Seeing big cats on safari is the dream! After all, who wouldn’t want to sit beside a lion, watch a leopard hunt, or stand in awe of a cheetah’s run? But did you know that there are more cats in Botswana than you might think?
As the next submission in our Brave Africa blog series Animals of Botswana, we’re tackling all of Botswana’s cats—big and small. Get to know all the different types of cats you could enjoy and why we love them. You could see many of these on your next game drive with us!
The largest lion on record weighed 375 kg (826 lbs).
Lions are the kings of the African bush. As an apex predator, they roam the open savannahs and grasslands of Botswana, looking for prey. They are the second-largest cat in the world, known for their strength, ferocity, and laziness. J Unfortunately, they are also becoming rarer and rarer in the wild. There are only about 20,000 African lions left, and they are listed as “Vulnerable” on the endangered species list. In Botswana, these cats are fairly prevalent with the second-largest population in all of Africa.
How to recognize lions:
Lions are easy to identify because they are massive, weighing up to 180kg (400 lbs)! Here are a few more characteristics:
- Lions have yellow-gold fur that’s generally short. Adult males typically boast a mane of long, brownish hair encircling their heads.
- Lions roar to declare territory, ward of rivals, call for backup, and communicate with their pride. Their roar can be heard up to 8km away.
- Lions are well-muscled cats with long bodies, large heads, and short legs.
Where can you find lions?
Lions can be found all across Botswana’s wilderness from the arid desert of the Kalahari to the swamplands of Moremi and the grasslands of Savuti. You’ll find lions both as solitary individuals as well as in prides of up to 40 lions. While lions can live and hunt in almost any habitat, they prefer grasslands, shrubs, and open woodlands.
Leopards are highly skilled climbers that use trees to keep prey from scavengers.
Leopards are some of the most elusive cats in all of Africa. They are nocturnal predators known for their exceptional night vision and climbing abilities. They are graceful hunters that are also incredibly adaptable. They aren’t just found in Africa. You can find leopards all over the world in a diverse array of climates, from jungles to forests and deserts across India, China, Central Asia, and Africa.
How to recognize leopards:
Arguably, leopards are one of the most beautiful cats in Botswana and all of Africa, but they are very secretive. That’s why it’s essential to know how to recognize them.
- Leopards are known for their light yellow fur covered in distinctive spots known as rosettes. These irregular dark spots are circular or square in shape and sort of look like roses.
- Leopards are medium-sized cats weighing between 24 to 53 kg (53 – 115 lbs) and are extremely muscular.
- Leopards make a very distinctive hoarse, raspy cough sound to communicate with their young and mark their territory. They can also hiss when threatened.
Bonus: Some leopards can be completely black, although this is a rare coat color that’s the opposite of albinism.
Where can you find leopards?
Botswana leopards enjoy a wide range of habitats from dense bush to forests. They enjoy both hot and cold climates, including semi-desert regions. You can find leopards on the ground as often as they are in the trees, although if they’ve made a recent kill, their dinner will almost always be in a tree to keep it out of reach of scavengers.
The most common of Botswana’s cats, leopards can be found all over, but your best chances are in the Moremi Game Reserve. However, it’s important to note that a high concentration of lion means it is less likely you’ll see a leopard, as it is too dangerous for them to hunt.
Cheetahs can accelerate faster than a sports car, reaching up to 112 km/hr in three seconds.
Cheetahs are some of the smallest of the big cats in Botswana, but they are also the fastest. They can go from 0 to 96 kilometers an hour (60 mph) in just three seconds. Even at these high speeds, cheetahs are very agile and can make sudden turns to catch their prey. They have exceptionally keen eyesight, which makes them one of the few big cats that prefer to hunt in the daylight.
How to recognize cheetahs:
As the fastest land mammal, cheetahs can be hard to come by. They are solitary by nature and highly timid, which means you have to be very lucky to see one.
- Cheetahs are smaller cats weighing between 34 and 57 kg (75 – 125 lbs). They have a thin frame, a narrow waist, and a deep chest, giving them the appearance of a long, very slender body.
- Golden in color, cheetahs have solid black spots and very distinctive black facial strips running from their eyes, which almost look like tears.
