The Chobe National Park, which is the second largest national park in Botswana and covers 10,566 square kilometres, has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent. Its uniqueness in the abundance of wildlife and the true African nature of the region, offers a safari experience of a lifetime.
The park is divided into four distinctly different eco systems: Serondela with its lush plains and dense forests in the Chobe River area in the extreme north-east; the Savuti Marsh in the west about fifty kilometres north of Mababe gate; the Linyanti Swamps in the north-west and the hot dry hinterland in between.
From Kasane, follow the new tar road past the airport to Sedudu Gate. Here all persons are required to check in and pay the park fees, unless proceeding on the tar road to Ngoma. Four-wheel drive vehicles are essential, especially if the intention is to travel extensively into the park - deep sand in some areas tests the skill of the driver and the capabilities of the vehicle. However, most rewarding game viewing awaits.
The original inhabitants of what is now the park were the San people, otherwise known in Botswana as the Basarwa. They were hunter-gatherers who lived by moving from one area to another in search of water, wild fruits and wild animals. The San were later joined by groups of the Basubiya people and later still, around 1911, by a group of Batawana led by Sekgoma. When the country was divided into various land tenure systems, late last century and early this century, the larger part of the area that is now the national park was classified as crown land. In 1931 the idea of creating a national park in the area was first mooted, in order to protect the wildlife from extinction and to attract visitors. In 1932, an area of some 24,000 square kilometres in the Chobe district was declared a non-hunting area and the following year, the protected area was increased to 31,600 square kilometres. However, heavy tsetse fly infestations resulted in the whole idea lapsing in 1943. In 1957, the idea of a national park was raised again when an area of about 21,000 square kilometres was proposed as a game reserve and eventually a reduced area was gazetted in 1960 as Chobe Game Reserve. Later, in 1967, the reserve was declared a national park - the first national park in Botswana. There was a large settlement, based on the timber industry, at Serondela, some remains of which can still be seen today. This settlement was gradually moved out and the Chobe National Park was finally empty of human occupation in 1975. In 1980 and again in 1987, the boundaries were altered, increasing the park to its present size.
A major feature of Chobe National Park is its elephant population. First of all, the Chobe elephant comprise part of what is probably the largest surviving continuous elephant population. This population covers most of northern Botswana plus northwestern Zimbabwe. The Botswana's elephant population is currently estimated at around 120,000. This elephant population has built up steadily from a few thousand since the early 1900s and has escaped the massive illegal offtake that has decimated other populations in the 1970s and 1980s. The Chobe elephant are migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 kilometres from the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, where they concentrate in the dry season, to the pans in the southeast of the park, to which they disperse in the rains. The elephants, in this area have the distinction of being the largest in body size of all living elephants though the ivory is brittle and you will not see many huge tuskers among these rangy monsters.
Public camping grounds are situated within Chobe at Ihaha, Savuti and Linyanti with toilet and shower facilities available. Each of these camping grounds has its own unique character and a visit to each is recommended - however, it is once again stressed that a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential. Visitors travelling through the park should remember that this is essentially a wilderness area and, as such, no services are available between Kasane and Maun. Because of this, it is wise to carry basic safety items such as water, food, fuel, torches, extra wheels, tools, jacks and pumps. In all public camping grounds booking for campsites is essential.
Serondela has been closed down and a new camping ground has been opened at Ihaha. Ihaha has modern facilities, an attractive reception office and is more remote in nature.
Often described as one of, if not the best, wildlife-viewing area in Africa today. Savuti boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent. Animals are present during all seasons, and at certain times of the year their numbers can be staggering. If you allow yourself adequate time here (a minimum of three to four days is recommended) you will probably see nearly all the major species: giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, tsessebe, roan, sable, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, eland and accompanying predators including lion, hyaena, jackal, bat-eared fox and possibly even cheetah and wild dog.
Savuti is famous for its predators, particularly its resident lions and spotted hyaena populations. Sometimes you will have them uncomfortably close, as both they and marauding hyaenas do wander through the campsite. Do NOT feed them. Almost certainly you will hear lion at night.
Savuti has an excellent new campsite. Lying 172 kilometres southwest of Sedudu gate, Savuti camping ground overlooks the Savuti River channel, which is currently dry. Geographically, Savuti is an area of many unknowns. One of the greatest mysteries is the Savuti Channel itself, which has over the past 100 years inexplicably dried up and recommenced its flow several times. The present dry period started in 1982.
In the furthest corner of Chobe National Park lies the forgotten paradise of Linyanti. Secluded and uncrowded, this short strip of swampy river frontage is reminiscent of the Okavango's permanent waterways with papyrus-lined lagoons, reed-beds and a towering canopy of trees. The Linyanti Swamp covers an area of almost 900km2, to which follows the river and fills the area between the converging courses of the Kwando and Linyanti rivers. The national park only touches the river for a short section on the far eastern edge of the swamp.
The wildlife is plentifull, especially in the dry winter months when great concentrations of elephant, buffalo and zebra congregate along the river, with giraffe, impala and roan antelope being seen in the forests. The birdlife is diverse, if not overwhelming in its numbers. Waterbirds, including pelican, are common.
Linyanti has a small camping ground, 39 kilometres northwest of Savuti, among tall riverine trees overlooking the perennial Linyanti River. This is generally a quieter camp as it is off the main tourist circuit, but for those seeking a remote and peaceful environment, with spectacular dry season concentrations of elephant, Linyanti is the place to go. Access is rough and sandy and only reliable 4x4 vehicles should attempt this journey.
The Sedudu gate near Kasane also gives access to a public road that passes for 54 kilometres through the park to Ngoma gate. Ngoma is the entrance used by visitors from Namibia, with the border crossing nearby. The southern entrance to the park is at Mababe gate, along a route that connects with the Moremi Game Reserve. Mababe gate is some 56 kilometres south of Savuti and many visitors enter from Kasane, camp at Ihaha and then at Savuti, exit through Mababe and on through to Moremi - or the other way around. Apart from this circuit and the charming camp ground at Linyanti, another route within the park, which intrepid visitors take, is south from Sedudu for 68 kilometres to Noghatsaa and then across to Savuti, which is a further 140 kilometres. Roads through this area are not clearly signed at this time, so visitors should carefully plan their route before setting out and it is advisable to inform park staff of intentions to visit the Noghatsaa area.
Game viewing is at its best during the dry season, when the majority of natural pans have dried up, and it is wise to avoid the Chobe River front during the heavy rains from January to March. It is also wise to note that no fuel supplies are available within the park and visitors travelling between Kasane and Maun should ensure that they are self-contained for the entire journey. All drinking water should be boiled or chemically treated. Mosquitoes are prevalent throughout the park and visitors are strongly advised to take an anti-malarial prophylactic before, during and for four weeks from visiting the park, especially during the rainy season.
A sister to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and located close by, is the 2,578 square kilometre Nxai Pan National Park. An unobtrusive turnoff, 136 kilometres out from Maun on the Maun-Nata road, or 65 kilometres from Gweta turnoff if travelling from the east, leads for a further 37 kilometres over a deep sandy track to the Nxai Pan entrance gate. The sandiness of this track should not be underestimated and only 4x4 vehicles should attempt the journey, engaging 4-wheel drive before negotiating the deep sand - carrying a spade is also wise. There are no supplies of fuel available in the park - the nearest being in the village of Gweta.
Within the park there are two small public camping grounds with ablution facilities; one in the south on the edge of the plain, less than 2 kilometres from the entrance gate, and the other in the north, 8 kilometres from the gate, within mopane woodland. Campers should note that firewood can often be a problem in this park and it is recommended that small gas cookers should be used. Water standpipes are available at both sites.
In addition to this, informal camping is permitted at Baines Baobabs, although no facilities are available and the nearest water supply is at the Game Scout Camp situated near the entrance gate.
Originally state land, an area of 1676 square kilometres was declared a game reserve in 1970 and then in 1992 the boundaries were extended to include Baines Baobabs to give the present total area of 2578 square kilometres and National Park status was granted.
Perhaps the focal point of Nxai Pan is the water hole, situated only two kilometres from the entrance gate, in the midst of a large grassy plain which is dotted with a few clumps of short umbrella thorn trees. Here, and within the mopane woodland, lion, giraffe, kudu, impala, ostrich, fascinating birdlife and large numbers of springbok, together with a good population of jackal, bat-eared fox and numerous smaller creatures, are permanent residents. Once the rains have started, gemsbok, elephant and zebra migrate to the area. At that time, zebra are present in thousands and drop their young at Nxai Pan, rivalling the spectacle of the multitude of young springbok, to further enhance game-viewing opportunities. Whilst many other parks and reserves are not considered to be at their best during the rains, Nxai Pan becomes a veritable Garden of Eden.
Nxai Pan, the name of which is claimed by some to be that of a hooked metal rod used to remove springhares from their holes, and by others to simply mean a pan, is open to visitors throughout the year, although road conditions can become difficult during times of heavy rain.
Within the park there are points of interest worthy of mention. One is the "old trek route", a trail pioneered in the 1950s and used until 1963, as a short cut through Ngamiland to Kazungula via Pandamatenga, along which cattle were driven before the advent of the modern veterinary control fences. A number of boreholes, used to provide water for the cattle and men on their long trek, were capped when this trail had to be abandoned, but are said to be still capable of supplying copious water supplies if re-equipped. Another point of interest, which pre-dates that of the trek route, is known as "bushman pits". Here, near the edge of a small pan area, small pits were dug by the Bushmen in which they could hide whilst hunting wild animals that came to drink, giving closer range for the use of their bows and arrows. Today there are the remains in the area of an old cattle post, connected with the trek route, but the bushman pits can still be seen.
The lesser-known Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is situated roughly halfway between Maun and Nata on the Francistown road in northern Botswana. A modest looking turnoff to the park's main entrance can be found 160 kilometres east of Maun and 45 kilometres west of the small village of Gweta, which has the nearest lodge accommodation, fuel and supplies.
From turning off the main tar road, 8 kilometres of rough gravel road leads to the park entrance gate, where entry fees are to be paid. All roads within the park are rough and in many cases very sandy, so it is essential to have a 4x4 vehicle. It is also wise to carry water and travel in tandem with a second vehicle, as, if there should be a breakdown deep within the park, it may be a long wait before any other vehicle is likely to come along to assist.
There are two camping options within the park available to visitors. The first is Njuca Hills, traditionally spelt Njugha, where two camping sites overlooking the vast open plains, undeveloped except for two pit latrines, afford visitors the opportunity to witness large migrations of zebra and wildebeest during the onset of the rains. Njuca Hills are situated 26 kilometres south of the main entrance gate and it should be noted that no water is available at this site, so campers must be totally self-contained.
The other option is the public camping ground at Kumaga, 48 kilometres southwest of the main entrance, situated on the banks of the Boteti River across from Kumaga village. This site, which is also an alternative entry point to the park, is provided with an ablution block and water standpipe. Water here, which is supplied from a borehole, has a particularly unpleasant sulphur smell when first drawn, but improves if left to stand. However, it is advised that water for drinking purposes should be brought. Limited basic food supplies can be obtained in the Kumaga village. Kumaga derives its name from a pool near the village that contains edible tubers.
The Boteti River, once a broad strong-flowing waterway fed by waters drained from the Okavango during the months of June and July annually, later dwindling to a chain of pools, last ceased flowing in September 1992. The last few deep permanent pools that remain are competed for by humans, livestock and wildlife, causing considerable conflict. It is hoped by all that the present drought cycle will soon be broken.
Makgadikgadi, the name of which implies a vast open lifeless land, is not without its folklore. There are stories of people setting out from Gweta to explore the land that lay between them and the Boteti River to seek a favourable environment in which to settle. They entered these great thirstlands at the driest time of year, drawn by what they perceived as large lakes of sparkling water on the horizon. Suffering badly from thirst, the lakes kept drawing them hurriedly on in their attempts to reach the life-giving water that always remained just ahead of them. Gradually, one by one, they fell and died.
But Makgadikgadi is not always dry. The pans, which are situated in half the south, east and northeastern areas of the park, fill with water during the rains from mid-November and mostly retain their water into April or May. The "thirstlands" are then transformed into great sheets of water, which attract a spectacular array of waterbirds and trigger dramatic migrations of wildebeest and zebra. It is unfortunate that this huge water spectacle becomes practically inaccessible by road at this time, but anyone fortunate enough to fly over the area during the wet season sees a water wonderland of incredible scenic beauty.
Makgadikgadi was initially state land. People have never been resident in its waterless interior, but in times of drought, surrounding villagers were permitted to graze their livestock within the area, withdrawing them to their homes when conditions improved. The area was declared a game reserve in 1970 and in December 1992, the boundaries were extended and National Park status was attained. The present park covers some 4,900 square kilometres.
Here, as with all parks and reserves, the use of an anti-malarial prophylactic is strongly recommended and, when travelling within these areas, a 4x4 vehicle, carrying emergency water and food, is necessary. Engaging 4-wheel drive before negotiating sandy patches not only minimises the possibility of becoming stuck, but also saves chewing up the road surfaces for others.
Both dry season and wet season visits to this park are recommended in order to witness the dramatic appearance of the pans at their driest and to experience the transformation to a water wonderland, and see the wildebeest and zebra migrations, in the wet season. Linking a few days in Makgadikgadi with a similar period of time in its nearby sister park, Nxai Pan, will give visitors a distinctly different experience. Makgadikgadi - a vast wilderness of space and timelessness.
West of Gweta, the tar road road to Maun slices through Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park. Because of their complementary natures regarding wildlife migrations, Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve and Nxai Pan National Park were established concurrently in the early 1970s, in the hope of protecting the entire ecosystem.
In December of 1992 the area of the Nxai Pan National Park was extended south to the main Gweta/Maun road, so it adjoins the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve, which was renamed "The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park" to form one vast area covering just under 7,500km2. The park incorporates Ntwetwe Pan, Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan, Baines' Baobabs and Kudiakam Pan. Visitors to either section must pay park and camping fees at either the Xhumaga or Nxai Pan Game scout camp.
Four wheel drive is recommended throughout this area, as even in the dry season the pan surface can be treacherous with the unseen water table lurking often just inches under the hard-baked surface. Once on the pans the exhilaration of speeding across the flat surface in unforgettable.
While there are no fixed lodges or hotels in the park, there are several designated campsites. This limits access to all but the fully equipped self-drive visitor, or those on tailor-made safaris.
The 2,500 square kilometre Khutse Game Reserve was opened in 1971, on Bakwena tribal land. Prior to this date, due to the almost complete absence of surface water and the fragile vegetation, very few people lived in this area of undulating plains of dry Kalahari bush savannah. Those who did subsisted by gathering wild foods, undertaking limited hunting and keeping small stock. Wildlife was therefore considered to be a good alternative form of land use.
The extensive mineralised pan system within Khutse provides an important habitat for wildlife attracting herbivores to graze on the grasses of the pans, drink the mineralised water- during the rainy season and to lick salt during the dry season. These herbivores in turn attract predators, such as lion, cheetah and leopard. Boreholes have been established at certain points within the reserve in order to encourage wildlife to stay within the area throughout the year. Whilst the visitor to Khutse should not expect to see or meet up with large concentrations of game, giraffe, gemsbok, red hartebeest, eland, kudu, wildebeest, springbok, steenbok, grey duiker, lion, leopard, cheetah, brown hyaena, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox and wild dog can be seen within Khutse, as well as many other smaller mammals. A wide range of birdlife from ostrich and kori bustard down to the LBJs (little brown jobs) will keep bird enthusiasts well occupied.
The route from Botswana's capital Gaborone to the Khutse Game Reserve covers some 210 kilometres of varying road conditions taking some four hours of driving time. The first 50-kilometre section is along a good national road to Molepolole, where a turn to the right is taken following the directional signs to Letlhakeng. A further 61 kilometres of good tar road brings the traveller to the village of Letlhakeng, where the feature of a traffic circle brings an end to the tar. At this circle a green sign indicating the direction to Khutse is a most welcome sight as the variety of tracks is confusing to the uninitiated. Letlhakeng has a small filling station.
Proceeding along a sand road after Letlhakeng soon illustrates to the traveller why only 4x4 vehicles are recommended, as the sand is loose and deeply rutted, particularly during the dry season from about April to the time when the rains break usually in November. Some 25 kilometres from Letlhakeng is striking Khudumelapye, where an abundance of fine trees gives this village the appearance of being an oasis. Here large pools of sweet water accumulate following heavy rains and large numbers of livestock congregate. This is very much cattle country. A further 36 kilometres of sandy road brings the traveller to the last large settlement before reaching Khutse. This village is called Salajwe and some basic supplies and drinks may be obtained there. The traveller will notice that it is not always easy to find the way through the villages, as tracks seem to lead in all directions. However, the green Khutse signs are there as a guide. The remainder of the journey has fewer features, although there are small settlements away from the road.
Eventually a sign advises the weary traveller that the boundary of Khutse Game Reserve has at last been reached. A short distance later the National flag can be seen flying above the trees, and the Wildlife Camp, which incorporates the tourist reception office, is finally reached. Here visitors are required to check in and pay the fees for their stay.
There are no tourist lodges, no chalets nor rest camps in Khutse. Nor are there any shops or fuel supplies. Khutse is a protected area where development has been kept to a minimum and where the wilderness atmosphere has been carefully preserved. There are areas that have been designated as campsites, some of which have pit latrines but no other form of development. Although Botswana's central and southern parks and reserves are not as well known as their northern sisters, visitors who are devoted to the wilderness have come from places as far afield as Spain and the United States to enjoy the wonderful sense of isolation and timelessness these areas have to offer.
The main concentration of campsites is grouped in an area between Khutse I and Khutse II Pans, whilst more isolated individual camps are to be found at Moreswe Pan in the south-western area of the reserve. Further isolated sites, named Mahurushele, Sekusuwe and Khankhe, are actually situated in the adjoining Central Kalahari Game Reserve but administered by Khutse. Visitors to Khutse should be completely self-contained with all their requirements including drinking water. Water for purposes other than drinking can be obtained from the Wildlife Camp. All litter should either be totally removed from the reserve or deposited at the Wildlife Camp. The basic rules to be observed when in the reserve are to drive only on the tracks indicated on the map that is obtained on arrival; to camp only at the designated campsites which are clearly indicated; to ensure that no grass fires are caused, nor litter left, nor other visitors disturbed - in other words consideration for others and for the environment should be of paramount concern.
When travelling between Molose Waterhole and Moreswe Pan, first time visitors will be interested to come across a sign in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, proclaiming that this point intersects the Tropic of Capricorn. There cannot be many visitors who have not stopped there to take a photographic record of this.
Africa's first formally declared trans-border conservation area - the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) on the border of South Africa and Botswana - was officially launched on May 12, 2000 by South African President Thabo Mbeki and Botswana President Festus Mogae. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is located in Kgalagadi District approximately 865km southwest of Gaborone.
The combined land area of the KTP is about 38,000 km2 of which 28,400 km2 lies in Botswana and 9,600 km2 in South Africa.
Transfrontier parks, border parks or transboundary conservation areas are protected areas that straddle international boundaries. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is such a protected area in the southern Kalahari Desert. The southern Kalahari represents an increasingly rare phenomenon: a large ecosystem relatively free from human interference. The absence of man-made barriers (except to the west and south of the Park) has provided a conservation area large enough to maintain examples of two ecological processes that were once widespread in the savannahs and grasslands of Africa. The large scale migratory movements of wild ungulates; and predation by large mammalian carnivores. These processes are impossible to maintain except in the largest of areas, and their presence in the Kalahari makes the system of special value to conservation.
In addition to this, the Kalahari has a particular aesthetic appeal. The harsh, semi-arid environment has placed adaptive demands on both fauna and flora that are of considerable scientific interest. Few other conservation areas have attracted so many research projects. This research has revealed a widely fluctuating environment, driven by rainfall events, which vary widely in time and space, and produces a system that is difficult to predict and understand without long-term study.
The significance of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is that it is the first formally declared Transfrontier Park in Africa and it will hopefully serve as a model for conservation in the 21st Century. The Government of Botswana is keen to make the Transfrontier Park a success. The Peace Parks Foundation (an NGO dedicated to promoting transfrontier parks in southern Africa) has played an important role in the development of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and provides assistance for the creation of other transboundary conservation areas in the region.
To get to the park from Botswana travel from Gaborone on tarred road for about 550km until Tsabong in Kgalagadi District, from Tsabong travel for about 310km on gravel road. This road is negotiable by 4 x 2 vehicles during the dry season and 4 x 4 vehicles during the wet season. The alternative route is to travel from Gaborone to Hukuntsi on tarred road for 530km followed by approximately 171km of sand road, which is negotiable by 4 x 4 vehicles only.
For more information visit: www.gov.bw/tourism/transfrontier.
Larger than Denmark or Switzerland, and bigger than Lesotho and Swaziland combined, the 52,800 square kilometre Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which was set up in 1961, is the second largest game reserve in the world. Situated right in the centre of Botswana, this reserve is characterised by vast open plains, saltpans and ancient riverbeds. Varying from sand dunes with many species of trees and shrubs in the north, to flat bushveld in the central area, the reserve is more heavily wooded in the south, with mophane forests to the south and east. Rainfall is sparse and sporadic and can vary from 170 to 700 millimetres per year.
The people commonly known throughout the world as Bushmen, but more properly referred to as the Basarwa or San, have been resident in and around the area for probably thousands of years. Originally nomadic hunters and gathers, the lifestyle of the Basarwa has gradually changed with the times and they now live in settlements, some of which are situated within the southern half of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Government is, however, encouraging these people to move to areas outside the reserve in order that they may be provided with modem facilities, schools, clinics, etc. and to integrate them into modern society.
Other fairly recent residents were Mark and Delia Owens, who spent many years in the Deception Valley area of the park undertaking research mainly on brown hyaena. They set up their camp in the northern section of Deception in a prime "tree island", however tree islands are no longer used for camping in these days of more environmental awareness. The Owens' book, "Cry of the Kalahari" brought the attention of readers to this previously little-visited area and even today many people refer to the Central Kalahari simply as Deception. The name "Deception" comes from a pan the dry surface of which sometimes appears convincingly full of water until one gets right to the edge. See Deception Valley.
The main wildlife concentrations are to be found in the tourist areas in the northern half of this vast reserve but it is possible for adventurous and completely self-contained visitors to travel through the reserve between Khutse on the southern boundary to the northern section - a journey that takes a minimum of two days of 4x4 wilderness travelling. Undeveloped campsites are available for overnight stops at Molapo, Gope, Bape and Xaka. Those visitors wishing to travel trans-Kalahari should note that, apart from being self-contained with all fuel, food and water, they should only travel in a group of two or more vehicles with basic spares and survival aids.
There are three entry points to the reserve, the one through Khutse in the south, then a western entrance through Xade and also in the northeast through Matswere. Access to Xade, where there are two undeveloped campsites near the Xade Wildlife Camp, is made by turning off east from the Ghanzi-Kang road about 36 kilometres south of Ghanzi where indicated by signpost. Xade is reached after following this loose sandy track for 160 kilometres, taking about three hours for the full journey from Ghanzi. Visitors should fill up with fuel at Ghanzi and ensure that they have sufficient for their entire stay. On arrival at Xade visitors are required to check in at the tourist office in the Wildlife Camp.
Access to Matswere can be made via Rakops, where petrol and diesel are available most of the time, 55 kilometres from the check-in point at Matswere. Rakops can be accessed from the north from Maun - Motopi - Kumaga - Tsoe, or from the south from Mahalapye - Serowe - Letlhakane - Mopipi. Matswere can also be accessed from Maun by travelling 57 kilometres east, turning right at the Makalamabedi junction, continuing for 20 kilometres to the village and turning right on the western side of the veterinary fence. The fence is followed south for some 80 kilometres of sand track to the Kuke corner veterinary gate, after which a further 21 kilometres down the eastern boundary of the reserve takes the visitor to the entrance gate which is then only 9 kilometres from Matswere. This "short cut" from Maun takes about three and a half hours travelling time.
Matswere is the access point for designated but undeveloped campsites in the region of Deception Valley, Sunday Pan, Leopard Pan and Passarge Valley, whilst the campsites at Piper Pan can be accessed from either Matswere or Xade. New tracks and campsites have been opened up along the Passarge Valley, where game viewing can be most rewarding, and south from the Passarge waterhole area through to link up with the Piper Pan/Deception road. It is along this latter route that the new Tau campsite has been opened in an area that well reflects the very spirit of the Central Kalahari.
Plans have been made to put in rustic pit latrines to service most of these undeveloped campsites, but until this development has been completed, visitors dig their own mini-latrine to ensure they leave no signs of being there, particularly where toilet paper is concerned. Firewood may be collected from well-wooded areas but not from tree islands. The ashes from campfires must be buried before vacating a campsite, combustible rubbish burnt and non-combustibles carried back to the pit at the entrance gate. Water for purposes other than drinking is available from the Wildlife Camp at Xade and at the Matswere entrance gate/tourist office. There is also a plan to develop some basic shower facilities at the Matswere entrance gate for visitors' use, but the provision of water for this purpose is, in common with most desert areas, a problem at present.
Game viewing for animals which include giraffe, brown hyaena, warthog, wild dog, cheetah, leopard, lion, blue wildebeest, eland, gemsbok, kudu, red hartebeest and springbok, is best between December and April, when the animals tend to congregate in the pans and valleys. Visitors are warned that sleeping in the open without a tent is dangerous and foolhardy and that they should keep their tents fastened to prevent snakes, scorpions, etc. from gaining entry. Foodstuffs, etc. should not be kept in the tent but should be closed into the vehicle to avoid the unwanted attentions of lions and hyaenas.
Mashatu Game Reserve, which is the largest private reserve in Southern Africa, has the largest elephant population (almost 900) on private land in the world. It occupies the area between the Shashe and Limpopo rivers south of the Tuli Circle. Mashatu covers 46,000ha of savannah plains, riverine forests, open marshland and rugged outcrops of sandstone.
The name comes from the Mashatu or Nyala trees - round-topped leafy giants which cover the huge open spaces of this wilderness. This beautiful sanctuary is home to seven of Africa's giant phenomena - the Limpopo River, the African Elephant, the baobab tree, the eland, the ostrich, the kori bustard and the endless African sky.
The elephants of Mashatu are known as the relic herds of Shashe, which once roamed the Limpopo Valley in vast numbers. The elephants became extinct locally for about 60 years, but after 1947 they started slowly returning to the Tuli Block.
Today, visitors may drive into the midst of these mighty herds and marvel at how their numbers have been restored by conservationist Mike Rattray and his exceptional field officers. Elephants are not all you'll see on the game drives. A ranger and tracker at the helm in open four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers, linked by two-way radios, will follow the spoor of lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, spotted hyaenas, bat eared foxes, aardwolves, cheetahs, kudu, Burchell's zebras, bushbuck and baboons. Spotlight-assisted night drives may reveal porcupines, aardvarks, spotted genets and civets, in addition to the larger carnivores. Other antelopes are eland, impala and steenbok.
Over 350 bird species have been identified in the area. One of the reserve's attractions is the game viewing walks and night drives on offer. The latter are not permitted in Botswana's national parks, so many visitors miss seeing nocturnal predators such as leopard, lynx and wild cat, which are reasonably common sightings in Mashatu.
The lodge offers luxury accommodation in both permanent and tented camps each designed to combine a luxury safari experience with a taste of the African bushveld.
Game drives and walking trails (with armed guides) are offered. Night drives are permitted to enable the visitor to witness rare and elusive nocturnal creatures such as the aardwolf, caracul, porcupine and leopard. Mountain biking within the reserve has become a popular adventure sport to combine game viewing with the excitement of approaching wild animals in the natural habitat. Armed game rangers oversee such excursions and add to the experience through their extensive knowledge of the bush.
Manyelanong is the name of the hill north of the village Otse, which is 15km outside Lobatse on the Gaborone road. In the sheer cliffs of the hills, the tiny Manyelanong Game Reserve protects a breeding colony of Cape vultures. The place was known for many years as Otse Vulture Colony.
The Cape vulture is an endangered species and fully protected under the laws of Botswana. Cape vultures have nested in Manyelanong for hundreds of years, but in the last 40 years or so their numbers have diminished considerably. In the late 1960s, the population dropped to 50 pair, but numbers have since increased. Today there are just under 70 breeding pairs of birds in the colony, but it is still one of the largest colonies of vultures in Botswana.
The vultures can usually be clearly seen flying about the area and, when in season, the young birds are sitting on the rocks, which cover the hill. Visitors are asked not to make excessive noise, disturb the birds in any way or leave any food lying around. At present it is though that the birds fly several hundreds of kilometres to the Kalahari Desert to scavenge food.
Nearby, north along the western side of Manyelanong Hill, is Refuge Cave, a large fault 50m up the cliff. Pottery has been found here, and the cave was probably used as a hiding place during the Boer invasions of the 1870s.
Although small, at just under 600 hectares, the Gaborone Game Reserve is now the third busiest reserve in the whole of Botswana, providing a very popular venue for bustle-weary city residents to unwind in.
Established in 1988, the park has a good network of game viewing roads, a visitors education center, a couple of picnic sites, a game hide and a remote bird hide overlooking a reeded expanse of wetland. A detailed route map is supplied at the entrance gate, a short distance off Limpopo Drive on the western side of the city.
A section of the reserve has been enclosed to protect the park's couple of rhino, which can be viewed along certain roads, in addition to which visitors can expect to see impala, kudu, ostriches, wildebeest, zebra, gemsbok, bushbuck, springbok, duiker and Africa's largest antelope, the eland.
As with much of Botswana, the Gaborone Game Reserve is very popular with bird watchers. The wide variety of habitats that the park covers from thorn scrub and woodland to riverine forest and marshland has lead to a wide variety of birds being commonly seen there, including raptors like the snake eagle, the unbelievably bright and prolific crimson boubou and the luminescent purple gallinule which inhabits the wetlands.
There are two well-maintained picnic sites and a game hide.