Botswana Wildlife 2013 Trip Report

By John Shaw on Oct 22, 2013

Botswana is a fantastic African safari destination which should be on every wildlife photographer’s “must do” list. I led a small group there this September, and am planning a return trip as soon as possible. Botswana is about the size of Texas, and has one of the few unspoiled wilderness areas in Africa. Combine exceptional wildlife encounters with small upscale lodging (which means a very low number of tourists in most parks and preserves) and you can start to understand why I’m so high on Botswana.

Our safari group met in Johannesburg. You can’t fly into Botswana directly from the US or from Europe, so starting in Jo’burg is the best answer. Plus, this gives you a bit of relaxation after the long flights and a chance to adjust to any time change. The next morning it was only a short flight to Maun, Botswana’s fifth largest city, which lies on the southern edge of the Okavango Delta. Once we cleared customs, we were back in the air, this time in our privately-chartered aircraft to our first destination, Camp Moremi in the Moremi Game Reserve.

Camp Moremi, like many of the lodges in Botswana, is a small camp, accommodating only 22 guests in individual luxury “tents” (”villas” might be a better description). On our very first game drive, the very first photo subject we found was a leopard. Now that’s the way to start a photo safari! We stayed with the leopard until dark, then returned to camp and dinner. Over the next two days we photographed elephants, lions, fish eagles, greater kudu and many other subjects. Botswana’s wildlife has not suffered as much from poaching and exploitation as in some other African countries, so it is plentiful. And a major joy of a Botswana safari is the low number of tourists and safari vehicles. During our time at Moremi, I don’t remember ever being in a photographic situation with another vehicle working the same subject.

Then on to Savute Safari Lodge, located within Chobe National Park and operated by the same company that runs Camp Moremi. Without a doubt, if I had to name my favorite lodge where I’ve ever stayed in Africa, it would be Savute. Yes, it has luxury lodging, and, yes, the food is great. But what makes Savute stand out is the wildlife, including the wildlife right around camp. The dining area is built overlooking a water hole, filled by both natural water and a borehole, where the elephants come to drink. I don’t believe there was ever a time during our stay, day or night, when there were no elephants at the water hole. During one evening meal, the number was astounding. I started counting how many elephants were directly in front of us, and gave up when I reached 125—with even more elephants coming in. The very next morning, as we walked from our tents to our early breakfast, we noticed fresh leopard tracks along the path. Savute also gave us the opportunity to photograph a group of endangered African wild dogs; in fact, Botswana has the largest remaining population of these animals.

Our third stop in Botswana was at the Mowana Safari Lodge on the banks of the Chobe River. We used a boat specially designed for photographers to work the birds and mammals along the river, allowing for an eye-to-eye perspective. While our plans were to do both morning and evening cruises, there was a unique surprise one day. The owners of the boating operation have recently constructed an “elephant bunker” at a water hole, allowing ground level photography. Were we interested in an afternoon shoot? Well, of course, we jumped at the chance!

Victoria Falls was our final destination. We crossed into Zimbabwe, headed to a small camp on a private concession bounded by the Zambezi river gorges. Victoria Falls can be photographed from the Zambia side (the side of the actual falls) or the Zimbabwe side (facing the falls) and we did both, spending a day on each side. Then it was time to depart, back to Johannesburg and the long flights home.