Some people go on safari and seem to see everything, the Big Five, Wild Dogs, rare birds and the like, while their friends go on safari and just see Impala. This article will provide you with some tips to maximise your game viewing experience.
Going nowhere slowly...
One of the most helpful pieces of advice you can receive is to take your time. Enjoy the journey and the scenery. This is not a competition to see who saw all the Big Five or the most predators. This is often a tourist’s goal, but these are wild animals and they are elusive. Many people who go out with low expectations, and are willing to take their time and enjoy the journey will often see more.
Head out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Yes, you are on holiday, but if you have a sleep in you may well miss many of the animals that you came here to see. The wildlife is most active in the cooler early hours of the day before it gets too hot in the sun. A bonus of this is that the light is often better for taking photographs. In the middle of the day many animals seek deep shade and are hiding under bushes making them difficult to see.
You should also do your research before you leave. What animals do you wish to see? Many animals live in specific habitats and do not occur everywhere, so be sure to safari in a region that has animals that you want to see. This research should also tell you what time of year is best for seeing the kinds of animals you want to see. You will also learn about the habits the animals that you want to see, which will mean that you know where to find them.
Time of year
Depending on the time of year you may see different animals – some of them migrate, or different animal behaviour. As a general rule the best time for game viewing in Botswana is the end of the dry season or spring from September to November. This is because this is when the vegetation has lost much of its leaves, making it easier to see animals. However summer is the best time for twitches, as this is when you will see all the summer migrants.
Concentrate your search along water sources
The area is dry at this time of year, so many of the animal concentrate around water sources which means that you will find them in a smaller area. For this reason it is good to concentrate your search around the water sources in the region – rivers, water holes and dams. Stop and spend awhile at a waterhole and wait to see what animals come down to drink.
Watch other animals
If you know what to look for, the behaviour of antelope and birds can alert you to the presence of predators. If you come across antelope, consider switching off the engine and stopping awhile to watch them. Their behaviour can tell you about what other animals might be in the area. If Impala are standing with their necks stiff and tall and staring at a particular area, there may be a predator there.
If they are snorting in alarm, monkeys chatter and francolins and Grey Lourie calls, these are all signs that predators might be at hand. By watching other prey species you might get to see a kill. Many tourists rush around, only wanting to see Lion and Leopard and the like, but there can be as much enjoyment in seeing the regions many other animals such as the antics of Monkeys or Baboons.
Ask the locals
Speak to the guides and ask them to take you or point you in the direction of the areas where you are most likely to see the animals you are looking for. Many of the parks have a sightings board at their camps and entrance gates. These show what animals have been seen in recent days and where they have been seen. If you go to these areas, the chances of you seeing these animals are greatly increased.
Scan the bush as you drive
Drive slowly, at about 30km/hour. If you are rushing from place to place you may miss many animals that are hiding under a bush by the side of the road. As you drive scan the shady areas under bushes along the road. Look on both sides of the road. Look ahead as well to see what animals are up ahead.
Keep your voice lowered
When you wish to communicate to your companions, talk quietly or you might startle the animals you wish to observe. If you see an animal and want to stop, do not shout enthusiastically, calmly and softly communicate what it is that you have seen.