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26 March 2020

The wildlife of Botswana

If you’re asking yourself, ‘What wildlife will I see in Botswana?’, then this is the guide for you. Here, we outline the mammals and birds that you can expect to see during a safari to this amazing destination.

A country of contrasts, from the wetlands in the north to the drier areas towards the central parts, Botswana has plenty of game reserves and private areas that are well worth visiting and combining for the ultimate safari experience. Just read on to find out more…

1) The Big Five in Botswana

All Big Five species – that’s lion, rhino, leopard, elephant, and buffalo – reside in the country’s most famous safari region. That region is, of course, the Okavango Delta, a big basin full of river water that provides sustenance for wildlife all year round. Located in the eastern area of the Delta and considered the jewel in the Delta’s crown, the Moremi Game Reserve boasts the Big Five too.

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Other safari areas we sell here are home to the ‘Big Four’. The Linyanti region, Chobe National Park, and, during its wet season, The Pans contain all Big Five bar rhino. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has just lion and leopard, but, especially for the seasoned safarists, this area’s spectacular scenery more than makes up for its relative lack of big game!

2) The big cats of Botswana

All northern safari areas of Botswana contain plenty of herbivores, making for highly impressive big cat populations. As well as lion and leopard, there are speedy cheetah, serval, caracal, and occasionally visitors spot the rare African wild cat.

The lions of Moremi

Although many parks stake a convincing claim for the best cat concentrations, and many great sightings also happen in the private reserves of Botswana’s pristine wilderness areas, Moremi Game Reserve might just be our pick for the title of Africa’s predator capital. The reserve, a public national park, forms a huge land mass in the centre of the glorious Okavango Delta. This area is the thumping heart of Botswana, offering very high standards of game viewing in addition to some of Africa’s finest safari camps.

Moremi’s central area is made up of Chief’s Island, which is surrounded on almost all sides by the floodwaters of the Okavango Delta. Chief’s Island is considered one of the best places to view the Big Five – lion and leopard are especially prevalent here.

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Zooming in again, the area we pick as the most cat-tastic within this predator capital of Africa is the far north-west of Chief’s Island – a land mass known locally as the Mombo Concession. Cut off by water, and therefore unreachable other than by flight, Mombo is an area of incredible natural beauty and exceptionally fertile grazing grounds. These attributes result in a mass of game and a huge concentration of predators.

There are only three camps here. The first, Chief’s Camp, run by the luxury tour operator Sanctuary Retreats, is a first-class safari lodge offering great game sightings. However, the remaining two camps, Little Mombo and Mombo, are truly world class, regarded by many as the finest camps in Africa.

The black-maned lions of the Kalahari

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The Central Kalahari must receive a special mention for its beautiful black-maned lion. Renowned for the contrast between their strong tawny-coloured bodies and the thick billowy black tips of their manes, these creatures are stunning. The male lion’s mane isn’t just there for protection, as its colour actually indicates strength and health. If you’d like to see the Kalahari lions, we suggest staying at Kalahari Plains Camp.

3) The black, brown, striped, and spotted wildlife of Botswana

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If you’re more of a dog person, you’ll be pleased to learn that the northern areas also contain wild dog, as well as bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, and side-striped jackal! Hyenas are also well represented in these parts of Botswana. Both brown and spotted types are commonly seen, and the Delta is home to the aardwolf too. This insectivore is nocturnal, as is another member of its family, the civet – if you’re keen to see aardwolf and civet, be sure to mention this to one of our team, so they can recommend camps and lodges that offer night drives!

YZ expert Emma witnessed the most incredible battle between a pack of wild dog, a cackle of hyena and a lion whilst stay at Mombo Camp. You can read more about her experience here: Battle of Botswana

4) Plains game in Botswana

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Focusing on the herbivores, the Delta, Moremi, Linyanti, and Chobe regions have solid numbers of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, and warthog. Known as spiral-horned bovines, as they are related to cattle and have twirly horns, bushbuck, eland, and kudu are also common in these areas. There’s a great selection of antelopes too, of varying sizes. From the miniature steenbok, to springbok and gemsbok, to impala, tsessebe, red lechwe, reedbuck, waterbuck, marshbuck, to a couple of species classed as ‘horse-like’, sable and roan, the variety is simply astounding! We never tire of spotting and naming these wonderful animals.

5) The desert wildlife of Botswana

Now we turn to The Pans and the Central Kalahari. The Pans is interesting because it varies considerably from season to season. When the weather is dry, it consists of a series of vast salt pans that attracts only a few species of wildlife. However, when the rains move in, those pans are transformed into lakes and the game viewing becomes far more productive. We’ll look at green season here first, before checking out dry-season and Central Kalahari wildlife.

The Pans’ green season

Well, the green season is so green in The Pans that the area plays host to a big wildebeest and zebra migration! This is not on the scale of the Great Migration of Tanzania and Kenya, but it’s well worth watching nevertheless. The areas between the pans, sandy during the dry season, sprout long grasses, so the herbivores have plenty to eat as well as good drinking. And just as in the Great Migration, lots of predators follow the grass-eaters into the region. Lion, leopard, cheetah, even wild dog skulk around the newly created water sources. Hyena are on hand too, to clean up after each kill.

The Pans becomes a dream destination for birders during this time of the year, as ducks, geese, storks, flamingos, even the rare wattled crane enjoy the fresh water.

The Pans’ dry season

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Most of the birdlife of The Pans recedes with the waters, but a few species remain. Ostrich, plovers, and the secretary bird linger on the fringes, and many visitors appreciate the challenge of searching for these tenacious types! A few snakes, lizards, and tortoises stay too, and the mammals in residence include aardvark, aardwolf, and the marsh mongoose, also known as the meerkat. Meeting the meerkats of The Pans is a real highlight of any trip here – they are absolutely charming!

Central Kalahari wildlife

As mentioned above, the Central Kalahari has the Big Two, lion and leopard, rather than the full Big Five. However, if you feel like visiting a remoter area than the better-known parks and reserves, the Central Kalahari might just be your perfect pick. There are cheetah here too, in addition to the bulk of all the herbivores found in the northern parts of Botswana. It’s just that you have to search pretty hard for the wildlife! But once you have found it, and once the sheer beauty of the area has shone through, you will not wish you were anywhere else. It’s spellbinding!

6) Botswana’s birdlife

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We’ve touched on the birdlife of The Pans, and it’s worth mentioning that the birding in the north of Botswana is, in general, amazing! Bitterns, cormorants, egrets, fish eagles, grebes, herons, ibises, jacanas, kingfishers, plover, rails, shags, stilts – and that’s just a small selection of waterfowl. Songbirds also are numerous, as are raptors such as buzzards, eagles, goshawks, harriers, kestrels, sparrowhawks, and vultures. With a few rarities to spot – brown firefinch, coppery-tailed coucal, and pink-throated longclaw, for example – it’s a very good idea to remember your binos! 

So, in summary, Botswana may be a land of contrasts in some respects, but wherever you choose to spend your safari time you will not be disappointed. The Delta, Moremi, the Linyanti, Chobe, The Pans, the Central Kalahari… if any of these areas appeals, just let us know! We can make sure you get the best of Botswana, including excellent opportunities to view any particular wildlife.

If you’re interested in a safari to Botswana, please don’t hesitate to contact our experts here. Alternatively, just take a look below for more inspiration: