It’s Official! Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

The list of the natural world’s most extraordinary places, UNESCO’s World Heritage List, gained its 1,000th entry on June 22, 2014 with the addition of the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana.
This is the world’s largest inland delta – vital, inspiring, pristine and teeming with wildlife. Visit this truly unique and magnificent wilderness paradise, and see for yourself why it is referred to as the “jewel of the Kalahari”.

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Toyota 1000km Desert Race Is Nearly Here! (June 28-29)

For all you motorsport enthusiasts, it’s nearly time for the annual Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 (km) Desert Race. Part of the Dakar Challenge, this exciting 2-day event draws competitors and spectators from around the globe. Will you be there?

Click here to read more about this year’s race.

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Trekking the Okavango by Mokoro

Will Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the world’s largest freshwater inland delta be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? We’ll know soon, as this month (June 2014) the committee meets to announce its status. So this jUne our blogs are all about the Okavango, the vast pristine wilderness area that is one of the richest wildlife paradises on the planet.

Courtesy of National Geographic and the Okavango Wilderness Project

A good place to start is to take you along on the expedition journey of conservationist, wildlife ecologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Dr. Stephen Boyes and his team as they trek through the Okavango by mekoro with their baYei River Bushmen guides and mentors.

Click here to read about and view the amazing videos from the Okavango Wilderness Project. 

This is cool! Follow the Okavango Expedition team’s 2013 trek here: Into the Okavango

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Zebras Hoof It in Longest Land Migration in Africa

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Surprise! Africa’s longest known animal migration is not located in the Serengeti. Rather it’s the migration of Burchell’s Zebra that stretches from Namibia to Botswana—a 300+ mile seasonal trek, according to WWF. The migration—which involves up to several thousand zebra traveling in … Continue reading

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Helping People and Elephants Coexist in Botswana

Did you know Botswana has the largest wild elephant population in the world? They roam freely throughout the land, especially in Northern Botswana.

People and elephants in the Okavango Panhandle. Photo courtesy of Amanda Stronza.

With such a large elephant population, even in remote, sparsely populated regions in Botswana it is inevitable that elephants will occasionally interfere with the lives and livelihoods of farmers in the area.

So Botswana is fertile ground for field research to explore and develop viable solutions to help humans and elephants co-exist, and one interesting Ecoexist project is underway to do just that. Co-led by Dr. Amanda Stronza, associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University, and one of three co-directors of the program Ecoexist.

Click here to read about this interesting project, and view the amazing photos Dr. Stronza posted from the field.

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PHOTO ESSAY: On Safari With Ellen Barone

In November 2013 travel photojournalist Ellen Barone explored Botswana with the Botswana Tourism Organization and luxury safari experts, Extraordinary Journeys. In the photo essay that follows, Ellen shares 12 images from her adventures and the stories behind them. 

EllenBarone_Botswana_Intro

When I think of Botswana, I see vast expanses of pancake-flat land splashed with arid ochre deserts, emerald flood plains and winding ribbons of shimmering blue rivers. I hear the joyful voices of camp choirs and feel the radiating warmth of the people I met there. I remember floating down hippo-carved channels in the delta and lazy afternoon naps, saturated sunsets and 1,000 year old trees, sleeping in tented luxury and spending my days watching elephants, zebra, wild dogs and big cats.

In the photo essay below, I’ve assembled a dozen photographs from some of my favorite Botswana experiences. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed making them.

MOKORO EXPERIENCE

MOKORO EXPERIENCE

When I am asked about my adventures in Botswana, it is the experience of floating the watery wilds of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro canoe at &Beyond Xarrana that I most frequently recount. The exquisite silence. The vulnerability. The thrill of adventure and water’s edge perspective. It was pure magic.

SAVUTI LEOPARD

SAVUTI LEOPARD

Five seconds after I’d clicked the shutter on this photograph, everything changed. One moment I was sipping coffee on the deck of my tent at Savute Elephant Camp. The next, I’d locked eyes with this magnificent leopard, lifted my camera to take its photograph, and then, in a flash, the cat leapt to the ground only a few feet in front of me. A moment later, he was gone. If I didn’t have the photo to prove it, I’d be tempted to think it had been a dream.

SCENIC FLIGHTS

SCENIC FLIGHTS

The safari hopped from camp to camp, habitat to habitat, and one unforgettable experience to another with the ease of charted flights with Mack Air. With vistas like this one of the floodplains of the Khwai River basin, getting about this largely roadless country was a fabulously scenic adventure.

