Game for Botswana

Sathya Saran | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

Earn the stripes: Though blessed with amazing wildlife, Botswana is not high on every tourist’s list   -  ISTOCK.COM

Wildlife has its own pace and place in this southern African country


The lions are not interested. Our open vehicle is within touching distance. But these lions have learnt to ignore machines on wheels and get on with their lives.

“They are six-year-old bachelors,” our guide informs us. “They must have had a feast last night, and are now digesting the meal.” Sure enough, one of them lies on his back, paws in the air, in deep slumber. Another dozes, but the twitching of his ears indicates that he is aware of our presence.

As cell phones go click-click, the tawny head lifts and the orange-ish eyes look at us. “He only sees a mass and is not threatened,” the guide goes on. Then, as one of us gets up in the hope of a closer shot, the lion reacts. He is on his feet in split seconds. “Sit down,” the guide whispers, “do not create a silhouette he can focus on.” But the beast loses interest. He moves deeper into the bush and disappears. His brother is still asleep.

The guide watches the moving beast and drives us in an arc around the bush, where he is soaking in the sun, in full view of our cameras. From a safe distance, we click photos.

Botswana, not high on many wildlife enthusiast’s list, gives us many such moments to cherish. We are on a game park trail from the south to the north, a plan that involves hours of driving on highways. We often stop to let an elephant or giraffe cross the road, or to watch deer go past, streaks of brown against the dappled green.

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Our trip takes us through three different game parks.

The Khama Rhino Sanctuary, our first stop, is set inside sandy wasteland bordering the Kalahari desert. Our cottage, deep within, is a small, tent-like thatched structure. The game drive skirts a waterhole, where we see our first rhinos. I have seen rhinos in Assam, but the African two-horned rhino looks bigger, and is not hiding in bushland. A group of white rhinos wallows in the muddy edges of the waterhole, and a gnu or wildebeest looks on disinterestedly. More explorations reveal rhino babies and warthogs, animals that love wallowing in mud. The park also has 50 black rhinos, which, unlike the grass-eating whites, choose to remain out of sight.

Our first night in the wild is uneventful. Despite the knowledge that a leopard might be prowling just outside, our only encounter is with an intimidating spider in a bathroom. Not my favourite insect, especially up close.


A few hundred kilometres north lies the Maun Sanctuary. It is freezing as we start out at six in the morning, wrapped in blankets provided by the driver of the open vehicle. We see herds of giraffes and impalas, tiny steenbok antelopes that move in pairs, wildebeest, zebrasand, after much hide-and-seek, lions. A mama elephant chides us for getting too close to her curious calf, by flapping her ears and trumpeting angrily. A hyena has made a snack of the young one’s tail, so little wonder that the mother is overcautious. Ostriches strut toward a waterhole like dancers in an act, much to the amusement of the meerkats, which stare at them with beady eyes.

After another day-long drive, at Chobe, instead of the usual suspects, we come across a blue-coated jackal patiently awaiting his turn while vultures feast on a kill. And then we find a herd of tough-looking buffaloes. The white breast of the aggressive fish eagle — a signal for all other birds to steer clear of its waters — stands out from a distance as we proceed for a boat safari in the evening. During the ride, we see elephants playing in the water or relaxing on shallow riverbeds. Hungry hippos feast on short grass noisily, making a joke of the concept of table manners. And a crocodile — sleeping with its mouth wide open — doesn’t look pretty either. The boat ride ends with a spectacular sunset, with darkness descending in slow motion as hundreds of woodpeckers return to their holes in the muddy banks.

As impressive as its birds and animals are Botswana’s driver-guides. They are polite, well-spoken and, thanks to intensive training, caring and knowledgeable about their area and its inhabitants. They also double as butlers, laying out picnic lunches and sunset teas.

Perhaps the most unforgettable sight of it all is an impromptu drama on the highway. An ostrich crosses the road. “He is a male,” our driver says, “and he is a brave guy.” Safely across, the bird stops to look back. We follow his gaze to see a few female ostriches waiting to join him. They sway this way and that, as if debating the idea, but none makes a move. Finally, with an exaggerated flap of his wings, the male strides back. A speeding car from the other side scares the pride back into the thicket, preventing us from seeing the end of the matter.

This only goes to show that when she thinks no one is watching her, Nature lets her stories unfold.

Sathya Saran is a journalist and editor based in Mumbai



Travel log


Getting there

Ethiopian Airlines is the cheapest way to get to Botswana with flights out of Mumbai. You have to change at Addis Ababa. However, it is half the price if you fly into Johannesburg and drive into Botswana.


Every game park has links with hotels, both low and high budget ones. To make the most of your foreign exchange, hire the services of a tour operator who can get you the best deals. The tour operator we used is Safari With Us (www.safariwithus.com).


Food helpings are huge, meat is aplenty and vegetarian items are also available if you let your tour operator know in advance. Packed lunches include soft drinks, water and fruit besides sandwiches and biscuits. Look out for the Tennis Biscuits. Worth carrying home.


Botswana is said to be the safest among the African countries. The roads are in great condition but expect 5-7-hour rides between game parks.


We had some cold mornings on game drives. The open vehicles come with blankets, which are a boon. Keep warm clothes for evenings. Remember, Botswana is in the Southern hemisphere.

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Published on August 31, 2018
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