Organization Dedicated to Wildlife Conservation, Education and Community Development in Sub-Saharan Africa Funds Researchers to Help Resolve Human/Lion Conflict]]>
Article at: http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?sid=1&aid=736&dir=2011/May/Wednesday11
I can’t decide if what I have suffered from the past two days is jet lag or Africa Withdrawl Syndrome – but I must being coming out of it a bit as I am at the computer actually writing. Since arriving stateside late Wednesday night I have logged on several times with all the good intentions of writing a trip report while it is all so fresh. But the minute I start a report, some good memory floods my mind, my eyes glaze over, my fingers hover over the keyboard and I’m back There again and it is such a lovely place to be – even if only in my mind – I don’t want to break the spell – I step away from the computer again.
I called this trip the “People and Predators” tour. My husband called our “Second Trip of a Lifetime”. It was both.
I will start with the Predators, since most people want to know about the sightings.
Our first encounter with African wildlife began in Maun. There are donkeys everywhere there.
A group stationed themselves on the river road in front of our room at the Maun Lodge, eating the vegetation and occasionally providing us with song ( ? ).
Then it was into the bush. First stop Chitabe Lediba with our guide Newman. A word about Newman – he is my hero. Our first afternoon game drive started out with a couple who were birders – avid birders. Now, I have gained an appreciation of birds in Africa but our goal that afternoon was to have a sundowner at the hippo pool and see the dead giraffe that the crocodiles were slowly eating and pulling into the water. Not that I was all that keen to see and smell the dead giraffe – but this was my predators tour. We didn’t make it to the dead giraffe because after another stop to photograph yet another African dove the starter on the Landie protested and failed. Newman set up sundowners when it appeared there was no quick fix. Did I mention Newman is my hero? He kept working on the vehicle with just the Leatherman tool – a spark flew and the dead starter was resurrected. By then it was too late to see the dead giraffe, so we started back to camp.
Out came the spotlight – “We are looking for the eyes” Newman informed us “don’t look for shapes – look for the eyes” We were getting guiding lessons along with the game drive. Lots of eyes – lots of impala, tseebee, bushbuck. A million stars overhead. We hit a straight stretch on the winding dirt path. Newman gave the Landie a little more gas, going at a good clip, when suddenly he stopped, threw it in reverse, stopped again and peered down to the loose dirt on the side of the road.
“Fresh lion tracks” he said as he pointed to the earth. How did he do that?
With a quick right turn into the bush, we found we were just twenty feet from our first lioness. She posed in majestic glory, then turned to the left and vanished in the bush. With one hand holding the spotlight, the other steering we kept up with her until she settled near the mopane woodland.
Somehow during all of this Newman had radioed the other guides and after we had our chance (never our fill) of admiring the pregnant beauty we left the scene.
Sunday – the morning game drive goal – the dead giraffe and the hippo pool. As we made our way from camp Newman got a call. A male lion was spotted quite a distance from where we were. A vote was taken, we opted for the lion, fur and fangs over dead and smelly any day. The birders might have felt short changed that morning as they received the abbreviated descriptions and names of the same birds we’d seen the day before and when we did stop there was time for only a couple of photos. We found the other vehicles around the male and his mate. The male was magnificent but getting ready for siesta. The female, the same pregnant lady from the night before was still on the move, looking for a quiet corner, which she found in the mopane again.
We headed back to camp, not too disappointed that we didn’t get to see the dead giraffe.
As we got into the vehicle for the afternoon game drive Newman said to us “Okay folks, we didn’t get to see the dead giraffe this morning, so we go there now and we have a beautiful sundowner next to the hippo pool” The best laid plans….
We were waylaid by huge dazzles of zebra, giraffe and so many birds that even our vehicle mates put down their cameras and notebooks for awhile. We cruised by the Gometi channel and began to work our way to the dead giraffe. A pair of black-backed jackals grabbed our attention before darting away. We continued down the road. We came to a large tree and Newman stopped – female leopard!! We watched her glide down the tree, strike a pose and sashay down the road. We followed her for a while then she headed to the thicket, blending in like a fade out shot. One minute she was there, the next, she was gone.