MACHABA CAMP

MACHABA CAMP

The newly opened (2013) Machaba Camp, situated in the Khwai River region at the eastern tongue of the Okavango Delta, is not only beautifully appointed, it also offers great value. With 10 luxury tents, the fully-inclusive, solar-powered camp is the perfect blend of gracious hospitality, affordable comfort and environmental responsibility.

MOREMI LIONESS

MOREMI LIONESS

The intensity and focus of this lioness spotted hunting in Moremi Game Reserve was both inspiring and intimidating. From the safety of the safari vehicle I was relieved that she only had eyes for a nearby zebra herd.

LILAC BREASTED ROLLER

LILAC BREASTED ROLLER

If there is proof-positive that Mother Nature is an artist, it is this bird, the Lilac Breasted Roller. A stunningly beautiful bird, it is named for its courtship flight when the male soars high into the air and then plummets down, rolling its colorful body and wings from side while screeching its mating call.

CAMP FIRE

CAMP FIRE

Botswana is a place where people still tell stories around camp fires under starlit skies. Now that I’m home, whenever I smell the earthy aroma of burning wood, feel its comforting warmth and hear the sizzling pops and wheezing hisses of a camp fire, I’m transported back to Botswana.

BOTETI RIVER

BOTETI RIVER

Meno A Kwena Tented Camp sits perched over the unpredictable Boteti River in the arid Kalahari basin. For nearly twenty drought parched years, camp owner David Dugmore and his staff pumped water to provide wildlife with a vital lifeline until the rains returned and the river flowed again in 2011. Today, the camp continues to play a strategic role for wildlife, providing precious river access in an ancient migratory corridor.

KALAHARI BUSHMEN

KALAHARI BUSHMEN

Walking with native Bushmen and learning about their hunter-gatherer culture at Meno A Kwena Tented Camp offered a rare glimpse into an endangered way of life. Using demonstration, song and dance, the walk was narrated in the extraordinary tonal clicks of the Bushmen language and translated by camp guides.

CAPE BUFFALO

CAPE BUFFALO

Every safari guide has co-opted a few jokes guaranteed to make guests laugh. Coming upon this herd of Cape Buffalo in Chobe National Park, our guide timed his punch line perfectly: “They look at you like you owe them money,” he said as this huge bull stared us down. The line works. I can’t look at this picture without a chuckle.

SINGING CAMP CHOIR

SINGING CAMP CHOIR

I loved the songs and voices of Botswana and the a cappella performances by impromptu choirs that often accompanied a camp welcome. I loved the joy, the high shrilled trills, the foot-stomping rhythms and the love that imbued the songs. For a quick soundbite, check out this youtube video of the Mombo Camp choir.

BAOBAB TREE

BAOBAB TREE

Among the oldest living trees on the planet and an icon of the African landscape, the fat baobab with its tiny leaves and water-filled trunk is known as ‘The Tree of Life’ for its ability to sustain life during extreme drought, and the ‘Upside Down Tree’ because it looks like it has been planted on its head, with its roots sticking up into the air. I photographed this magnificent baobab, estimated to be 800 to 1,000 years old, in Chobe National Park.

Ellen’s photos make us feel like we are back in Botswana! Are you ready to go? These resources make it easy:

Discover suggestions for what to pack for an African safari. 

Click here to view more Botswana photography.

 Ellen Barone is digital storyteller specializing in global adventure. You can follow her free travel updates at EllenBarone.com.

 

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Cheeseheads on Safari, July 2013

Cheeseheads on Safari. What kind of title is that? Well, if you are a fan of American football, you know the enthusiastic fans of the NFL team in Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers, call themselves “cheeseheads” (Wisconsin is nicknamed the Cheese State, for its robust dairy industry). On home game days, fans turn out in force wearing funny looking hats that look like cheese wedges … it’s quite the sight! Well, turns out some “cheeseheads” are also very enthusiastic fans of Botswana. Thanks to Sonny S. of Marshfield, WI, whose family traded cheesehead gear for safari gear for sharing their exciting family safari adventure in Botswana with us. Thanks also to Jody Schuster, Africa Director at Borton Overseas, who arranged their wonderful trip and submitted this guest blog post to us:

Footprints in the Saile Sands

Footprints in the Saile Sands

RAAWWRR! rawwr! RAAWWRR! rawWR!  RAAWWRR! RAawwR! RAWWRR! RAWWRR!

Loud at first, then echoed by a softer, purr-like meow.  Another loud roar, then the reply – a bit shrill initially and gradually turning gruffer. Throughout the night it increased crescendo, climaxing in a resounding RAAWRR duet around 2 am. Menchu (my wife) and I are enthralled by this chorus, as we huddled inside a tent at the Saile Tented Camp, pitched on the east bank of the Savuti River. We are in the Linyanti area of the Chobe Enclave, right by Chobe National Park, in the Southern African nation of Botswana. What a fitting overture to our African Symphony!

