We were in the Botswana Bush at half-past eight, and we were very excited to be on the hunt for the leopard, the most elusive of the “Big Five” animals, as it was the only one we had not seen before.
Alex, our expert guide, spotted what appeared to be fresh footprints the night before. He swung the Toyota Land Cruiser, and we were off in pursuit. The leopard of Southern Africa is an expert at camouflage, with its light yellow coat and irregular dark square spots. It has one feature that an eagle-eyed spotter can see. This was what Lizzy had identified.
She whispered, “Look there, the tail!” As we swiveled to our left, the white tip of the tail was visible. Leopardesses often use this tail to guide their cubs in the grass. It was now confirmed that we were about to meet this magnificent creature.
As the animal stepped out of the tall, heart-shaped lovegrass, we could see its full glory. Alex identified her as being a female aged four to five years old with fur that was a reddish-orange color. Her swollen stomach indicated she was hungry and on the move.
We tracked her for the next hour at close range, Alex having to often crunch through the scrambling shrub-like ‘knobblycombretums’ trees (which immediately spring back up after they have been flattened) to stay with her.
We called her Beautiful Lady, and she seemed to be unperturbed. She would rest and stretch in the shade under a bush or tree when she wasn’t moving through the undergrowth. She sat up when she heard a low growl coming from a distance.
She eventually led us to a giant, fallen tree, whose top was across a termite hill. She crawled under the tree, then emerged at the top, gazing disdainfully outwards to the vast, open spaces. She seemed to say, “I am the Queen of everything I see,” and “This is your last look.” With that, she left, and we returned to our camp.
Botswana Safari – Great Plains Conservation
Our first-morning adventure was a five-day trip to Northern Botswana. We stayed at three camps operated by Great Plains Conservation. This company epitomizes the prosperous country’s “high quality, low-impact” tourism strategy in the Plains Conservation and its sister organization, Great Plains Foundation, which Dereck and Beverly Joubert created. They are South African photographers and filmmakers who have worked in wildlife conservation for over 30 years.
One of their best films, the thrilling The Last Lions, narrated by Jeremy Irons, will show you their incredible storytelling skills and the access they’ve gained over the years to these majestic animals. They want travelers to be able to enjoy the wilderness of Botswana by sharing their passion through their five camps.
The Foundation also employs local villagers to work in their camps and on various projects that aim to preserve and protect the animals and the increasingly fragile ecosystems in which they live.
A beautiful Lady was spotted while we stayed at the luxurious Selinda Camp. The camp is located on the banks of the Selinda Spillway, where it meets the Linyati River. The leopardess, however, was only the first of many fascinating animals and bird species that Alex and Lizzie guided us to in two separate drives on that day.
In the 130,000-hectare Selinda Reserve, we saw groups of stately, elegant giraffes nibbling on the tops and branches of trees. We also saw a variety of graceful antelopes, from the impala, red lechwe, and tsessebe to the kudu, the sable, and even the waterbuck. At sunset, we were treated to an unexpected treat when a large group of vultures, nestled in the trees, led us to a group of laughing spotted hy
We were impressed by the brave little warthog, who would be an excellent character for a children’s story. His tail was held up like a banner and also served as an antenna, warning his kind of predators. One of the most captivating sights was a family of dwarf monkeys frolicking on a termite hill before disappearing into its interior, where they sped along tunnels back to their home.
Termite mounds are scattered across Botswana’s plains and bushes. They are one of nature’s greatest wonders. These enormous structures are built by millions of blind termites, who often reach heights of six feet. They are the insect equivalent of the workers and architects of Egypt’s Pyramids.
The speed with which termites build their ‘city’ is fantastic. They can create tons of soil in a matter of seconds, and inside, they construct the queen’s cell, the brood galleries and food stores, and fungus combs. The different shapes and sizes of the mounds sparked our imagination as we drove through the area. They looked like sculptures, with Queen Victoria and a Roman Senator here and there.
We had two close encounters in Selinda Camp with large animals. Our hosts dismissed them as a regular occurrence, but they were anything but for us. The staff, who were always helpful, set up a dinner table on the deck of our tent after we arrived, exhausted and hungry from our long flight. The staff set the table for us on the patio outside our tent. We were tired and hungry after a long flight.
We grabbed a torch, pointed it in the distance, and were surprised to see a vast hippopotamus eating rich grass just a few yards below our veranda. He was oblivious to our presence.
The second beast appeared as we drove out of the camp the following day. As we turned the corner on our drive just yards from the front of the center, we were once again surprised to see the elephant. We could have almost reached out to touch him.