An invitation to a family wedding in Johannesburg led to my wife and I visiting Africa for the first time last March. Naturally we wanted to view some wildlife in the short time available, and the initial thought was of course Kruger. However, somebody recommended Chobe National Park in Botswana and a further recommendation led us to the Bakwana Eco-lodge in Kasane. We booked in for four nights, and as rates are fully inclusive including two game drives per day this suited African neophytes like us.
Kasane is located at the north-east corner of the national park on the Chobe river with Namibia on the northern bank. It is also an easy drive to Victoria Falls and many tourists take a day trip to Chobe NP from there. Most other guests only stayed a night or two but staying slightly longer enabled us to get to know the staff and their culture a little better. We were also able to develop a relationship with our guide who by the end of our stay was doing everything he could to allow me to see the animals I was interested in.
Wildlife watching was easy, with a morning and afternoon game drive every day in open-sided four-wheel drive vehicles with a capacity of up to 10 guests and a driver/guide. While some vehicles we saw on drives were packed we never had more than one other couple with us. The guide was excellent, very knowledgeable and willing to help. Wildlife guiding is obviously a prestigious job in Botswana, one for which he had to complete an extensive course to qualify.
We were not allowed to leave the vehicle except at designated rest spots. Honestly, I could not see the difference between the rest spots and where the lions were resting one kilometre down the track, but it all seems to work. There was also the opportunity to take boat trips on the river in place of a drive, and we did that twice. Unfortunately, no night drives were allowed because of poaching. I think the problem is if you are mistaken for poachers, the results could be fatal. Botswanans take wildlife protection seriously.
Game drives went for about four hours each, giving us a total of 32 hours over the 5 days / 4 nights we were there. However, wildlife watching was not limited to the drives, there was plenty of wildlife around the lodge, which was situated in regrowth forest on the river. There was a resident population of bushbuck as well as a family of banded mongoose, while a warthog ran into the compound one day. Best there were southern galalgos in the trees in front of our tree house every night.
Chobe is known for its elephants and we must have seen around 100 on the first game drive we made. It was fascinating watching these massive animals in all aspects of their lives. There were three prides of lions in the region and we were recognizing individuals by the end of our time. My wife practically jumped into my lap when our guide virtually parked on top of a big old male and his mate. There were so many highlights but there were also disappointments. We never saw a leopard, the closest we came was parking opposite a corpse of trees in which we knew there was a female and cubs. Likewise, we saw hyena tracks but no animals. I would have liked to see more small animals but with no night drives and having to stay in the vehicles this was difficult. Sometimes though it is the small things that are memorable, watching giant millipedes making tracks in the sand, a dung beetle rolling his ball across the road, or a column of army ants on the march.
I am a bit of a bird freak and was thrilled to record 75 species of birds. Bee-eaters were a particular highlight with 6 species seen. Mammal species seen were:
1. Bush elephant
2. Vervet monkey
3. Chacma baboon
4. Southern galago
5. Smith’s bush squirrel
6. Black-backed jackal
8. Slender mongoose
9. Banded mongoose
10. Common zebra
11. Common warthog
17. Greater kudu
19. African buffalo
Almost all species were seen in abundance and multiple times. Only the slender mongoose was seen only once.