We just completed Brave Africa’s very first full safari, and it was incredible! When you imagine the once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ll have on a Botswana animal safari, we hit every single one.
It was breathtaking.
If you’re looking for the best animal sightings in Botswana, we had them!
First Game Drive
From the moment our guests landed at the airstrip in the Botswana Bush, they were enjoying animals. There was an entire herd of elephants, including two babies, hanging out just at the edge of the strip. We immediately got to head over and watch the herd as the babies played. It was a joy to see one of Botswana’s most gentle and gorgeous creatures as soon as we hit the ground.
A few minutes later, we were hanging out with hippos. They gave us a bit of a show, coming out of the water and showing off. We even got a shot with a wide-open mouth! Not to mention all the birds—African Fish Eagle, Lilac Breasted Roller, African Openbill—who showed up. Then there were the antelopes such as red lechwe and tsessebe as well as crocodiles and buffalo—all within a few hours of landing in Botswana.
Last, but certainly not least, we ended our game drive with a pride of lions! The females were lying right in the open, ready for their close up pictures. We spent a good 30 minutes with them as the sun set before we made our final trek to camp for a late dinner.
Suffice it to say, our very first game drive set some very huge expectations for a mind-blowing trip. And it lived up to it!
Best Animal Sightings on our First Brave Africa Botswana Animal Safari
On a Botswana animal safari, we can never guarantee what you’ll see. However, what we can guarantee is that you’ll always experience something that’s beyond your wildest dreams. You just have to be open to the possibilities.
Here’s just a fraction of the best animal sightings we had on our first Brave Africa safari.
1. Wild Dogs Kill
National Geographic can spend months in the bush, hours sitting in the same location, just for the opportunity to see a kill. Watching a predator catch its prey is always a matter of luck and perfect timing. And while almost every safari guest dreams of seeing a kill, few if any get to actually experience it. We were lucky enough to have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It was on our final evening game drive to close out our Botswana animal safari that the unexpected happened. The day had been a bit dull. We saw a ton of animals, but nothing really new or outstanding. The entire car was just relaxing and enjoying the slower pace, when Wina ran into another guide who gave him insight into a pack of wild dogs sleeping nearby. (That’s the benefit of going on safari with a well-known guide. He knows all the other guides and they work with each other to give all of their guests a wonderful experience and the best animal sightings in Botswana.)
We headed over and got a great view of the dogs while they slept. A few other vehicles came by and then left, but because Wina is an expert, he told us to stick around and wait. He let us know that the pack would wake up soon with an incredible greeting ceremony that we wouldn’t want to miss. He also let us know that the pack looked hungry, and since wild dogs eat every day, they would wake up, greet, and then go hunt.
So, as recommended, we waited. And, in about 45 minutes, we had the show of a lifetime.
The five-dog pack woke up and had an adorable greeting ceremony composed of kisses, nizzles, squeaking, playing, and general excitement. They ended up greeting each other directly in front of our car. We had an amazing view. Then, just ten minutes later, they were off and we were on the hunt.
Wina followed the lead dog through the woods as he began the hunt and within minutes, he trotted into an open field with impala directly ahead. Suddenly, his ears lowered, his back slopped, and he was hunting with the rest of the pack trailing behind.
Unfortunately, the impala was on the edge of the forest, so we knew we would miss the chase if we stayed where we were. So, Wina had to anticipate where the wild dogs would run and try to get our car there in time.
It was a crazy 10 minutes of driving, chasing, and tracking, but we found the wild dogs just after they caught the impala at the edge of the water. Then, we got to watch the insanity as the impala was ripped apart. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we got to enjoy for over an hour.
NOTE: We have lots of videos and pictures of the kill, but it’s fairly graphic. We will need to share that content in a separate post with a warning about the nature of the film and photos as the header. For now, we’ll leave you with a decently tame picture of the Wild Dogs enjoying their kill
2. Lions, Lions, Lions Oh My!
We were privileged to run into lions five separate times during our first animal safari in Botswana. Not only did we have a pride of female lions that first night, the next morning we ran into a separate pride with even more lionesses and juveniles. It was an amazing sighting with the lionesses laying right in the open—perfect for picture taking.
Then, the very next morning, we ran into a lone lioness walking on the car path. She led us to two brothers who were new to the area. They roamed the Mopane forests as they got used to their new territory, and refused to stay still or come out in the open. We chased them for a while, but the brothers were shy, and eventually we left to explore the area for a little while with the plan to come back in an hour or so.
After much patience, we went back to check on the brothers. Wina figured they would still be in the area, but since it was now warmer, they would be settling down, so we could hopefully find them resting. After some careful tracking by Wina, we found a small herd of Kudu who were very alert. After a warning call, Wina realized the lion was VERY nearby and, a few minutes later, we got one-on-one with one of the brothers. It took some significant maneuvering to get our car into the bush, but we got there.
However, that was just the start. The big guy was still pretty hesitant about our car. Wina did not want to scare him away or upset him, so we took it very slow. We parked a ways away for a little while and let him get use to us. Once he relaxed, we moved closer. After all this negotiating, he let us park less than 10 meters away and stay with him for an hour. It was breathtaking and an African safari experience for the books.
