Botswana game drives bring a great animalwahalla

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If you go on a classic safari, you'll be in the car for hours. You never know what you will encounter. Game drives can increase the excitement considerably or it can turn out to be a disappointment. It's not a 'game' for nothing. We took up the challenge in Botswana, looking for big cats. Game on!

 

Text: Angelique van Os | Photopgraphy: Henk Bothof & Dana Allen (interior)

 

The sun is gradually setting. Thank God, because it's almost forty degrees. And that before the end of the rainy season, at the beginning of March. The grass is high, in many places a bit yellow. It hasn't rained much. However, the many low shrubs and the rich forest landscape offer shade. The ever-emerging marshy Linyanti river, the many small onion fields and water poles at the edge of the immense Chobe National Park, form the common thread in this colourful and extensive landscape. The Landcruiser follows the dusty, unpaved path. We are quiet, peering in the bush. Cameras ready to shoot, binoculars in hand. Looking for hidden game. "A good game drive is mainly about waiting, finding and recognizing tracks and good teamwork", whispers our guide Andy. "And luck is perhaps the most important factor", he adds with a smile.

 

It's quiet; the predators still seem to be asleep. There are no footprints or faeces to guide us in the right direction. We are looking for big cats: lions, leopards or cheetahs. Here and there a small group of impala's and zebras pass by. And then suddenly, about ten metres from the car, a large group of elephants looms up. Dozens at a time they walk past us. A number of females protect their calves and trumpeting is imminent. The sound vibrates through my body and the adrenaline rises. I've been on safari several times already, but never before have I seen such a large family so close by. These elephants don't get a lot of visitors every day. And it's a good thing that they are wary, because unfortunately the Botswana government has allowed the hunting of the tadpoles again since May 2019. This has to do with the enormous elephant population in the country and the complex human versus wildlife problems. Fortunately, the Linyanti Concession is a well-protected area, supervised by Wilderness Safaris and its Wilderness Wildlife Trust. Wilderness Safaris is a major tour operator within Southern Africa and only has its own concessions. The organisation has been in existence for over 35 years and presents excellent eco-safaris in the high segment. 

 

 

Devious cat

Linyanti borders on the northwest side of Chobe National Park. The remote reserve vessel is a natural paradise of about 125,000 hectares. Driving around in the jeep, shows how rich this area is in a variety of small game. There is always movement. I get used to the many elephants, but they intrigue me time and time again with their idiosyncratic behavior. They splash and spray water with their trunks on top of each other, as if they shower together. The grey skins like to swim between a bed of white water lilies in the swamps and the Linyanti river, which shines in the rising heat. Gallant and agile impalas spread in small groups in the high reed while jumping. They also seek shelter and refreshment, unaware that a crocodile may be lurking. Or a leopard, because this devious cat can sneak noiselessly around shallow water. That leopard - or another cat - we have not spotted today. It is one of the most shy felines and lives solitary, so it's hard to find. Tomorrow we will make another attempt.

 

The next morning we leave at dusk. "A new day, new opportunities", says Andy cheerfully. He babbles something in the walkie-talkie and while we're having breakfast, he drives quietly towards the savannah. "In addition to our car, two other cars are active. We keep in touch when someone sees something, so we can reach the location quickly." Andy is looking forward to it. After half an hour of driving he stops and stares at the ground, looking for tracks. "Hmmmm...I see a lot of things, but no traces of cats." A quarter of an hour later there is a sound from the walkie-talkie. Andy talks quickly in a local language. He hangs up and returns the car. "The other group has found a leopard, it's near here."

 

I jump up from the couch from excitement. We are very lucky, because a two-year-old male has been spotted eating a prey in a tree. I only catch a glimpse of his beautiful coat and contours. Luckily the animal is not impressed by our 4x4 jeep and slowly starts to move after breakfast. The vehicles split, to give the leopard space. Moments later he is wandering through the high grass at ease and walks past our car in a squint. I hold my breath. Then the animal walks over a wooden bridge that the jeeps can cross. The cat screens the swamp for a prey with its sharp vision. There is not much to see. On the other side he marks his territory by a tree and disappears into the forest. The two other jeeps drive away. We decide to turn the car around and park at a water spot at a walking pace. And yes, there is the leopard again. Rttttssshhhh... Despite his speed, the defeated cat sees his next bite - a lizard - shooting into the water. Every animal meets his match. He gives up and disappears into the bushes in search of cooling. What a privilege to be able to follow this animal in this unspoiled nature. And that at seven o'clock in the morning.

 

READ MORE ABOUT OUR CLASSIC GAME DRIVE IN PART 2! 

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