“Sorry folks no time for the dead giraffe now” Newman apologized.
After a quick sundowner on the side of the road we headed toward camp. But Newman wasn’t done with us yet, we followed a pair of porcupines down the road, had a quick glimpse of a spotted genet, bushbabies played peek-a-boo from treetops and we watched the eyes of springhares in the dark do the bouncy bounce along the side of the road. (I can’t figure out if those springhares remind me a Disney Toon or Tim Burton characters).
As Newman dropped us off at camp I said “Newman, you are my hero. Can we find a cheetah tomorrow – you’ve shown us everything else.” “We will see” he replied with a smile.
Monday morning - “Today we will make it to the hippo pool” Newman declared.
“Well finally” I whispered to my husband “All those darn cats have kept us from the dead giraffe for two days”.
Just as we crossed the second bridge out of camp a golden shadow hovered on the edge of the early morning mist. An older lioness emerged. She came up to the vehicle then ambled down the road in the direction of camp.
On with our quest to see the dead giraffe. We were near a pond when Newman stopped suddenly. By now, as you can guess – when Newman stops suddenly it means something really good is about to happen. “”Shh – shh – shh” he warned us – “Cheetah” And there she was – a lone female finishing up her impala breakfast. We spent a half-hour in blessed silence, watching and listening to her eat. Due to a very full belly, she got up slowly, stretched and moved on into the bush. Not to repeat myself but, Newman is my hero.
Then it was on to the dead giraffe. First we had coffee by the hippo pool – it was a lovely spot and I can see why it is on Newman’s break-spot list. Then finally, onto the dead giraffe. Even Newman was surprised to see that the giraffe had been completely pulled into the water by the crocodiles. The sixteen viewable crocs in the water and the two fat bellied boys on the far shore of the pond looked completely sated, so we didn’t witness any feeding frenzies. And thankfully the carcass had just begun to stink.
On the way back to camp we were blessed with another lion sighting. This time, a lioness with two eight-month old cubs rested in the shade, with another lioness keeping watch nearby.
Our final night drive at Chitabe Lediba brought us back to the group by the airstrip. The females and cubs were still on siesta and not far away the handsome male roamed the perimeters of their resting spot.
The next morning game drive on the way to the airstrip – we were given a farewell by a shy male leopard and a troop of baboons that was overloaded with clowish babies.
Duba Plains – Disclaimer here – I quizzed and requizzed the guides to make sure I had the names of the different lion prides correct. I remember that some people wanted to know what the dynamics were as the shift seems to be the Skimmer male expanding his territory and taking over the Tsaro females who used to be aligned with the Duba Boys. I hope I recorded everything correctly.
We arrived at Duba Plains in time for a short siesta and tea before heading out with our guide, Lets for evening drive. It is a little disconcerting when your guide informs you that he is famous in Botswana – for rolling a tractor. We were in a newer vehicle, which we found out later rides a bit lower to the ground than the others, and the flood was coming in, which meant a lot of deep water crossings. This was to be our first private drive. We came to a troop of baboons having dinner in a lily filled pond. Then our first, but not last aardwolf sighting. Our first lion sighting came as the sun was setting – grandmother, mother and daughter from the Tsaro pride were napping next to a termite mound. The radio crackled, another sighting – with cubs! It was quite aways from where we were – Lets demonstrated his driving skills in the rush to get us there before dark. I kept thinking of his claim to fame.
It was well worth the white-knuckle ride. Three Skimmer females and five cubs were ensconced under some trees next to a watery pan. Two young males and three even tinier cubs frolicked while their mothers napped with one eye open to their young. By the time we had soaked up enough of the cubs the sun had gone down – so our sundowner was more like a night-starter.
On the way back to camp, the eerie silver form of a lioness sloshed in the watery reeds next to the Landie.
Wednesday – several sightings of temporarily dead Landies on our morning drive. The flood changes the landscape and waterscape daily. First casualty – Carlton’s vehicle stuck in the soft bottom of a watercrossing – we got to watch the feat of jacking it out of the hole and manuvering out of the water – all guides knee-deep in the water. Second casualty – the radiator hose in our vehicle sprung a leak. Another bush repair committed to video. Then it was off to see the buffalo as they were crossing over. Everyone was excited as this could be the start of some lion/buffalo interaction.
