In terms of pure, unadulterated African wildlife, Botswana is very hard to beat. With roughly 17% of the country formally protected and large areas of sparsely populated areas where wildlife still roams free, Botswana still has good numbers of game species, including some of the continent’s largest Elephant, Wild Dog and Lion populations. The safari experience has been refined here, with some of the best safari lodges in Africa to be found in the premier wildlife regions of Botswana. Unfortunately, with the remoteness and exclusivity of the camps, and the Government’s ‘fewer tourists paying more’ philosophy (which is designed to protect the natural environment), Botswana is not a cheap safari destination by any means (though most lodges offer a significantly discounted rate during the wet season). For those who can afford it though, a Botswana safari will no doubt be the highlight of a lifetime.
The Okavango, Linyanti and Chobe regions are the premier game viewing pats of the country, especially during the dry season when the permanent water attracts large numbers of animals. This includes large herds of Elephant and Buffalo, as well as smaller grazers, all of which are prey for large numbers of Lion, Spotted Hyena, Wild Dog, Leopard and Cheetah. The labyrinthine water channels of the delta are stocked to capacity with Hippo’s and Nile Crocodiles, while water-loving Sititunga and Red Lechwe live on the verge between water and dry land. Indeed, in the fluctuating world of the delta, many species have adapted to a life on this verge between water and earth, and sights of prides of Lions or herds of Elephants making their way from island to island through shallow and crystal clear Okavango water will be among the highlights of a visit to Botswana.
In the transition areas between the delta and the dry Kalahari Sandveld, places such as Nxai Pan are a haven for grazers and predators alike, and in fact Nxai Pan is also the scene of large numbers of grazers, and Burchell’s Zebra in particular, arriving to give birth on the fertile savannah between December and April.
The Kalahari has fewer animals and less species diversity, but is perhaps an equally spectacular game viewing environment at certain times of the year, when large numbers of nomadic game such as Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Eland, Gemsbok and Red Hartebeest arrive to take advantage of the new grasses (though at other times of the year game can be very sparse). These are preyed upon by the famous Kalahari Lions, Leopard and Cheetah while other unusual species such as Brown Hyena, Aardwolf, Aardvark, African Wild Cat and Honey Badger are often among the highlights of a Kalahari Game Viewing experience. Botswana has four Kalahari Reserves, including the Kagalagadi Transfrontier park, which straddles the border with South Africa, and the mighty Central Kalahari Game Reserve, at 52 900 km² one of the largest game reserves in the world.
The Northern Tuli Game reserve in the south-east of the country is another premier game viewing region, and distinctly different to both the Kalahari and the Okavango / Chobe region. The 72 000 hectare (178 000 acre) reserve may be small when compared to the Central Kalahari, but it comes with a wild and rugged ambiance that’s synonymous with the Botswana experience. It also forms part of the greater Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, which includes South Africa’s Mapungubwe National Park on the other side of the Limpopo River, and which celebrates both the biological and anthropological riches of the area. Tuli, which means ‘dust’ in Setswana, is synonymous with Martian-like sandstone formations, ancient Baobabs and gnarled Shepard’s Trees, fantastic skyscapes and unbelievable quality of light. The game viewing can be superb, and indeed Mashatu Game Reserve in the north-east shares a spot with the Sabi Sand Game Reserve of South Africa and South Luangwa in Zambia as an excellent big cat venue.