The next morning, we examine the paw prints in the soil just outside the tent. We discover mother lioness’ larger imprints, surrounded by pint-sized cub marks. Foster, our knowledgeable guide (who will be at arm’s length throughout our stay, 24/7) claimed we have little to fear, if we stay nestled in the safety of the camp. He knew the beasts obey Nature’s Rules, re, Territoriality. The Monarch of the (Savuti) Jungle / Wild Dog of the Savuti

The Monarch of the (Savuti) Jungle / Wild Dog of the Savuti

Halfway through dinner that evening, we are interrupted by a trio of anxious fishermen. As they were pulling up their nets, they encountered the King of the Jungle, Old Simba himself- surveying the menu. On our next morning’s drive, we confronted His Majesty, still firmly ensconced on his riverside throne, nonchalantly waiting to be served. We felt as if we were in a zoo, except in this case, we were on exhibit; the animals were observing us.

A herd of impala came crashing at, then around our Land Cruiser. They were being chased by a pack of howling, fierce-looking wild dogs. Foster yelled, “Hang on, folks!” and off we go in pursuit too, scrambling over bushes (now we know why it’s called The Bush), raising a cloud of dust.  The impala settle in a foot of water, the dogs perch on the riverside, we park a few yards away. We watch the dogs, as they watch the impalas, who were watching out for crocodiles (and the wild dogs!).

Three days earlier, we had checked into the Elephant Valley Lodge, situated in the far north of Botswana on the outskirts of Chobe National Park. Built on a knoll, overlooking a watering hole, the lodge is surrounded by an electric fence which we are instructed to always stay within. We ate meals at the “ Boma” (Swahili ,”meeting place”) while the animals gathered at the pond- a troop of baboons, a sounder of warthogs, a flurry of flamingos. We become collective noun authorities.

Sonny/Menchu(and friends) on the Chobe

Sonny/Menchu(and friends) on the Chobe

We went on a Chobe River cruise the next day. Zambo, our local guide, docked our dinghy by an enormous hippo that was greedily munching on papyrus, oblivious to our ‘Oohs and Ahhs’ and clicking cameras; he had grown up inured to humans. Cautiously, out of the scrub protruded a trunk, then tusks, then the torso of a bull elephant. Was he testing the water temp as he lowered his toe?  Must have been suitable because, soon after, his buddies emerge from the brush, and begin wading into the water.  In the middle of the river, the boys began wrestling and you could feel the testosterone surge as they joyfully splashed and splattered, jostled and shoved and soaked one another.

Mud wrestlers of the Chobe River

Mud wrestlers of the Chobe River

After Saile, we would fly deep into the Okavango Delta for a stay at Kanana Camp. This used to be an old hunting lodge that has been converted to luxurious accommodation for photographic safaris. Our four seater Cessna had to circle the airstrip twice to make sure that zebras (hundreds!) weren’t blocking the runway. The next three days would find us on walkabouts, boating, or out on game drives. Each locale had a particular abundance of fauna that was distinct from the others.

The Kanana Welcome Committee

The Kanana Welcome Committee

Dugout canoeing on the Okavango

Dugout canoeing on the Okavango

Jody Schuster, our travel agent, presented us with a leather bound journal pre-departure. Enclosed was a wildlife list that we would dutifully cross off. Let’s see: Giraffes, check; Leopards, check; Cape Buffalo, check; etc., etc. There is an “African Big Five Must- See” list – we had no Rhino sightings! We are saving them for our next trip…

Photos courtesy of BJ Siasoco 

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Abu Camp Announces Birth of New Elephant Calf

It’s a girl! The circle of life strikes again in Botswana. Wilderness Collection and Abu Camp are thrilled to welcome their newest calf to the Abu herd. Our hearts are melting! Wilderness Collection shared the following:

Wilderness Collection’s Abu Camp, located in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, is delighted to announce that Kitimetse, a famed member of the Abu herd, gave birth to her second calf on the 27th of November 2013. Her new calf, a female, was born at 1:39 a.m. on the most incredible starry night, hence her name, Naledi, meaning ‘star’ in Setswana.

Naledi_Born Dec 2013

Naledi taking her first steps under Kiti’s watchful eye

Naledi taking her first steps under Kiti’s watchful eye

Kitimetse, better known as Kiti, was found abandoned by her natal herd after being attacked by a crocodile. She was taken to Abu Camp where her wounds were treated and after making a full recovery, Kiti was slowly introduced to the rest of the herd. Her name means “I am lost” in Setswana and her estimated year of birth is 1996. Her first calf was Lorato, born in February 2008.