We opted to go on night-drive with another couple with Carlton as our guide. I did better with the deep-water crossings with more people in the vehicle, and the older, taller Landie. Highlights – seeing the Skimmer cubs again. We two women outvoted all the men when they were ready to move on – we couldn’t get enough of their antics. But we did move on and saw another aardwolf and side-striped jackal during our sundowner.
Driving back to camp on Kudu Road (the only road name I learned) the Skimmer male made an appearance – bossing around two Tsaro females. When they left he exerted his dominance with a roar so fierce it reverberated through our bodies. He spotlighted himself in the headlights and let loose.
Thursday – are we a vehicle curse? We started out for another private game drive. We got a call from Rueben that his vehicle was down, in the middle of lion country. We drove to his vehicle and picked up his passengers, our vehicle mates from the night before. We had a glorious morning chasing after the Skimmer male who was actively expanding his territory. He was following a Tsaro female who was hiding her sub-adult daughter from him – a daughter of a Duba Boy. Two females he had impressed and conquered the night before were with him. How thrilling to see a dynamic male as he bounded across the plains. As the morning wore on the big guy decided it was time for a break – he settled beneath a palm tree, his ladies took shade under another and the Tsaro mother rested under a third, keeping an ever watchful eye on the up and coming king.
After coffee and a stretch we started down the road again, only to discover we had a flat tire. This car trouble stuff seems to become a reoccurring theme. By then Rueben had his vehicle fixed and came to our rescue with a good spare as ours was flat.
We didn’t go on the afternoon game drive as my upper back went out in a major way, and though I took out the big guns of pain meds – nothing but a lie-down was going to help. We missed a night spotting of Silver Eye who is obviously pregnant by all accounts.
Friday – We awoke during the night to the violent rustle of the bushes next to our tent. But fell asleep before investigating. My wake up call was the blare of an elephant nearby – I attributed the moving bushes to the ellie. We got an escort to breakfast this morning – reason – lion tracks in camp. Actually on the pathway by our tent, leading out to the bushes. Carlton said that due to the size of the tracks, and them being in camp they reasoned that it was Junior, who along with the remaining Duba Boy, Silver Eye, and the Tsaro female with her cubs have been in hiding.
Buffalo were on the move to cross the channel so we headed out to the other side of the airstrip.
It wasn’t long before we came upon three Tsaro females purposefully striding up the road. They stopped and looked to the left. All of their attention was on what was off the road. When they started down the road again we passed and looked to see a huge herd of buffalo. The stalking had begun.
In the mopane the three took a strategy break – facing the channel now hidden by trees and brush. One came to attention and turned the opposite way – a family of warthogs was scurrying behind our vehicle and made it to a clearing where they froze. One of the cats prowled to the front of the vehicle and used it as cover to peer at the hogs. We held our breath as the other two used the thicket to flank the first cat. The skittish little hogs high tailed it into the brush when they heard a call from the Skimmer male who was following the Tsaro ladies.
We all turned our focus to the channel. When we crested a small mound we faced a sea of buffalo. The three females came out of the bush, watched, separated and began to get closer. They walked through the marsh their footfalls muted by reeds and soggy grass, flying diamonds of water droplets haloing their steps.
As we waiting, a fourth, then fifth lioness appeared. The mother of the female sub-adult was the sixth to arrive, followed by the grand old dame – the grandmother. Seven lionesses waiting and watching as the buffalo began their move across the channel. Two lionesses were missing, Silver Eye and the mother of the Duba Cubs. As the buffalo began crossing the channel, we backtracked to the airstrip, past the staff camp and across the bridge, hoping to meet them on the other side.
Our hopes were high when the radio crackled with news that lion was spotted in camp. The idea was that the lions would use the bridge themselves and we could have front row seats to a show down. But the message was garbled as we were in an area out of range. Finally the message was received by one of the other vehicles – Junior had made his way into the staff camp – no sign of the stalkers working their way across the channel.
Our afternoon drive found us with the buffalo, but no sign of the lions,
Our last morning at Duba – no morning drive – darn back out again. But we got reports from the others that the lions had hooked up with the buffalo and were patiently waiting for their moment.
