Reports From Botswana

20 February 2012 | Jo Jenkins | Safari and Beach News, Botswana

Kwara: We welcomed the new year with incredible sighting of predators, prey, birds, and of course dramatic sunrises and sunsets. Kwara concession is certainly a wildlife paradise on the 1st day of the 1st month, we found 2 lionesses resting under the shade, escaping the heat, a few metres away were zebras, giraffes, and wildebeest, as well as a huge breeding herd of elephant.
We continued spotting more predators during the following days, mostly male lions, occasionally seeing lone young males, sometimes as many as seven lions one game drive. Another great experience was of tracking fresh leopard tracks – found crossing the Shindi main road, we followed the tracks and located a male leopard, which we were able to follow for about 20 minutes before he disappeared into the bush.
An unusual lion sighting was from the boat whilst on a cruise between Xobega and Gudikwe – three lionesses drinking on the side of the channel, with one of them about to cross the channel! And a great sighting of a pack of 10 wild dogs, who were seen hunting along Lethata Road.
Over the past few months our cheetah cubs have grown, and are now approximately 8 months old – still distinguishable from their mother with their darker coats and longer, thicker fur. We saw them attempting to bring down an impala one afternoon, but sadly they were unsuccessful.
Some more unusual predator sightings included a young African python hunting prey after a heavy rain storm, and an African wild cat hunting frogs!
Our night game drives are a different experience each night. Through the thickets and bushes our eyes scanning, following the spotlight, listening to the night sounds and occasionally spotting a rare animal. Regular sights have been black-backed jackals, lesser bush-babies, honey badgers. Although genets are seen from time to time on night drives, it is much rarer to see a genet with two young who she was suckling!
Birding has been great with all the regulars, and the summer migratory birds still here, but thinking about the long trip back…. Only a few Woodland kingfishers can be heard calling now – a change from the November chorus. Nicest bird sighting this month was a male and female ostrich with five chicks looking only a few days old!

Lebala: The first and last week of the month were good for lion sightings, with separate sightings of both males and females. Four lionesses were found feeding on a freshly killed wildebeest, and two males were seen resting along the cutline. Strangely, for a few days in the middle of the month, even tracks of lions were hard to find!
On the 21st of January, there was an unusual sighting with a hyena chasing off a leopard from the carcass of a baby elephant. It’s likely the elephant died of natural causes, for it would be difficult for any predator other than lions to successfully bring down a baby elephant. There are plenty of breeding herds throughout the concession at the moment. The hyenas – on one occasion up to eight individuals – were seen regularly on the evening drives in the area of the carcass, and patrolling their routes.
A male leopard was also seen nearby. In the same week we also had a great sighting of a pack of twenty wild dogs, who managed to hunt and catch an impala along Mogothlo road.
Towards the end of the month, the three male cheetahs successfully hunted a tsessebe calf, and were able to feed on it without being disturbed by larger predators – always a worry for the light-weight cheetahs!

Night drives were productive with the hyenas, black-backed and side-striped jackals, and several sightings of African Wild cats hunting in the tall grass. We also managed to see a porcupine and a honey badger!
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The rains have created many puddles along the roads, and filled up many of the pans. This is a happy time for the frogs – bubbling kasinas and bull frogs alike. Also a good time for the many birds, such as marabou storks, woolly necked storks, egrets and other long-legged birds which wade the ponds and pools, fishing for the frogs.
Otherwise, it’s a lovely time of year for the general game, with lots of green fresh grass and new leaves available to graze and browse on.

Lagoon: After the major excitement of multiple kills by wild dogs at the end of 2011, the beginning of the year was off to a more sedate pace. However, this soon picked up with the wild dogs again chasing and killing impala. At the end of the month they had spent time very close to the camp, and managed to bring down three baby impalas in one day. All the puppies from last year are growing up fit and strong – 100% survivor rate, which is excellent news for the highly endangered wild dog population.
The New Year also brought in new visitors – a male lion of approximately 8 years old, in excellent condition, was seen on his own by Giraffe Pan. He may have overstepped his boundaries intentionally for a look to see who challenges him, or he may have been forced out by a stronger pride. It will be interesting to see if he stays around, and if he has any altercations with the other lions resident in the area.
In the second week of January we had a lovely female leopard seen around the airstrip. She was very relaxed, and spent considerable time hunting and scent marking. This is a good indication that she is getting ready to mate, and is interested in marking her status as ‘available’!
Although the big buffalo herds have moved off into the thick mopane veld now that rainwater has collected in many of the pans, the breeding herds of elephants are spending a lot of time in the area.
It is a little more challenging to see animals on the night drives at this time of year, with the grasses being high, but hyenas and side-striped jackals were seen regularly in the area close to the airstrip, and there was lots of activity seen of the shy nocturnal aardvark, but sadly not the creature itself!
The camp was closed for 10 days for annual maintenance in January, so we didn’t have a chance to see some of the regulars such as the cheetah brothers during that time, but hopefully they will be waiting for us in early February!

