Botswana Wildlife: Tips for Viewing Mammals, Birds, and Other Animals
Botswana is one of Africa's success stories in which vast tracts of wilderness found here are formally conserved: 45% of the country has been set aside as national parks and wildlife reserves. This sets the stage for one of the top animal viewing destinations in Africa.
The Okavango Delta is home to aquatic-specialist antelope like red lechwe and sitatunga and supports a high density of mammals. Elephant and buffalo occur here in large herds, as do tsessebe. White and black rhino, once extinct in northern Botswana, have been reintroduced to the central regions of Moremi Game Reserve.
Botswana also hosts one of Africa's largest wild dog populations, a critically endangered carnivore, as well as lion, cheetah, spotted hyaena and leopard. In Botswana the chances of seeing rare species such as the elusive pangolin, honey badger or aardwolf are also relatively good. In contrast the Central Kalahari hosts a very different montage of mammals such as gemsbok, springbok, meerkat, brown hyaena, bat-eared and Cape fox. Roan and sable antelope prefer the broad-leafed woodland mosaic of the Linyanti and areas north of the Okavango.
Botswana, thanks to its mosaic of habitat types, is a superb birding locale with incredible diversity of 587 species. At the forefront must be the Okavango Delta, which has the richest avifauna of 464 species and is home to the hallowed Pel's Fishing-Owl, African Skimmer and important populations of endangered bird species such as Southern Ground Hornbill and Wattled Crane. More conspicuous and commonly seen are papyrus swamp specialists like Coppery-tailed Coucal, Brown Firefinch, Greater Swamp Warbler, Chirping Cisticola, Swamp Nightjar and Western Banded Snake-Eagle. Botswana further has two near-endemic species, the Slaty Egret, which has approximately 85% of its population restricted to the Delta, and the Short-clawed Lark, which has more than 90% of its global population in south-eastern Botswana.
In the mopane woodlands of the Linyanti the likes of Arnott's Chat, Bradfield's Hornbill and Coqui Francolin can be found. The Central Kalahari offers a bird community more akin to the arid west regions of the sub-region and thus has a higher rate of endemism and is not-to-be-missed on a comprehensive Botswana birding safari. Species here include Violet-eared Waxbill, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Barred Wren-Warbler, Nothern Black Korhaan, Double-banded Courser, Secretarybird, Ostrich, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Kori Bustard, Lanner Falcon and Namaqua Sandgrouse.
Botswana's generally dry and hot conditions are perfect for a varied reptilian fauna of over 130 species. These range from the approximately 72 recorded snake species, most of which are non venomous, to other fascinating reptile groups which include skinks, sand lizards, geckos, chameleons and agamas. The Okavango Delta itself is home to over 70 reptile species alone which includes sizeable populations of Nile crocodile, water monitor, Okavango hinged terrapin and Barotse water snake.
Taxonomically the reptiles in this checklist have been grouped and named according to ‘A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa' by )ohan Marias and Graham Alexander.
The term ‘amphibian' comes from the Greek – amphi: double; bios: life. This ‘double life' refers to the two phases of life that characterise most amphibians. The first is the aquatic tadpole stage, and the second an adult terrestrial stage.
The Okavango and Linyanti regions of northern Botswana are known amphibian hotspots due to the unique hydrological features of these areas which include permanent streams, swamps and seasonal floodplains dictated by annual flood regimes and summer rainfall. Around 40 species of amphibians have been recorded in Botswana, a surprisingly high tally regarding the general aridity of most of the country. It is no surprise however that 33 species alone have been documented in the Okavango Delta owing its variety of available niches. From the low vantage that a mekoro trip offers, one often sees the likes of Angolan and Long Reed Frog, both making wonderful photographic subjects.
Following the summer rains, amphibians can also be found in the Central Kalahari – breeding in the brief pools of standing water. This is the best time to see species like Boettger's Caco and Giant Bullfrog dependant on sufficient rainfall.
Tips for Wildlife Viewing
- Binoculars are essential particularly for observing birds and smaller mammal species. When larger animals are spotted at a distance, binoculars will enhance the enjoyment of those particular sightings.
- Patience is a good virtue for wildlife viewing. Spend a tittle more time at each sighting and quietly observe fascinating behavioural traits coming to the fore.
- Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to be out looking for wildlife. This is the ‘golden hour' for photography and animal activity peaks, with nocturnal species (e.g. leopard) often still active.
- During the heat of the day many animals will drink at waterholes (e.g. elephant, zebra), making this a good time to be there.
- Night drives (where available) can also be rewarding for nocturnal mammals such as genets, bushbabies, white-tailed mongoose and brown hyaena.
- Best months for bird watching are December to April when resident birds are most active and intra-African and Palaearctic migratory species are in the subregion.
Recommended Field Guides
SMITHER'S MAMMALS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA: A FIELD GUIDE
Peter Apps. Struik Publishers. ISBN: 9781868725502
Concise, informative guide on the mammal species found in southern Africa including bats, whales, dolphins and seals that can be seen along the coastline.
THE KINGDON POCKET GUIDE TO AFRICAN MAMMALS
Jonathan Kingdon. Princeton University Press. ISBN: 9780713669817
Compact and beautifully illustrated, it is ideal for use in the field, while its coverage is the most
comprehensive for any book of its size.
SASOL BIRDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
Ian Sinclair; Phil Hockey; Warwick Tarboton. Struik Publishers. ISBN: 9781868727216 The all-in-one guide to the birds of southern Africa.
A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FROGS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
Vincent Carruthers and Louis Du Preez. Struik Publishers. ISBN: 9781770074460
This guide offers the most authoritative and comprehensive treatment of frogs of the region.
A GUIDE TO THE REPTILES OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
Johan Marais and Graham Alexander. Struik Publishers. ISBN: 9781770073869
This well illustrated guide introduces the 517 species currently described in the region, arranged into three main groups – snakes and lizards, crocodiles, and shelled reptiles.