Having spent a number of nights at Xigera last March – it was a homecoming of sorts. A few of the faces had changed – but we still received a lot of welcoming hugs for those who remembered us. Since Ishmael had retired and Sam had moved to another camp we were assigned to a guide named KD. Turned out he was Ishmael’s cousin and that Ishmael had trained him so we felt like we were in good hands. Our first sundowner was to be mekoro – but having done it once and probably one of the few people who didn’t like it we opted for a game drive. We were alone in the vehicle so moseyed along at a nice pace – the rest up from that morning seemed to help my back.
We saw the usual suspects, zebra, impala, kudu, red lechwe, reed buck and tseebee and got to hear a hyena near the airstrip. KD had seen our sundowner pictures from the year before and took us to a place he said was just a beautiful and he was right.
Sunday – First animal sighting – or hearing was at 2:30am when an elephant herd decided the tree next our tent would make a fine midnight snack. For the first five minutes it was a great adventure. We dozed between nocturnal feedings and the changing of the guard and got up to the hyena’s song at 5:30 thinking our wake up wasn’t that far away, plus we had hot water and the makings for coffee in our tent. Six AM came and went with no wake up and we wondered if we should make our way to the lounge on our own. I stepped out on the deck and heard clapping and loud voices. I returned to the tent –
“Honey” I said, “Breakfast has been delayed due to elephants”
Under the watchful eye of KD, we ended up treading very lightly on the boardwalk as the herd foraged between the tents.
We opted for another game drive with the couple we had met at Duba Plains. It all started tamely enough – sunrise in the bush, photo ops of various antelope species, an old impala carcass hanging from a tree, the leopard’s version of a meat locker. As we were hunting for the hyena den near the airport the call came through “Leopard sighting”. KD radioed back that he would be there in ten minutes. Gone was the leisurely drive as we raced to the site. Every couple of minutes KD would throw back the “You OK?” question and we all replies “Great”. In fact we were whooping it up a bit.
The other vehicles came into view near a small island of brush in the marsh. We could see every person on both vehicles had their cameras focused on something, but we were still too far away to get a good look. We began to slosh across the flooded plain – and got thoroughly and completed stuck in the mud. Here goes that reoccurring theme. Diya who was driving one of the other vehicles filled with travel agents came to fetch us and we left KD knee deep in mire working on getting his vehicle free.
Diya got us an eighth of a mile back towards the leopard sighting spot when splot, we went down.
The jack alone wasn’t going to work with the overloaded vehicle (ten passengers at that time) and it sunk into the mud. Diya radioed the third vehicle, which had disappeared on its merry leopard chase. The two men, my husband and Brad got out of the vehicle to help harvest logs and brush to wedge the jack. ND (the guide in the third vehicle) radioed and Diya said I should answer.
I radioed back “ND help – we’re stuck too”. He heard us and was working his way towards us, he crested a hill of a small island, then we saw him take a hard bounce and vehicle number three was stuck in the mud. The guys kept working on their respective vehicles while the ladies took photos of the event. Xigera mobile radioed that they were on their way, and made stops at each vehicle. By the time they got to our vehicle, the logs, brush and sweat had paid off and we were out of the mud and on an island in time for coffee break. By the time the break and stretch was over, KD had freed his vehicle and came for us, and Xigera mobile had helped ND get the third vehicle free. The two vehicles fill with the travel agents heading south towards camp as they had an early flight out. We rejoined KD and headed north to dry land.
We had barely kicked the mud off the tires when we encountered two leopards lounging on a tree limb with a bird’s eye view of our mudbound dilemma. I like to think that they had been laughing at us the whole time and that might account for how incredibly relaxed they were. Mother and sub-adult son descended the tree and we followed them for a leisurely half-hour as they ambled through the bushes. They stopped in the middle of the road and posed – moseyed on – stopped again to groom each other in a clearing – found another clearing to give us some good cuddle shots.
Then with a flick of their tails they did the disappearing act into the thick bush.
