were 4, after a good half hour there were 8, too many for the giraffe to handle, she moved off and within minutes there was nothing left, the vultures didn't even have a sniff.

4. Every so often while on safari you see something that you will probably never see again. I was to stay at Eagle Island Camp for 1 night. On the afternoon of my arrival I was to go on a helicopter trip. To be honest I wasn't all that excited about it, I had been flying between all of the camps, I had already seen the Delta from the air, how different could it be? Within minutes of the flight taking off, I had changed my mind. A helicopter flight gives one a much better view of the ground below, and the pilot removes the side doors affording even better views. We were about 10 minutes into our flight when I saw a herd of impala running at some speed. I though it wa
s a bit odd as we were still quite far from them, and the animals we had seen prior weren't at all alarmed by the aircraft. And then I spotted it; a cheetah was in hot pursuit of the antelope. Eventually it brought down a youngster, it was all over in a matter of seconds, or so we thought. The pilot didn't want to stress the cheetah out, so we continued on our flight. On the way back the pilot thought it would be a good idea to see how "our" cheetah was getting on. It didn't take long to find it again. The little impala had managed to get away and had found refuge in a small waterhole. The cheetah was crouched beside the water, waiting. Eventually it got impatient and darted into the water, the little antelope ran, but was brought down on the waters edge, this time it was game over...Amazing.

Cheetah are found in most areas of Northern Botswana (they also occur in the western and south western areas in fairly large numbers) especially where there are open areas where they use their sheer speed to hunt down their prey.

5. After my helicopter flip I had a few hours to relax before my game drive. I was fortunate to be the only one on the drive that afternoon. I explained to the guide (Sugar) that I had seen lots of game and would really like to focus on birding. I also mentioned that I had been unlucky in my pursuit of the Pel's Fishing Owl. This owl is one of Africa's largest. It is highly prized among birdwatchers as it can be quite tricky to find and it is nowhere common. I had seen one once before along South Africa's Limpopo River, but I wanted to see it again. Sugar said he knew of a place very close by where they often roost. 10 minutes later he stopped the vehicle in the middle of a mature stand of Mangosteen trees, we got out, I looked up and there it was, a Pel's Fishing Owl, brilliant!

The Okavango Delta is one of the easiest places to find this elusive owl, all guides know about it and if they are around they will take you to look for it.

6. Sunsets are a highlight on any safari. After a day of sensational wildlife viewing, there is no better way than to grab a drink and watch the sun go down with your fellow safari companions discussing the day's events. We were doing just this one evening, when we hadn't noticed a small breeding herd of elephant approaching. By the time we had spotted them it was to late for us to get into the vehicle, all our guide said to us was to be still. They casually strolled by as though we weren't even there.

Elephant are common in Botswana and are found throughout the northern region.

7. Lions are still common in many national parks throughout Africa. Having visited the Kruger on numerous occasions I have had many sightings of this magnificent cat. My group and I had just enjoyed a boat trip on one of the largest lagoons in the delta. We were driving back to our camp when our guide spotted two male lions; they were big boys and were behaving in a very skittish manner. We initially lost them, but after a few moments found them, as we appeared they focused their gaze on us. There was something very wild about them. The one guy in particular stared at us very uncomfortably and at one point I thought he was going to make a dash for the vehicle. Eventually they moved off. It seriously got the adrenaline pumping and one of the sightings of the trip.

8. Baboons aren't everyone's favourite but they can be very entertaining. It's a bit like people watching at a busy place, like an airport. On one very hot afternoon we came across a large troop, they were extremely entertaining and kept us captivated for over an hour. Some of the males were particularly fascinating. They were out on a mission; to impress the ladies. Of course the girls were playing hard to get and pretended to ignore the attention they were getting. One of them decided that she would be a tease and climb to the top of a dead shrub. It barely could support her weight so every time the male attempted to reach her he would fall off. He gave up in the end and decided he would wait, it was a wait in vain and he eventually found another female to pester.

9. Wild Dogs are one of the rarest predators in Africa; there are only a few areas where they can still be found. When not breeding they are highly nomadic covering huge distances. In November they start moving, and so can be tricky to find. While staying at Duma Tau in the Linyanti, we had come very close to finding them, so close that we could actually smell they had been around. Following that we had come close but not seen them. It was my second last full day in Botswana and finally after some serious off roading in the Kwando River Concession we found 4 dogs, an alpha male and female along with two pups. Our guide informed us that the rest of the pack had most probably gone hunting. Wild Dogs are highly sociable and packs vary in size from 4 to 20 odd individuals. Only the alpha pair has pups, if another female gives birth, the offspring are killed.

Wild dog are most easily found in the Kwando, Savute and Linyanti areas. They are not common and can be difficult to find.

10. The Birds of Prey. In all I managed to see 22 different species of these magnificent birds, including 11 species of Eagle. It could have been more and on a dedicated bird watching safari you could easily see over 30 species. Because this conservation area is so massive, these birds thrive. Highlights included the Red-necked Falcon, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel and Lappet-faced Vulture. The African Fish Eagle is very common in the Okavango and their magnificent call is heard frequently throughout the day.

In addition to the above I also saw Red Lechwe, Hippo, Buffalo, Sitatunga (rare antelope), Kudu, Zebra, Wildebeest, Crocodile, Tsessebe, Caracal, Warthog, Black-backed Jackal, Banded Mongoose and 247 species of bird.

In all I had a very rewarding trip, even though I travelled at the time of year when game viewing is most difficult I still saw a huge variety. If you don’t mind the heat, travel in the Green Season, the light is excellent for photography (no dust), the lodges are largely half full or even empty (tw
ice I was the only occupant in the entire lodge), the wildlife is spectacular and generally the rates are a lot more competitive.

Travel with Cox and Kings on the Great Botswana Safari or alternatively call 020 7873 5000 to speak to one of our Africa experts about tailor-making your holiday in Botswana.

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