Nxai Pan: The stillness of the night is broken by the distant roaring of lions. The quiet tip-toeing of a whitish-grey elephant as it looms across the plain in the moonlight, heading to the waterhole. There’s a rustling from a few metres away – a scrub hare, nibbling on grass shoots. Then the shuffle and neighing, as a herd of zebra move in. Sometimes, the best sightings are those that you don’t actually see, but the combination of sound, (or silence) smell, and glimmers in the dark. Sitting on the deck in front of the your room at Nxai Pan at night, no clouds in the sky – it’s not a view necessarily of animals that is magical, but it’s an experience that will be one of the highlights of your trip. The horizon stretches on, only stopping where the pin points of stars disappear.
Very little rainfall since the beginning of December has meant the animals have been forced to return to the waterholes dotted around the park. This means plenty of action also at the camp waterhole, with elephants chasing zebra out of the way, so they can drink, and shy brown hyenas slinking in to have a quick sip as the sun slowly rises above the horizon.
Lion sightings have been numerous, with the pride of four females with two nearly adult cubs and three 8 month old cubs being seen on most days. Sometimes relaxing in the shade near the waterholes, keeping an eye on the general game that moves past them, waiting for an opportunity to catch some unsuspecting prey. A big male lion was also seen at the side of one of the waterholes, relaxing after a long night of prowling his territory. A female cheetah with two cubs was also seen regularly – her offspring look fit, and well-cared for. This is prime time for catching springbok babies that are in abundance at the moment. It is up to the mother to teach her cubs how to hunt, and she does this by catching a young buck but not killing it, and then giving it to the cubs to kill (not always successfully…)
Wonderful general game throughout the park, with the zebras having arrived – though not in the numbers that they were last year due to the late rains. Giraffes, wildebeest, springboks and all their babies bouncing everywhere, create a wonderful atmosphere on the drives.
The good birding continues, with red crested shrikes, crimson breasted shrikes, marico flycatchers, scaly feathered finches, little sparrow hawks and steppe buzzards.

Tau Pan: The elephants that were seen last month did not make an appearance again, but their spoor and droppings were seen in the Passage Pan area.
January seems to have been the month of races, with cheetah, leopard and lions all seen running in the Tau Pan area, often being followed – or following – jackals and bat-eared foxes. Two lions made an attempt to chase down a cheetah with her two cubs – a rather foolish thing when you know the cheetahs are built for speed. However, cheetahs cannot hold the speed for extended periods, so perhaps there was a plan to the lions chase. Luckily for the cheetahs, they managed to get away.
Throughout the month, cheetah was seen almost every day around Tau Pan, usually the mother with the two cubs, but sometimes an adult on his own. The adult managed to kill a baby springbok, and a young collared male has visited the water hole to drink during brunch time – probably a good time to do so as the resident lions have moved off by then.
The Tau Pan Lion pride was seen regularly as well, with the whole pride playing around the pan, and the adults roaring – territorial calling – in the early morning and evening. Later in the month, three of the adult lions decided to pop by the manager’s house for part of the afternoon game drive, but luckily left when Thuso needed to get ready for dinner!
For general game, lots of Oryx, springbok, kudu and steenbok were sighted in the area, and a herd of 15 wildebeest with 8 young also frequented the area. Several black-backed jackal couples are seen on every drive, each with puppies of their own.

Written by Jo Jenkins

Jo’s enthusiasm for safari as a child when her parents worked in Zambia, then Kenya. Jo quickly fancied herself as a safari expert and has been a keen game tracker ever since. Although, more recently, she is very keen to trial many of the (more luxurious) beach lodges we now offer.

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