We ended our last day in the bush with a private boat cruise on the Boro River. No game, a few birds, lots of tall reeds, papyrus, bullrush, peace, the breeze in our faces. Stopping the motor and allowing the flood currents to take us wherever. A perfect ending to our time in the bush.]]>
“Let’s try Africa!”
“Africa? We can’t afford it!”
“Andy says we can!”
“But he does it for a living! He can afford it! Go on then have a look”
Andy was a professional wildlife photographer we had shared an elephant with & spent a few days together in India.
So here we now were in the Kalahari living with the San people for two days at the start of our 14 day camping adventure through Botswana, we are not really comfortable in hotels or lodges.
Our first two days were spent with the San Bushmen in the Kalahari. We were offered delicacies to eat, some wriggling! We were shown hunting & trapping techniques. Although now they are not allowed to hunt, “Why do the animals that were ours now belong to the government?” Robert, our interpreter translated for us.
They have no concept of government & their world is only as far as the horizon. With some sadness it was time to leave these people, we left with grass & rope bracelets gathered & made for us as we watched.
My “Safari hat” had been with me a number of years & was left as a gift along with hides & meat.
After restocking supplies in Maun we moved into the Okavango Delta to our first camp at Third Bridge site.
Our meal that night was interrupted by hyena!
We were finishing eating, when suddenly there was an almighty crash from the trailer. 2 meters away a hyena was snatching the leavings & rubbish bag, Douglas; our guide threw his chair at the beast as it loped off into the dark. An hour the following morning was spent clearing up the trail of scattered rubbish.
We continued our trip up through Moremi, Savuti into Chobe, missing every elephant on the way, it always amazes me how an elephant can hide behind the smallest of bushes.
At North Gate we had hippo grazing feet from our tent. Hyenas on the take, I still have clear in my mind watching them by lamp as they patiently wait their chance. Just a pity they have such a bad press!
We got stuck in swamp once, waited a couple of hours for another vehicle to come along.
Crossed a washed out road, water over the bonnet of the Land rover, thank God for snorkels! Would never had attempted it but there were two vehicles with winches on the far side.
Got stuck in a sand trap! We think the children from a near by village had dug it! They appeared from nowhere to push us out! Enterprising? Or what?
We lay in our tent listening to the zebra regrouping, about 0330 & set out at dawn we came across the pride in the early light, very eerie in the light & tall grass.
On our return to camp the tent was wrecked, baboons? But near by was a big bull elephant, totally unconcerned about us as we prepared breakfast. Douglas knew when to go or stay, he could read the bush, wild life & its mood. Every night we could hear the male lions patrolling their territory, Every 20 minutes, as they reached another boundary they would roar again.
At Chobe Douglas pulled in some favours & we had proper showers & beds. But after 10 nights in the bush we felt out of place with the Safari lodge clientele…..And…..No doubt we smelt a bit!
It was good to spend the next night camped out again.
This was our last night in the bush, camped on the banks of the flooded Chobe River we could hear drums drifting on the breeze & every now & then the sight of a fire on the far Zambian shore, a party we think was in full swing. It added a very thirties Hollywood atmosphere to the night.
We spent the next night at Nata lodge where if lucky bush babies come to be fed, we were lucky!
We had a trip to the Makgadikgadi Pans, highlighted by an Aardwolf sighting as it hunted at dusk.
A word of warning here, Kath, who is the mosquitoes favourite blood supply, forgot her cream with bare ankles & feet!!....Need I say more? Her story is that as we were now out of the bush she didn’t think she needed it!
Our thanks to Kirsty for great food. To Douglas for his skills & bush craft schooling, with out which we would never have contemplated or accomplished our self drive camping trip to Tanzania. And..Yup! I’m still an honorary South African who knows all the verses to Ag Pleez Deddy!
Our total for the trip was, six bottles of Morgan's, 25 species of mammal & 85 species of birds. 64 mosquito bites on one of Kath's ankles & foot, never bothered to count the other leg! We travelled in April 2004 & booked our trip through Heading South Safaris ,which has now ceased trading, Douglas I believe is still in SA, Kirsty is now in England. Our bushman experience we believe was a new venture.
All our trips are discussed & booked through the internet, we know what we want & find it better to deal direct so that we can say what we want & not have people guess what we want.
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.