Botswana Safari Trip Overview
I have always been a big proponent for safaris during Botswana’s green season. I love the value; anywhere from 40 to 60% less than high season pricing. I also love that it is the growing season offering many a shade of lovely green. All the grazers are at their best with lots to eat. Also this time of year, many have their calves making it a great time for predators.
I like that it is a warm time of year, yet usually is not overly hot. The one concern many people have is rain. What makes it the rainy season is simply that for half the year Botswana won’t usually have a drop of rain. So the actual rainy months averaging 4 inches or so a month, can hardly be considered rainy. I have traveled to Botswana numerous times during the green season and on average, I end up with a big rain once during safari activity over the span of 10 nights on safari.
This January would prove to be the ultimate test as Botswana had record rains. The most recorded in the month of January in over 40 years. Our result was one game drive very impacted by an incredible thunderstorm which all 11 of us considered one of the trip highlights, two or three little drizzles that were short lived and did not impact our game viewing, and overall possibly the best predator viewing I have ever had in Botswana. In fact, we only had one game drive without a big cat or wild dogs and we had one jam packed game drive that featured a leopard, wild dog pack with pups, and a cheetah.
Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be chronicling the Botswana adventure by camp. These upcoming blog posts will provide you a good feel for what the experience was like each day during my trip.
The pinnacle sighting was the famed three cheetah boys successful hunt of a tsessebe. Here the Kwara Camp guides and trackers put their skill on full display as we spent a solid hour tracking the cheetah brothers, much of it through difficult to maneuver mopane woodland area until we found our quarry. We then witnessed an incredible cooperative hunt.
One cheetah stalked toward a mixed group of grazing animals and once spotted, he chased them in the direction of his two brothers who then burst onto the scene singling out a young male tsessebe who they chased in a circular motion to send the prey back toward their brother who started the hunt. This worked perfectly for us as they ran right past our parked vehicle and the tsessebe, Africa’s fastest antelope, and one cheetah came sprinting past the right side of the vehicle while the other cheetah rocketed past the left side.
What an incredible sight to have these three animals displaying their top speed running directly at us and in an instant, blurring past. The original cheetah who had waited ahead took the angle and made the kill. This was a true ‘National Geographic’ type event to witness and for the rest of the safari the group discussed the incredible tracking job and how rewarding it was to see such an event as the result of using the ancient bush skills.
Other Kwara Camp Highlights:
- Three male lions parading by just a couple feet outside the open vehicles
- Elephant chasing hippos out of a waterhole. Lots of trumpeting and head shaking as one hippo kept trying to come back in
- Hammerkops and storks feasting on unreal numbers of frogs
- Daytime views of a honey badger and a family of side-striped jackals in camp
- Successful cheetah hunt
If I experienced nothing else, Selinda would be a highlight just to re-unite and guide with Dicks Tsima, one of my best friends who I consider my Botswana brother. Here is where nature took over to deliver one of our biggest highlights.
We began by tracking a pride of lions. As we followed their trail we were very surprised to find signs of buffalo. In the green season buffalo often disappear into the woodlands where they can enjoy puddled water.
For some reason a small herd appeared to have returned to the Selinda plains and we were sure the lions would be very excited as this is their preferred prey. We tracked until we found a lioness. She led us to her sisters and eventually, four were gathered on a little mound. Behind them the sky had turned a daunting steely grey/blue with occasional flashes of lightning creating a stunning contrast with the lush green grasses and tawny coats of the cats. We enjoyed photographing this ever changing palette and anticipating the drama of the buffalo hunt.
Just then, at a distance of 150 yards, a line of buffalo crossed an open grass area on the far side of some trees. The keen eyes of the hunters locked in and the lionesses started to stretch and follow as did we. However, nature had a different plan more powerful and intimidating then this group of hunters.
We made it about 25 yards when the sky opened up with rain coming virtually sideways. We hunkered down with ponchos, hoods up, trying to patiently withstand the rain. Typically rain is quite localized and short lived, however the sky had transformed to a uniform sheet showing the storm in all directions. Within minutes there was booming thunder and crackling lightning on all sides leaving no direction available for escape. With nature’s violence all around us you could just squint out of the corner of your eye to the left and see the lions hunkered down and as humbled as us.
With it becoming dark and the rain no longer sideways it was clear the lions would have to wait to hunt and we had a near two hour drive ahead of us to get back to camp as we had tracked to the far reaches of the concession. A good portion of the ride home was a light show that easily rivaled the Washington D.C. 4th of July fireworks I grew up with. Flash cubes of light and streaks of lightning went in all directions across the sky. Just like the fireworks, there were plenty of oohs and ahs.
About half way home we slowed down to a crawl as we could just make out the silhouette of a couple elephants crossing road ahead of us. Suddenly a bolt of lightning lit up the area, revealing for a brief moment, a full breeding herd of about 20 elephants traveling in a line including a couple very small babies which quickly were cloaked again in darkness. This moment was pure magic!
Ironically, while so many are concerned about avoiding rain on safari this was our one big weather inconvenience yet it was a definitive highlight of the trip. Luckily this group of people embraced the wilderness and power of nature and knew this was a special event which would last inside them. The hot chocolate with Amarula back at camp could not have tasted better.
Other Selinda Camp Highlights:
- Dicks and I tracking a mother leopard and cub; seeing in the dirt how they played together and then being so close on the tracking that we heard the mother make a call to her cub a short distance away
- Seeing the leopard and her six month old cub
- Beautiful herd of roan antelope
- lions feeding
- Bushman walk with Dicks teaching his survival skills
- Lion/buffalo and lightning
- Four wild dogs– unfortunately after our group disbanded and I stayed on for another night
At Sandibe we were spoiled for choice with many big cats and two different packs of African wild dogs in the area. We certainly enjoyed some great big cat sightings but put most of our time into observing African wild dogs. We witnessed one incredibly dramatic event.
I spotted a small pack of three adults and three puppies – the six pack. They had denned later than normal and the pups were only 4 to 5 months old. After siesta time we returned to follow this pack on their afternoon hunt. It was awesome to watch the pups hustle to try and keep up with the adults as they coursed the area.
At one point there was a full out sprint chasing impala but the dogs came up empty. By now the pups were struggling to keep up so two adults got quite far ahead and out of sight but the alpha male, possibly the largest wild dog I’ve ever seen, stayed with the pups to protect them.
We then heard the long distance hoo-hoo call of the other dogs and the pace quickened to a fast trot as the male and pups responded to this summon. A minute later came a single note warning bark and the pups turned on a dime and went into a full sprint in the opposite direction with their father. We raced ahead toward the call just in time to see four adult dogs running full speed in chase.
It turns out a larger pack, twelve pack, had entered the area and found the two dogs hunting and taken exception. Often packs will not tolerate one another and will try to extinguish dogs from other packs. It was chaos! We could not keep up with the pups or the dogs in conflict. It was soon dark and we found that the twelve pack had all come together for the night so it appeared (to be confirmed later) the six pack escaped – whew!
We spent the entire next day watching the twelve pack hunt including the quintessential Okavango scene of wild dogs running through shallow water in pursuit of red lechwe – a wetland dependent antelope and true Okavango specialty. The following morning as we had our breakfast before flying to the next camp we had one last dog treat as an impala bounded past the breakfast area followed shortly by a wild dog on the run.
Other Sandibe Camp Highlights:
- Huge male leopard relaxed after a kudu meal he enjoyed in a tree
- Female leopard on our night drive
- Watching wild dog family behavior with the six pack and its young pups
- Many hunting forays with the wild dog packs
- Cheetah relaxing
- Lions with a wildebeest kill