“We were thrilled with the news that Kiti was pregnant and have been waiting with anticipation for the birth of Naledi. Both mom and calf are extremely healthy and Naledi is settling in well. We look forward to the hours of enjoyment and fascination that she will give our guests who, by visiting Abu Camp, are given the rare opportunity to interact with a family group of elephants in one of Africa’s best wilderness areas”, said Wellington Jana, Abu Camp’s Elephant Manager.

The whole premise on which Abu Camp is based is that of elephant conservation and its strategy is therefore based on the research of key issues impacting the conservation of southern Africa’s elephants. Abu’s elephant program is supervised by Dr. Mike Chase, Director of Elephants Without Borders and San Diego Zoo Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, together with the support of Wild Horizons – a company with a long history in highly ethical elephant husbandry and welfare systems. It is one of the most progressive elephant reintroduction projects in the world and is devoted to the highest standards in elephant welfare, scientific research and meaningful guest experiences.

The Abu herd offers an incomparable opportunity to intimately engage and physically interact with elephants through varied activities. Shortly after arriving at camp, guests will be personally introduced to the herd, with the activities that follow over the remainder of their stay offering an all-encompassing and satisfying experience in the world of the elephant. Activities include walking with the herd, elephant-back safaris and participating in or just observing activities such as the elephants mud bathing, swimming or just moving and feeding through their natural habitat.

 Issued by: Wilderness Collection

We are over the moon over this new bundle of joy and can’t wait to hear more about Naledi’s adventures as she grows.

For more information on Abu Camp, please visit www.abucamp.com.

For more information on Wilderness Collection, please visit www.wilderness-collection.com.   

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Beautiful Botswana – A Photo Essay

This month’s guest blogger is Elizabeth Mackay, the lucky and very happy recipient of the prize trip sponsored by Botswana Tourism and industry partners at The International Ecotourism Society’s (TIES) annual conference in 2012. Liz is a tourism lecturer at The University of the West Indies, with a keen interest in sustainable tourism, so the opportunity to visit Botswana, a recognized leading sustainable tourism destination, was a dream come true. Recently returned, she wanted to share with us – and you – her delightful story…

Dumela! I’ve wrestled with the title to this photo essay because it lacks originality, yet nothing else comes to mind when I sit to write. Every time I think of Botswana, the word beautiful is there – its the word I use to describe my ten days traveling through the vastness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve into the serenity and abundance life of the Okavango Delta and finally experiencing the purity of Chobe National Park. Its the word I use for the heart of the people I encountered. Its my word for the land and the landscapes and the wildlife. Beautiful is my word for Botswana. I could write lines upon lines telling you about how beautiful Botswana is and maybe I’ld do a fair job. Instead I will show you, in hopes that each image speaks to you a thousand beautiful words.

Beauty you See

Beauty you Hear
Some things cannot be conveyed in an image, like the beauty of the Setswana language and the spirit of the people, this is where video comes in. One of my favourites, is ‘Dumela’, here.

I’m welcomed warmly at Xigera, the rendition is so heartfelt and lively you would think I arrived with a contingency rather than alone, but that’s Botswana for you – we are all important, all seen, the young and the old, alone or not – we are welcomed and embraced into the family.

Speaking of family, I will not soon forget my Chobe family, nor my last dinner in Botswana. The Food and Beverage department went above and beyond – they set up private dining areas all over the property, from the stunning decks overlooking the mighty Chobe River and Namibia to the lawns and balconies of the legendary property. If this surprise (that I came to find out is not so unusual for them) weren’t enough, I was greeted with my very own personalized menu ‘Mackay and Kokomane Families’, followed by a delicious meal and roving bands of wait staff who went from table to table and serenaded us each and all.

Beauty you Feel
Special thanks are due to so many, every stop along the way held something special. Even an hour at Jao stands out in my mind and remains in my heart. It felt like I had known the General Manager, William, long before he was called on at short notice to host me for an hour due to a slight (and the only) flight delay on what was a very busy day for him. That is the beauty of Botswana that can only be experienced. It is not superficial, not a show for tourists and tourism, its in the land and the people – to whom I am deeply grateful.

Can you feel the beauty of Botswana?

Heartfelt thanks to: Botswana Tourism, Air Botswana, Chobe Game Lodge (Desert & Delta Safaris), Wilderness Safaris (Wilderness Air, Vumbura Plains, Kalahari Plains Camp), and Ngamiland Adventure Safaris (Kwetsani Camp, Jao Camp).

