The rains came late to Botswana this year. Since much of the country is dry, when those clouds build and the first heavy drops fall, it’s seen as a reason to celebrate. In fact water is so valued in Botswana that their currency is called the ‘pula’, which means ‘rain’ or ‘blessing’ in in Setswana.
So how did this long, dry winter effect game viewing in Botswana’s top reserves? Let's find out from Onx Manga, the Head Environmentalist at Belmond Safaris. Onx works on the ground at the three Belmond lodges in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Wildlife Reserve and the Savuti Region of Chobe National Park.
Onx is an exceptional guide, and the Head Environmentalist at Belmond Safaris.
Savute Waterhole Action
“This was one of our driest years to date in Botswana with temperatures rising as high as 41°C - the hottest recorded for 35 years. The heat forced animals to gather at the remaining water sources, and the game viewing has been spectacular at all three of our lodges!
“In Chobe the Savute Channel dried up, and we saw as many as 200 elephants gather at our pumped waterholes. These are real wildlife hotspots with incredible predator interactions as lion camped out in the shade waiting for prey to come and drink.
“I’ve even had a couple of sightings of lion taking down an elephant - Botswana’s Savute Region is one of the few areas where this happens. Also the relentless heat and long walk between food and water sources caused some elephants to collapse, attracting scavengers such as hyenas.”
Lion camp out at a waterhole (photo by Watch Sehupa, a guide at Savute Elephant Lodge)
Khwai Leopard and Wild Dog Cubs
“In the Khwai Region the dry pools forced game to move to more permanent water sources. Herds of red lechwe gathered along the Khwai River, together with giraffe, elephant and antelope. This region is also known for its abundance of buffalo and zebra, which means plenty of predators too.
“Our resident leopard, Mma Tsebe, and her cub have often been seen during game drives. A new pride of five lionesses has been hunting buffalo in the Khwai area, and our guests have seen a number of kills. There are loads of wild dogs, including some cubs who are growing up fast.”
Khwai is known for its predators, and recently Onx has seen both wild dog and leopard cubs.
Okavango Delta Game Drives
“The Okavango Delta has reached its lowest level in many years. As the water drops the mekoro start competing with hippo in the channels, so our focus shifts from water-based to land-based activities such as game drives and guided walks.
“We started exploring new areas on our game drives, and saw a remarkable amount of big game on the dry floodplains including lion, elephant, buffalo, zebra, red lechwe and wild dog. We even spotted a rhino, the first one we’ve seen in this area in 40 years!”
As temperatures soar, a hyena cools off in a Savute waterhole
When the Summer Rains Come
“Botswana is a phenomenal safari destination, and each season brings something new. Now that the rains have arrived, nutrient-rich grasses are springing up and impala will all give birth to their young. With so many baby animals about, the big cats soon appear.
"The rains also bring thousands of winged termites, closely followed by fabulously colourful migratory birds. I think, because of the delay, this will be one of the best birding seasons yet!
"Areas like the Savuti have been the subject of many wildlife documentaries including ‘The Stolen River’, the ‘Planet Earth’ series (which documents the elephant-killing lions) and ‘Africa’s Fishing Leopards’ (BBC). This most recent documentary tells the story of a leopard and her two cubs that have learnt to fish in the drying Savuti Channel."
A remarkable photo of a Savuti leopard catching a fish (taken by Abel Coelho).
Experience This for Yourself
The three Belmond Lodges in Botswana are:
> Savute Elephant Lodge overlooking the Savute Channel in Chobe National Park.
> Khwai River Lodge faces out over the Kwhai River and into Moremi Game Reserve.
> Eagle Island Lodge on a remote private island at the heart of the Okavango Delta.
> Or take a look at our top Okavango Delta tours & safaris