Botswana is among the most popular places in Africa to experience some of the most breathtaking animals that the continent has to offer up close. Over the course of your stay, you’ll take photographs – and more importantly, make memories – to last an entire lifetime. The wildlife remains the star of the show.
Thanks to habitats such as the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Kalahari Game Reserve and many others, you will find an abundance of unique landscapes and living conditions in which wildlife is free to live and roam. The nation houses three national parks, seven different games reserves and wildlife shelters, which actually cover almost one fifth of the total land area.
In total, there must be thousands of different animal species, but here are some of the most noteworthy for travellers heading out on safari to see.
When it comes to elephants, Botswana isn’t lacking at all – in fact, there are more elephants roaming free here than anywhere else in the African continent. These giant creatures are, in fact, the largest land animals on the planet and so you will struggle to miss them no matter which time of year that you choose to visit.
Like many animals, their preferred environments change over the course of the year. During the drier months from the middle of April to October, they can typically be found in the grasslands. By wet season, they flock to the marshlands. Indeed, if you head to the Chobe River you’ll be bound to spot more than a few.
Lions have never not made a big impression, but with the recent reimagining of Disney’s Lion King, they’ve never been more popular than they are now. Bound to capture your heart (albeit from a distance), the big cats are among the most exciting wildlife to spy in Botswana.
They’re night creatures for the most part, because this is when they’re most successful in their endeavours to hunt. One of the most fascinating sounds in the small hours is hearing a lion’s majestic roar for yourself. If you want to physically see them, both sunrise and sunset are the best times. The middle of the day is usually too hot for them, so they’re typically hiding in the shade. You may well be alerted to their presence in ways that are not visual; the scent of their prey isn’t for the faint-hearted!
Here’s yet another big cat to be found in Botswana, and the good news is that technically, they’re all over the place. Unfortunately for visitors, however, they’re somewhat elusive – after all, they rely on their stealth and solitude to get by. Once it makes a kill, it ensures that it takes the catch somewhere far, far away from competitors so that it can savour the treats alone.
Their markings are of course distinctive when compared to other big cats of the region, meaning that when they are around, you’ll know about it. Head to the Moremi Game Reserve for your best chances of catching a glimpse.
These days, there aren’t too many surviving cheetahs left in the wild, but Botswana is among their remaining strongholds with around 30% of the world’s population living in the country. The good news is that the population here is stable, and the bad news is that this is the only nation in the world where this is the case.
While the cheetah’s impressive agility has gained the species plenty of fans, in the real world, its small stature means it struggles to compete with much bigger cats like lions. The key, therefore, to their survival is ensuring that humans don’t now become their biggest threat as they move further towards non-protected lands.
The story of rhinos in Botswana hasn’t always been a happy one; but after many ups and downs there now looks to be some sort of happy ending at least. After years of hunting and poaching for the perceived medical benefits of their horns (which are scientifically not proven), the Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project has ensured that both the white and black species have been reintroduced to the Okavango Delta.
They are now found in abundance throughout the country thanks to conservation efforts, so you may well see some on your trip.
AFRICAN WILD DOG
In other parts of the world, dogs can be found a dime a dozen, but the African wild dog is no ordinary dog. Sadly, they are among the world’s most endangered mammals and they are becoming less and less easy to find.
In Botswana, you may be lucky enough to discover them in large numbers, because they tend to gather in packs. They’re far more vicious than their cuddly Western counterparts, hunting medium sized animals with ease and at great speed. Warning: do not approach!
Talk about water babies! Hippos absolutely love to be around water sources, although ‘babies’ may not be such an accurate word. In fact, their average weight is around 2500kg, and they’re also among the most dangerous animals in the world. Surprisingly, they’re also very fast, so they must not be messed with. While they love the watering holes, they’re known to venture long distances across land as well.
No matter where they’re found on your safari, prepare for a real show to ensnare all of your senses. Their grunts are well known as are their fights, which you may well get to witness (along with the baring of their terrifying teeth).
Did you know? There are actually three different kinds of zebra, but in Botswana, you will only find Burchell’s zebra, named for the British explorer and naturalist William John Burchell. In fact, this species is actually the country’s national animal and the nation boasts an annual – and famous – migration where they trek from the northeast to the south.
No two zebras are the same, and while you probably can’t tell them apart, their young can. These zebras are different to other varieties because they have stripes of brown running through them as well. It’s highly likely that you will see these animals on your travels, as they’re found all over, except for in the central regions which tend to be far drier.
These animals have a bad reputation and you do not want to accidentally get in their way. Their auditory presence is just as chilling as their physical one (and you’ll never forget the chilling whooping sounds that they make).
There has been a lot of research into these creatures and their nature, and while there is evidence that they are merely misunderstood, there is no denying their predatory habits and the fact that they excel at being scavengers. And, just like the film the Lion King suggests, they truly are in competition with lions and can be equally as ferocious.
Majestic, elegant and (seemingly) graceful, long-necked giraffes are a favourite with animal lovers worldwide. Seeing them in the wild is a brilliant experience, and they can be found in both central and northern parts of the country.
While they seem the very picture of grace, they often struggle to stay balanced, and seeing their babies stumble is actually rather cute. However, when the males begin fighting, it is an altogether more violent and indeed extraordinary affair.
Amongst the more common of the Big Five, buffalo love to hide out in woodland areas and all across the savannah. They love the shade, grass and being close to water sources; they’re a simple bunch. You’ll see them mostly towards the north of the country, particularly in the Okavango and Chobe as well.
As social creatures, it’s rare that you’ll see them alone as they tend to gather together. Do not be fooled, however. These creatures may love to be in groups, but this doesn’t mean they’re friendly. They’re highly dangerous (although they struggle to match the strength of their main predators, lions).
There are 22 types of antelope in Botswana, each slightly different in some way. In Botswana, the red lechwe is synonymous with the Okavango Delta, and if you visit the areas, you’ll see plenty of them grazing on the seasonal floodplains as they enjoy the short grass.
They say there’s strength in numbers, which is perhaps why they tend to congregate in their hundreds. Lions, wild dogs and hyenas are a major threat – they love to pounce on them and make them their prey.
So many birds, so little time – they deserve an article of their very own. One of the most spectacular kinds found in Botswana is the African fish eagle, known for their distinctive cry and the way they just swoop in on fish swimming in the water with their outstretched talons.
Perhaps the most unforgettable birds are the lilac breasted rollers. Their gorgeous rainbow colours will be committed to memory forever, and the photographs will be truly stunning set to a classic Botswana backdrop.
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