Botswana – the lion country

I was recently watching the documentary “The Last Lions” filmed in the Okavango Delta. It brought back memories of my trip to the delta a few years back, especially that of a lioness that I came across on a safari drive. The lioness had looked quite lost and distressed, looking into the distance as if searching for something. The guide told us that her pride had been shot by the villagers as they had gone into the village and attacked some dogs. This young lioness had escaped death, perhaps she had been with her cubs, when the others were killed. Whatever the reason, she didn’t seem to know that her family was no-more or perhaps she was hoping that they had survived somehow. She did not seem bothered by all the jeeps travelling alongside her. Watching the documentary, I wonder if her small pride might have been driven to the edges of the delta by other larger prides. Having moved closer to the villages and running short of food, they must have foraged into the villages and met their demise. Human villages encroaching further and further into the delta should be prevented. It is sad that the lion population, according to the National Geographic documentary, is down to 20,000 from their population of 450,000 fifty years ago.

lioness

The trip to Botswana was quite an unexpected one as it had not been on my travel list. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series had been my introduction to the country and while I had found the place fascinating, I had not thought I would visit there anytime soon. Then, I received an invitation from some family friends living in South Africa to visit them there before they returned to Sri Lanka later that year. When my colleague and I decided to visit South Africa, a friend of my colleague invited us both to travel with her to neighbouring Botswana where her relatives lived. I am glad we took her up on her invitation as the trip to Botswana remains among one of my favourite travels to-date.

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From Johannesburg, we took a flight to Gaborone. Only Air Botswana and South African airways flew into Botswana so there was not much air traffic. From Gaborone, we went on a five hour drive to Francistown, where our hosts lived.  After arriving in Francistown at the home of our host family and spending the day with them, we took a car the next morning to Planet Baobab in Gweta. The website of the B&B was lovely and we found that our expectations was met when we arrived there and were shown our quirky accommodations in traditional huts. After a restful afternoon and evening around the B&B, simply soaking in the atmosphere, we woke up early in the morning to go on our booked tour. We went on a drive to the Nxai salt pans, which were a part of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is said to be roughly the size of Switzerland and is the remnants of Lake Makgadikgadi, which dried up around 10,000 years ago.

salt pans

The driver/ guide stopped soon after we had entered the park so that we could enjoy our picnic breakfast in the middle of nowhere.

breakfast at the salt pan

While driving through the park, we came across herds of zebras. The guide informed us that it was the seasonal migration when hundreds of zebras travelled for water. I was delighted to see the beautiful zebras in the wild.

zebras

I learnt that the zebra is the national animal of the country and also that the black and white stripes in the middle of the Botswana flag, representing racial harmony, was inspired from the zebra.

zebra migration

The guide took us next to meerkat territory. One of my sisters, who is a huge fan of meerkat manor, would have loved this. We came across the cute meerkats, who seemed to be habituated to humans and seemed comfortable in coming right up to us.

meerkat family

meerkat

We stopped at Chapman’s baobab, a 3500 year old baobab tree, named so because it was used as a post office in the old days and people left messages in the tree as they travelled along the route.

Chapman's baobab

After the lovely drive around the Nxai salt pan, we returned to Planet Baobab and continued onward to Maun. Maun is considered the tourism capital of Botswana as it is the gateway to the Okavango delta, the world’s largest inland delta. The Sango safari camp staff picked us up at Maun and took us into the Okavango delta past the Moremi game reserve. At the camp, we stayed in a luxury tent with proper beds, comfortable pillows and duvets as well as an en-suite bathroom. There was no electricity at the camp and only lanterns were available. Hot water was provided, upon request, by heating a bucket of water and having it poured into the small water tank that provided the water for the shower pipes.

safari camp

During our drives in the delta, besides the lioness, we also came across elephants, a hyena and her cubs, a few giraffes, impala, red lechwe and some very colourful birds.

giraffe

elephant

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While it was a privilege and an unforgettable experience to come across some of these majestic animals in the wild, I also felt that we were being intrusive. At the Nxai salt pans, though, it had not felt intrusive and the herds of zebras and meerkat groups we came across had not seemed disturbed by our presence. However, within the Okavango delta, it felt as if we were intruding. Intruding with the numerous safari jeeps rushing at the animals and crowding them out, intruding with the expanding villages cutting down the trees depriving wild life of their natural habitat and shooting them down when they seek food from the villages. It affected me to the extent that I resolved that I would not go on another safari drive again. I hope there are stricter regulations placed on safari drive operators on the number of drives they can undertake and they are provided with training and guidelines on how to move within national parks with the least negative impact on the wild life. Places like this pristine Okavango delta need to be conserved for future generations.

OkavangoParticularly for the lions…

lioness

[I am sharing this post at Monday Escapes #35, hosted by Ting@My Travel Monkey and Allane@Packing My Suitcase and at Wanderful Wednesdays, hosted by Lauren@Lauren On Location, Van@Snow in Tromso, Isabel@The Sunny Side of This and Marcella@What a Wonderful World]

”wanderfulwednesday”