Finally, we ran into a black-maned lion in the middle of a mating dance. It was early morning and the large male lion and lioness were resting after a long night mating, which we clearly heard from camp—they weren’t quiet. He was hiding in the bushes, but we still managed to get a few shots.
3. Cheetah on the Run
One of our most unexpected and exciting sightings was a cheetah. Seeing a cheetah is always a treat because they are so rare in Botswana. And this particular sighting, was second-to-none.
We were watching a small family of warthogs, when suddenly, Wina pointed out a shadow sitting under a tree about 25 meters away. At first, he thought it was a leopard, but the longer we stared, the more we came to realize it was a huge male cheetah enjoying the shade. He was watching the warthogs completely still.
Eventually, we decided to move a little closer, and that’s when we found out that this was a cheetah who was NOT used to vehicles. The moment he heard our car engine, he took off. The chase was on.
Wina whipped the Land Cruiser around and we attempted to chase the cheetah down, but he wasn’t interested. While we had fun during our 20-minute drive and caught glimpses of our cheetah throughout the time, he never slowed down enough to let us spend any time with him. It was still an African safari experience to remember.
4. Leopard on Her Last Day
One of our saddest sightings in the Khwai Concession was witnessing a female leopard on the very last day of her life. The leopard, named Mmatsebe (meaning marked ear), was the most well known in the area. She was an old gal with kids and grandkids, many of whom still live around Khwai. She was an exceptional hunter and an incredible leopard.
Unfortunately, age comes with difficulties.
A few days before we ran into Mmatsebe, she had gotten into a fight with one of her daughters—as witnessed by a fellow guide. Mmatsebe lost the fight. Her daughter was much stronger and the damages she took was too much to survive for long.
When we saw her, she was clearly in her last few hours. She could barely walk. In fact, she mostly stumbled, couldn’t lift her head, and was clearly exhausted and hungry. We didn’t spend much time with her once we realized she was so hurt and sick, but the little time we did enjoy was beyond memorable.
The next day, when we went to checkup on Mmatsebe, we saw that she had died. She was laying out in the open near the water—her final resting place. It was heartbreaking and every guide in Khwai couldn’t believe it was her time. Wina even shed a few tears in remembrance of the decade he had known her.
5. Elephants Close Encounter
Botswana is home to over 130,000 elephants, and we truly got to enjoy that fact on our Botswana safari experience. Not only did we see elephants at our camp watering hole almost every day, we saw dozens of herds of elephants and massive bulls throughout our Botswana animal safari.
However, what really stands out in our memory were all the close encounters we had with elephants. Four separate times, we had an elephant come within five meters of us—three times in the car and once while we ate lunch in the bush. Each time the elephant walked directly up to us and stopped so close that the elephant could have reached out with his trunk and touched us.
One particularly memorable experience occurred during one of our Bush lunches. We had set up the table and were enjoying a delicious cold meal when a massive bull elephant came out of the bushes behind the table. He walked right up to us, posturing the entire time. He was clearly curious and kept moving closer and closer. He eventually got so close that Wina had to stand up and scare him off.
The elephant gave us a huff and an ear shake, but he let Wina drive him away and we continued our lunch with bigger smiles than before.
6. Hyenas at Their Den
Hyenas are typically nocturnal creatures, so getting a chance to see them is always exciting. In Khwai, a large pack of hyena took over the old wild dogs den, making it their own. What this meant was that near sunset, if we headed to the den, we would have an excellent opportunity to see them. Best yet, at a hyena den, you have the chance to see pups—and see pups we did!
When we arrived at the den, there were three adult hyenas taking care of three very young and rambunctious pups. The pups had a blast playing with each other and we just got to sit and enjoy the show. They battled back and forth, explored their territory, annoyed their mom, and generally acted like puppies.
We had more than 45 minutes with them, watching as the puppies explored their world and their mom and aunts rested nearby. It was a magical way to spend a sunset during our first Botswana animal safari.
Warthogs might not be the first animal you think of when it comes to “best animal sightings in Botswana,” but we had so many fun encounters with these guys that I can’t help mentioning them. We ran into dozens of little warthog families made up of mom, dad, and piglets and we loved watching them.
Our favorite part: watching them run with their tails straight up in the air as a “follow the leader” signal for the rest of the family. It’s adorable!
8. Hippo Playtime
Hippos are some of the most underappreciated animals in Botswana, but we love them. Not only are they cute roly-polies out of the water, but they make amazing grunting sounds and look adorable when they flick their ears. They are also a blast to watch when they start to play.
At camp, we had a hippo, let’s name him Frank, who lived in our watering hole. Every night, he grunted his way through our dinners. And for breakfast, he put on a show. He especially loved to spin under the water and then pop out with his mouth open wide. He was quite a showman.
9. Huge Herds
Based on pictures, which tend to zoom in on a single animal, people can get the false idea that you’ll only ever see one type of animal at a time. However, that’s not the case at all. On a Botswana animal safari, you’ll drive into open fields that are filled with various herds and groups of animals all hanging out together. It’s almost like watching the opening of Lion King.
One very memorable African safari experience included a large dazzle of zebra hanging out with a confusion of wildebeest while elephants, red lechwe, hippos, and impala drank from the nearby watering hole. Everywhere we looked there were animals and it was mesmerizing.