About Elizabeth

Liz is a real estate agent, tourism lecturer and photographer. She lives in The Bahamas with her sons and writes a real estate and lifestyle blog (www.livelifebahamas.com). Her images can be viewed on Pintrest at http://pinterest.com/LizAMackay.

 

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Our Walk through a Jurassic Park on Safari in Botswana

Our friends at Wildland Adventures recently enjoyed a safari through Botswana. They shared their story with us below. Check it out!

Our Walk through a Jurassic Park on Safari in Botswana

By Kurt Kutay, President of Wildland Adventures

Relaxed and smiling now, after our walk, but when they are leading foot safaris in the bush, Brian and Chantal are focused!

Relaxed and smiling now, after our walk, but when they are leading foot safaris in the bush, Brian and Chantal are focused!

Brian points out the leopard tracks at our feet. He kicks over a fresh pile of dung on our path where a buffalo has just passed. And, with a keen ear he listens intently to the trumpeting of a young elephant somewhere in the trees around us. “This is a Jurassic Park we’re walking through!” he exclaims in an excited whisper.

We signed up for a jaunt on foot through the bush in the Linyanti concession on our Botswana safari with expert trackers and bush guides, Brian Rode and Chantal Venter. On a walking safari I feel invigorated. All my senses come alive when I’m on foot in the African bush. For me, it’s the ultimate safari experience to get out of the vehicle and feel Africa on foot.

This is the real thing. No electric fences. No designated trails. Just us bipeds hoofing it through the bush with the most confident and competent walking safari guides in the likes of Brian and Chantal. They have made a life for themselves as wilderness safari guides providing intrepid safari travelers a closer look at the ecosystems of southern Africa. Here Brian sets forth his 5 rules of a walking safari:

Although I feel a deft sense of vulnerability, I’m not exactly on equal terms with the wildlife because between me and a wild beast are the keen eyes, ears and nose of Chantal, and the sharp aim of Brian with a 376 rifle in hand. Although in over 20 years of guiding walking safaris neither one of them have ever had to use their rifle to harm an animal protecting a guest; they are equally concerned for the protection and comfort of the game as they are for the safety of their trekkers.

Brian points out leopard prints in the sand while Chantal keeps a keen eye out in all directions.

Brian points out leopard prints in the sand while Chantal keeps a keen eye out in all directions.

They manage the animal and human interaction primarily using their keen understanding of animal behavior taking all matter of precautions not the least of which is to maintain a comfortable distance between animals and people. In fact, they always work as a pair and I noticed that while Brian was pointing out details about the flora and fauna, Chantal was always on the lookout for game that might be wandering by, ready to move us out of the way–which never happened on our 2 hour walk.

There are so many details about the bush that one discovers walking instead of riding in a vehicle. Brian found a dung beetle working over a huge elephant dropping. Throughout Africa dung beetles play an amazing role in fertilizing the bushveld. By utilizing animal feces for sustenance and egg development they spread it around and subsequently fertilize the ecosystem. Some dung beetles burrow and nest ‘in situ’ when fresh dung is discovered. Others tunnel under the soil surface and deposit dung balls they craft and roll in underground tunnels for their consumption and reproduction.

Dung beetles play a vital role in breaking down animal feces, keeping the flies down and fertilizing the habitat.

Dung beetles play a vital role in breaking down animal feces, keeping the flies down and fertilizing the habitat.

At this brief stop looking down at minutia on the ground  Brian summons the forces of the universe above to inform us of the amazing fact that dung beetles are currently the only animal, other than humans, known to navigate and orient themselves using the Milky Way!

Another thing I learned on this walking safari is that mud pans are created by elephants coming here to bathe and roll in the mud, then they walk over to nearby trees to scratch their backs depositing layers of dirt nearby.

Pans form in the bushveld when elephants congregate for a mud bath and carry it away. (Notice Chantal in the background never stops looking out for game in the vicinity.

Pans form in the bushveld when elephants congregate for a mud bath and carry it away. (Notice Chantal in the background never stops looking out for game in the vicinity.

Trees get covered in dried soil where elephants got a good scratch after their mud bath. Over years and years, and one elephant after another rolling in the mud and then walking away carry more mud on their backs the pans get formed and become larger and larger in the process.

A good scratching tree smoothed by rough elephant skin is covered in mud.

A good scratching tree smoothed by rough elephant skin is covered in mud.

Keep it wild!

Sounds like quite the adventure! For more information on Wildland Adventures, check out their safaris in Botswana here or get in contact with their Africa Program Director.  

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