- Cheetahs are very vocal. They purr when content, and growl, hiss, spit, moan, and yowl in danger, annoyance, or to threaten other predators. One of their most distinctive sounds is the chirp, which they use when excited. It can be heard up to 2km away.
Where can you find cheetahs?
Cheetahs are nomads by nature, which means they never stay in one place for long and can cover vast distances in search of prey. They can most often be found in wide-open grasslands where it’s easier to run after prey as needed. However, because it takes a large amount of energy to catch and kill their prey, they prefer to hang out in the shade to preserve what energy they can.
Botswana is home to 25% of the world’s remaining cheetah population and is the ONLY country where the population remains stable. They can be found throughout the Okavango Delta in any area where there are open plains. Savuti typically offers your best chance.
Serval cat image courtesy of Cloudtail the Snow Leopard (Flickr).
Beyond the big cats, there are also medium-sized wild cats, such as the serval. These seldom-seen predators prey on mice, rats, and other small animals, including young antelope. They use their big ears to locate prey by sound and then use their legs to run through tall grass and pounce. They are a swift and agile Botswana cat that leaps very well and hunts mostly at night.
How to recognize servals:
Servals might be common throughout Africa, but because they prefer to live and hunt in bush, tall grass, and in dry reed beds, they are hard to spot. That means it’s essential to know what they look and sound like.
- Servals are medium-sized, slender cats, weighing between 9 – 18 kg (20-40 lbs). They have small heads, large ears, and the longest legs of any cat relative to their body size.
- They are characterized by having golden coats spotted and striped in black, including a short, black-striped tail.
- Servals are solitary cats that are incredibly territorial. That’s why you’ll hear chirps, purrs, hisses, snarls, and growls.
Where can you find servals?
Servals are active in both the daytime and at night, meaning you can see them at almost anytime. On top of that, they are listed as one of the animals of “Least Concern,” according to the IUCN Red List. However, that does not mean you’ll see a serval. Because they are smaller, they are more difficult to find, especially considering they prefer wetter areas with long grass.
You’ll have your best chance of encountering a serval in northern Botswana. They can be found in Khwai and throughout the Okavango Delta as well as in the Linyanti, Kwando, and Savuti areas. Most often, good sightings occur during night drives.
Caracal image courtesy of Andrew Halliday (Flickr).
Another rare, medium-sized cat that you might run into is the caracal. This highly secretive cat is difficult to observe, particularly since they live alone or in pairs and are active mostly at night. They are excellent leapers that can catch birds in midair, but also hunt rodents and small antelope. Remarkable hunters for their size, caracals are characterized by their ability to get within a meter of prey before pouncing.
How to recognize caracals:
Caracals are sleek cats built for sneak attacks. And they are super fast and almost silent, so seeing one in the wild is a very rare opportunity. Here’s how to recognize a caracal.
- Caracals have a robust build with long legs, short faces, and long-tufted ears. They weigh between 8 – 18 kg (18 – 40 lbs).
- Their coat is uniformly reddish tan or sandy with some lighter sections on their stomach, neck, and jaw.
- Like many smaller wild cats, they make a variety of sounds, including purrs, mews, growls, and hisses. However, these guys are mostly silent except for a “wah-wah” sound that they make when uneasy.
Where can you find caracals?
You can find caracals throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They have adapted to a wide variety of environments, which is why they are of “Least Concern” when it comes to endangered species. They mostly prefer to live in dry areas with low rainfall and lots of cover. That’s why you’re more likely to find them in savannas, marshy lowlands, semi-deserts, and scrub forests.
Your best chance of seeing a caracal—one of Botswana’s cats—is during a night drive or in the early evening. Areas such as the Kalahari and Savuti would provide the best chance of a sighting, but it is very rare.
African Wildcat image courtesy of Martin Heigan (Flickr).
Found across the African continent, the African wildcat is also known as a “bush cat.” About 10,000 years ago, some African wildcats were domesticated, which is why they are considered the ancestors of the domestic cat and have many similar features. The smallest of the cats, they primarily eat mice, rats, and other small mammals, though they will also eat birds, reptiles, and insects. Most active during the night and twilight, you’ll rarely see an African wildcat on safari.
How to recognize African wildcats:
During the daytime, African wildcats tend to hide in bushes and wait until dark to hunt. And since they are also solitary, these prolific hunters are hard to spot.
- The body of an African wildcat is similar to a domesticated cat except for their long legs. Size-wise, they weigh between 2.4 – 5.5 kg (5 – 12 lbs).
- African wildcats typically have sandy brown or yellow-gray coats with black stripes on their tails. Their chins and throats are often white with rich, reddish-brown coloring on the back of their ears, belly, and on the back of their legs.
- Look for two dark rings on their forelegs and stripes on their hind legs. Their tails also tend to have two to three rings toward the end with a black tip.
Where can you find African wildcats?
The African wildcat inhabits a wide range of landscapes, but they especially enjoy hilly and mountainous regions. However, they can also be found in deserts as well as in tropical areas, grasslands, scrublands, and more. You’ll have your best chance of seeing an African wildcat on a cloudy day or after dark, during a night drive. They are well adapted to surviving in almost any region.
Image courtesy Smithsonian Magazine. They control all copyrights.
The smallest species of wild cats, the black-footed cat is very similar to a domestic cat. However, they are considered the deadliest cat in all of Africa. They respond to the tiniest sounds and have superb night vision, making them incredible hunters. They’ll eat almost anything that moves, including insects, birds, and other small mammals. Exceptional hunters, they stalk their prey in complete silence and then pounce when the time is right.
How to recognize black-footed cats:
Black-footed cats are adorable and look very much like a cuddly domestic cat. They are incredibly rare to see, with no recent records in Botswana.
- Black-footed cats are stocky and compact, weighing between 1.3 – 1.9 kg (2.9 – 4.2 lbs).
- They are recognizable due to their rounded ears, large eyes, and short black-tipped tails.
- Their fur is used as camouflage and is varied in color. However, it’s most often between cinnamon and tawny with patterns of black or brown spots forming rings on the legs, neck, and tail.
Where can you find black-footed cats?
Black-footed cats are found in drier areas of Southern Africa. They prefer deserts of semi-arid regions where there is hot sand and mostly tall grasses and scrubs. As one of Botswana’s cats, this means areas of the Kalahari, Nxai Pan, and Makgadikgadi are their preferred hunting grounds. However, since they are nocturnal, seeing a black-footed cat is incredibly rare, not the least of which is because they are considered “Vulnerable” according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.
So Many Amazing Botswana Cats
There are so many amazing Botswana cats to see during a safari. To see them all, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled and have some amazing luck—especially for the smaller species. For lions, leopards, and cheetahs, Botswana is a lush hunting ground. Guests have strong possibilities of discovering a pride of lions or witnessing a lone leopard walking along the road, but with everything in the wild, nothing is guaranteed.
Check back on our blog and our social media regularly to learn more about our recent sightings. And don’t forget to check out our previous Animals of Botswana blogs, including Botswana Antelopes and Africa’s Big 5.
The past two months have been hectic at Brave Africa safari. After our first official safari launch in September, our team hasn’t had a moment to relax. Instead, we’ve focused on building deeper relationships throughout the safari and travel industry, including attending BTTE (Botswana Travel & Tourism Expo).
The great news is that we have an incredible team of individuals who have worked tirelessly to make this possible. They’ve given 1000% of themselves to meet new people, rekindle existing relationships, and introduce Brave Africa as the new ultra-luxury mobile safari to book in 2020 and beyond.
Here’s a little bit about what we’ve been up to during this exciting time behind the scenes with Brave Africa safari.
Giving Back to the Community
Brave Africa’s guides, Wina and Moses, dropping off food items to Safari Destinations.
In November, we had the opportunity to start giving back to the Botswana community. This is a huge piece of who we are and what we believe in. We do not want to be just another safari focused on making money and moving tourists in and out of the country. We want to make a difference not only for the wildlife but also for the Botswanan people.
We plan to do this moving forward by donating $5 a day from every guest’s trip with us to various conservation and community charities. Our team is currently doing extensive research to find the best non-profits to give to, and we’ll have that list available soon. However, we already had the opportunity to help the elderly population in Maun, and we’re so glad we got to participate.
Safari Destinations, one of Botswana’s premier travel agencies, held an annual charity drive to collect needed items for older individuals within the Maun community who require assistance. Our team got together and purchased massive bags of food goods to do our part.
For our Brave Africa safari staff—all of whom are Botswanan natives—taking care of your elders is the responsibility of the community. They shared with us funny stories of being kids and being charged with walking to the store for an elder to purchase their groceries, whether they were related to the individual or knew the individual well or not. Participating in this charity event made a lot of sense and was special to our team.
A Trip to Victoria Falls
Tabona Wina (left) and Moses Teko (right)
The following week in November, our team headed up to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls to meet with travel agencies throughout the area and start building relationships. This trip was made possible thanks to Shelley Cox at Africa Conservation Travel.
Africa Conservation Travel is a travel agency that is focused on offering safari experiences dedicated to sustainable tourism and conservation-conscious itineraries. Their mission is to create awards about protecting and conserving the wildlife and habitats during every trip.
Shelley has been an integral piece of Brave Africa safari since the very beginning. She is a good friend of our owner, Tabona Wina, and has offered our team priceless guidance. We are beyond grateful to her and her company.
Thanks to Shelley’s connections and the hard work of our team, we were able to introduce Brave Africa to other members of the safari industry. We loved getting to share our mission and vision and to tell our story to travel agencies who will help us connect with guests who share our values from around the world.
Building this base of support is critical to our eventual success and helping safari-goers discover us.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with us!
Botswana Travel & Tourism Expo (BTTE)
Botswana Travel & Tourism Expo
Finally, we kicked December off with a bang with Botswana’s largest travel and tourism expo: BTTE. This unique, annual event offers an opportunity for the greater European travel industry to establish relationships and business partnerships with Botswana’s tourism industry. Every safari company, travel agency, and tour operator in Botswana attends this networking event, and we were thrilled to take part!
Held December 2rd – December 6th, in Kasane, #BTTE19 was the event of the year. Over 280 exhibitors, including 140 local operators and 140 international operators from 33 countries around the world participated. Attendees came from all over, including Argentina, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and throughout Europe.
Pano of the BTTE tent
The goal of the event is to introduce the many incredible tourism opportunities available in Botswana and to demonstrate the unique manner in which the country approaches tourism. Unlike many other African countries, Botswana is dedicated to protecting the environment and the country’s natural resources as much as possible to keep tourists coming back over and over again.
For Brave Africa safari, BTTE was an opportunity to set up a booth where attendees could come up to learn more about who we are and what we offer. We also had a table for a “Business 2 Business” event where attendees had just 15 minutes to meet our team and get to know our product before they moved on. This was an inspiring, educational, and super productive session, where we established many strategic relationships.
Wina & Moses during the brief Business 2 Business sessions
The week-long event included presentations from experts on the Botswana tourism industry as well as the different unique areas of Botswana. There were meet-and-greet sessions, workshops, cocktail dinners, and more. It was an exhausting week, but BTTE was a fantastic opportunity for Brave Africa to establish that we are here as part of the community and proud of it.
Next Up for Brave Africa Safari
In a week, our team will be heading out into the Botswana Bush to explore a possible new Brave Africa safari itinerary—the Kalahari Desert.
This southern route will possibly be available to guests during the rainy season (December – March) when the Okavango Delta is flooded and difficult to navigate. During these months, the Kalahari is in peak season because animals are leaving the floodplains for more semi-arid regions.
December and January mark the great zebra migration in the Kalahari as well as the flamingo migration in Makgadikgadi Pan. This area is also known for its beautiful black-maned lions, brown hyena, oryx/gemsbok, and more.
We’re excited to test out this potential route for our guests in 2020, which will include:
Stay tuned to learn about our adventure in a few weeks!
Brave Africa’s table banner
Before you decide where to go on your African safari, check out our ten reasons to go on safari in Botswana. We know you’ll love the Okavango Delta, Kalahari Desert, and Chobe National Park. Because if you’re looking for a safari that offers:
- 130,000 elephants
- Fewer crowds
- Conservation-focused tourism
- Incredible scenery
- 3,000 lions
- An adventurous experience
- Remote locations
- LGBTQ+ friendly policies
- Friendly people
- The best safari location in Africa
Look no further than Botswana! It’s truly a one-of-a-kind destination that everyone should experience.
1. 130,000 Elephants – The most of any African country
Botswana is known as “The Land of the Giants.” The country boasts 130,000 elephants, almost double the number of elephants you’ll find anywhere else in the world. This makes Botswana a haven and last refuge for these majestic creatures for the last 15 years.
What this means is that when you go on safari in Botswana, you’re almost guaranteed to see elephants every single day, multiple times a day. In fact, on our most recent trip out, we rarely had lunch without a few elephants stopping at a nearby watering hole to drink while we ate. Elephants roamed near our camp, came directly up to our safari car, and were almost everywhere we looked.
Botswana has the highest concentration of elephants by far.
2. Fewer Crowds — The experience is focused on quality, not quantity
The last thing you want when you go on safari is to be surrounded by crowds of people. After all, you’re heading to Africa to see the wildlife, not more tourists.
Botswana is considered the “road less traveled.” Fewer people think about Botswana when they consider locations for their African safari, and so there are far fewer tourists. For example, in Kenya’s Masai Mara, there are 7,000 beds available for tourists. In Botswana’s Linyanti Reserve (just outside of Savuti), there are only 58 beds in the same size area.
Botswana also has legislation in place that limits the number of tourists that can be in any single area. You won’t find as many tourists on safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, or the Kalahari Desert, and the camps are kept small. Most camps, including Brave Africa, max out at six tents, 12 guests. We also max out our safari vehicles at just six guests, so that every row has only two people and no middle seat.
The idea of Botswana is to have fewer crowds and more animal encounters. And isn’t that what you want?
3. Conservation Focused — Botswana is ranked #1 in the world for conservation
Botswana is considered one of the last sanctuaries in Africa with untouched wilderness, making it a haven for endangered species. More than 25% of Botswana’s land area has been set aside for parks and reserves, dedicated to protecting the stunning landscapes and wildlife.
In 2017, the Lonely Planet ranked Botswana the #1 country in the world for conservation, saying, “they keep visitor numbers deliberately lower than they could so that they can manage the environmental impact of wilderness tours.”
For example, let’s take a look at rhinos. In 2001, Botswana had no rhinos left, so the country passed serious legislation focused on combatting poachers and protecting wildlife. Poaching in Botswana was punishable by death for a few years, and they are the only country to deploy the national military to keep poachers out. Today, around 400 rhinos have been reintroduced to the Okavango Delta.
4. Incredible Scenery — Varied and stunning landscapes in the Okavango Delta, Kalahari Desert, and Chobe
Botswana is home to some of the most pristine and stunning landscapes in all of Africa. You can find a little bit of everything in the country from dusty red deserts to lush swamplands, sweeping floodplains, expansive savannahs, and vibrant forests. Honestly, during one all-day game drive, you can travel through a complete range of raw, rugged, and stunning landscapes.
In particular, the magical Okavango Delta stands out as Botswana’s main draw. It’s 16,000- square kilometers of wilderness with some of the densest wildlife in the world. The area is considered one of the largest inland water systems on the planet and home to one of Africa’s most diverse and vibrant ecosystems.
It’s a dazzling area with an abundance of lions, wild dogs, leopards, hippos, elephants, giraffe, kudu, and more. Then, there’s the Kalahari Desert that extends 900,000 square kilometers and covers much of Botswana. A semi-desert, it offers vast tracts of land that are excellent for grazing after good rains. This area is home to black-manned lions, oryx gazelle, and the incredible flamingo migration in Makagadikgadi Pans.
5. 3,000 Lions — Second only to Tanzania in lion populations
Lions can also be found throughout Botswana. In fact, after Tanzania, Botswana claims the largest population of lions in Africa. They thrive throughout the Okavango Delta, Central Kalahari, and Savuti. Best yet, lions in Botswana have some unique distinctions.
The Kalahari Desert is the only place in the world where you can see black-manned lions. These lions are known for their massive size and beautiful manes. Beyond their stunning manes, they also tend to have higher levels of testosterone, a better chance of survival, and a healthier disposition.
Then, in Savuti, there’s a pride of lions known as elephant killers. This incredible pride has learned how to take down adult elephants. While it’s not something you particularly want to witness, it makes the Savuti lions stand out for their unique hunting habits.
6. Adventurous Experience — Harkens back to the original safari experience
Since there are fewer tourists in Botswana, it creates a more intimate safari experience. It also translates into a much more adventurous safari that harkens back to the old days when Africa was relatively untouched by the rest of the world.
When you go on Safari in South Africa, Kenya, or Tanzania, you’ll notice that the animals tend to be very tame. Just search for videos on YouTube of cheetahs jumping on cars or a herd of zebra walking right near a car. There are so many tourists funneled through these destinations every year that the animals are desensitized. You might as well be at a zoo for all the attention the wildlife will pay to you.
That’s not the case in Botswana. Many animals in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert are still skittish around cars and people, which makes for a very different experience. It truly feels like you’re in the middle of the African Bush searching for incredible animals. Every day is an adventure, wondering what you’ll find and encounter. And because the animals are less used to humans, you always feel privileged when you have a fantastic sighting.
For example, we ran into a cheetah on our last time out that clearly did not recognize the sound of vehicles. As soon as it heard our engine, it took the cautious approach and disappeared. And while it was disappointing not to have more time with the cheetah, it was incredible to think that we may have been some of the first people to ever see him.
When you go on safari in Botswana, you feel more like an explorer, braving uncharted territory. And you feel grateful and proud of every perfect picture captured, and experience enjoyed.
7. Remote Safari Destinations — Bush planes are required to go on safari in Botswana
Part of the adventure experience in Botswana is getting to your camp. While you’ll drive most places in South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania, Botswana requires bush planes. The Okavango Delta is massive and can swell to three times its permanent size in the rainy season. This means that driving to your remote camp isn’t feasible. Instead, you have to fly into dirt airstrips.
We think this remoteness is what makes Botswana so incredible. There are no roads near your camp, just dirt paths. A Botswana safari is truly an exclusive and immersive experience where it’s all about the wilderness.
8. LGBTQ Friendly —Tolerance is promoted, and same-sex relationships are legal
This year, Botswana’s High Court unanimously voted to overturn laws that criminalize homosexuality. It was a momentous win for the LGBTQ+ community in Botswana and reflects the values of Botswana’s society.
During the ruling, Judge Michael Leburu admitted that the current laws were “discriminatory” to the LGBTQ community and violated Botswana’s constitution. He argued that overturning them was a matter of “protecting human rights.”
Botswana is actually one of Africa’s most stable democracies. In 2010, they changed their employment act to prevent discrimination against the LGBTQ community. And in 2017, the High Court ruled in favor of a transgender man who sought legal recognition as a male.
9. Friendly People —Botswanans are some of the nicest people you’ll meet
Botswana might be one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with a population of just over 2 million, but its people are the best. Botswanans are some of the friendliest and most accommodating people that you’ll meet. They take great pride in their country and in giving their best in everything they do.
You’ll be welcomed into Botswana with warm smiles and open hearts. Culturally, singing is incredibly important, so you’ll likely enjoy a song or two during your visit. You might even get to enjoy a few ululations on behalf of Botswanan women, as they show their excitement and happiness.
10. Best Safari Location — Botswana is regularly ranked as one of the best safari destinations
Chobe National Park is ranked as the #3 best safari destination in Africa by Fodors. It earns this prestigious title because of its incredibly dense game concentration. The area is “teeming with wildlife year-round,” Fodors writes. They also call Chobe a “stronghold of endangered species such as wild dog, cheetah, and brown hyena.” In particular, they recommend the Savuti Marsh, which we visit on our safaris.
CNN Travel recently put Botswana’s Kalahari Desert on its list of the eight best safari destinations in Africa. They write, “the Kalahari Desert represents Africa at its most brutally wild.” They highlight it as a “land of pure adventure” where you can gain insight into the diversity of Africa. They state, “there’s nothing better than a two-stop safari combining the shimmering pans of the Kalahari with Okavango wetland wilderness.”
Botswana also shows up on CNN Traveler’s “Most Beautiful Countries in the World” list. They talk about the Okavango Delta, calling it a “real-world Eden, where cheetahs, zebras, buffalo, and rhinos roam freely.”
According to Conde Nast Traveler, “Your First Safari Should Be in Botswana.” The article talks about the country’s unique tourism model that focuses on fewer people, but high spenders, so the economy grows, and there’s as little impact on the environment as possible.
Lions are dying.
Over the last 25 years, 50% of lions have disappeared from the face of the earth. That means that when you watched the original The Lion King in 1994, there were almost twice as many lions in the wild as there are today, says the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN).
To put that in numbers; there are only 25,000 African lions left in the wild! That puts them on the vulnerable to extinction list, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
So, why is this happening? Aren’t African safaris and conservation efforts helping?
Why Are Lions Disappearing
- Lions used to roam the entire African continent. Now, 94% of that range is lion-free. They roam less than 660,000 square miles.
- Lions don’t have enough wild prey to eat. The bushmeat trade has forced lions to get close to humans and their livestock for food.
- Human settlements are growing and taking over more and more lion habitat. Humans are also fragmenting lion ranges, which means males have a tough time finding new prides and mates.
- Human and lion conflict is escalating. More lions are being killed, often by poison.
- Poach also poses a severe threat. Lions are valued for their skin, paws, teeth, and claws—all of which can be used in rituals and medicine in parts of Asia.
How Can We Protect Lions and Other Wildlife?
How can we change this and start protecting lions and other African wildlife? First, we have to change the conversation.
The current problem is that there is a high cost for people living beside lions, which means they don’t see the value in preserving them. This can make conservationists jobs incredibly difficult. Without a desire for peaceful coexistence, lions and humans will continue to fight for their right to live, and the lions will lose.
According to Amy Dickman, a research fellow at the Oxford Wildlife Conservation and a National Geographic grantee, the solution is to offset the burden or protecting wildlife. She told National Geographic, “If we want lions to exist in 50 years from now in any meaningful way, we need to adjust the costs and benefits so that far more of the benefits accrue at the local level and the costs are borne at the international level.”
Getting Communities Involved
What exactly does this look like? It means recognizing that local communities have a significant role in protecting lions. They have to deal with the challenges associated with living beside lions, elephants, and other dangerous creatures, so we need to provide those communities tangible benefits (rewards) for living with lions.
- Provide an incentive not to poach.
- Offer a reward for not retaliating against lions after a livestock kill.
- Provide compensation to owners to replace livestock or other property harmed by wildlife.
Donating to Conservation
Saving lions also requires money, lots of money. According to a 2018 study, it will require more than one billion dollars annually to save lions in Africa’s protected areas. Currently, there’s only about $381 million a year.
Changing the Political Mindset
Last, but certainly not least, to save the lions, political leaders need to see the value in conserving them. More than just demonstrating how beneficial wildlife is to tourism, politicians need to understand how protecting nature supports job growth, economic development, and more. We need to prove that protecting lions results in cleaner air and water, more carbon storage, and improved overall wellbeing in rural communities.
African Safaris and Conservation
Tourism is a rapidly growing industry. In 2018, more than 42 million people visited sub-Saharan Africa. Many of those tourists go on safari.
Now, some people believe that safaris can’t possibly be okay. After all, shouldn’t animals be kept away from tourists and vice versa? But that’s preservation, not conservation. If you put animals into a box to keep them safe, you’re not doing what you can to maintain habitats and change mindsets, but that’s what African safaris can do.
Responsible wildlife safaris encourage people, communities, and political leaders to save the natural environment. By bringing money into countries through wildlife tourism, you’re demonstrating that it’s more valuable to keep animals alive and thriving. You’re making animals a valuable commodity, and money speaks.
More Revenue from Conservation Safaris = Less from Illegal Activities
While it’s difficult to prove a definitive link between a drop in tourists and a rise in poaching, there’s definitely a link between the two. Tourists help protect wildlife from their sheer presence. The revenue they bring in also makes a big difference.
Mark Butcher of Imvelo Safaris told The Guardian, “When people are hungry, they don’t worry about conservation. The wildlife gets left in the care of poorly motivated and ill-equipped bureaucrats.” Basically, when tourists bring money into communities, and people can afford to live well, they don’t have to resort to illegal activities to survive.
For example, in Kenya between 1977 and 1983, visitors dropped by 70,000 a year. The loss in revenue resulted in a 60% decline in anti-poaching patrols. During that time, rhinos practically disappeared, elephant numbers plummeted, and meat poaching was bigger than ever.
The Surprising Power of Safari Photos
Maybe the most surprising power of a safari to aid in conservation is using your photos to track wildlife. Your pictures, when shared on social media can help experts track illegal wildlife trading, demonstrate which areas are most often visited by tourists, and more.
According to a recent study in Botswana, when safari tourists were asked to provide their photographs to help with conservation, they were able to estimate the densities of lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, African wild dogs, and cheetahs. The results were similar to a professional tracking survey and far more affordable.
The reality is that tourists take thousands of photos every day, and those photos can help create statistical models and provide valuable data for conservation.
Brave Africa and Conservation
Finally, African safaris can make a major difference in conservation if you choose the right operator. There are many great safari operators who give back to communities, respect wildlife, and donate to various conservation efforts. At Brave Africa, we’re also doing our part.
Though we are just barely getting started, we’re already thinking about how we can help keep Botswana pristine.
We believe that giving back to the community where we operate and taking care of our employees will make the largest difference in conservation. After all, if they live well and feel like they are a part of something valuable, then they’ll take that back home.
As part of that, one of our principal owners is Tabona Wina, a native Botswanan. Wina is the heart and soul of Brave Africa. It’s his knowledge of the Bush and creating a memorable safari experience that makes us who we are. We are one of the few safari companies who have an owner who lives in the community where we operate.
As for the rest of our employees, our goal is to be a company where they love to work. We want to be the premier employer in Botswana because we’re known for taking care of our employees in regards to compensation, benefits, and work environment.
At Brave Africa, we’re also putting our money where our mouth is ($5 a day for every guest).
- $50 from every 10-Day/9-Night itinerary will be donated to conservation efforts.
- $35 from every 7-Day/6-Night itinerary will be donated to conservation efforts.
As we said in a previous blog about Elephant conservation, we’re donating a portion of the proceeds from every guest’s stay with us to Elephants Without Borders, but that’s just the start. We also have plans to give to other charitable organizations that are all focused on conserving wildlife and nature. While we haven’t chosen what other organizations we’ll give to—more research is needed—our goal is to find nonprofits and charities that are doing great work and making a big difference.
We’ll keep you updated as we choose our charities, and we welcome your feedback. If there’s an organization that you feel is doing great work, let us know.
We love Botswana. It’s an amazing country that’s had a huge focus on conservation and protecting wildlife. Unfortunately, over the last few months, Botswana has been in the news for all the wrong reasons—mainly for Botswana’s elephants and lifting the hunting ban.
(However, we’re still cheering for the decriminalization of same-sex relationships, which was a huge win for LGBTQ rights and something we’re 100% behind and thrilled about. #LoveWins #LoveisLove)
When it comes to protecting wildlife, Botswana seems to be regressing on their conservation leadership. Back in May, Botswana—one of the last sanctuaries for African elephants—lifted its five-year ban on elephant hunting. And since that time, poaching is on the rise.
The news was as depressing as the National Geographic article about elephants in Thailand. It broke our hearts and the hearts of millions of conservationists around the world.
The question now is, “What happens next?”
Elephant Hunting in Botswana
Botswana is home to more than 130,000 elephants—one-third of Africa’s remaining population and more elephants than anywhere else on the continent by almost double. It makes going on safari in Botswana a fantastic experience. You can’t turn around without running into a herd of elephants, and considering how amazing they are, there couldn’t be anything better.
But now that pristine wilderness is in jeopardy.
Originally imposed in 2014, the goal of the hunting ban was to help declining numbers due to poaching and shrinking habitats. It worked wonderfully. The population boomed, and Botswana was ranked the best country for conservation in the world, according to Lonely Planet.
Then, increasing conflict between humans and elephants started to occur. At the same time, Botswana elected a new president who had a very different viewpoint on conservation in Botswana. So, when the five-year hunting ban reached the end of its life, the Botswana government decided not to renew.
Suddenly, Botswana—the country with conservation in its DNA—turned into just one more country that doesn’t seem to care about its wildlife (Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa all allow big game hunting as well).
So, what now? Should you refuse to go on safari in Botswana to teach the government a lesson in conservation? That’s what many celebrities have argued for including Ellen DeGeneres, and we can’t blame them.
Money speaks and saying that you’ll take away your money from Botswana until they put the hunting ban back in place, at the outset, seems like the right move. After all, if they lose tourism dollars, won’t that make them change their minds about saving Botswana’s elephants? We argue that just the opposite could happen.
Safaris are now more critical than ever!
If conservation-focused tourism dollars go down, that could make the government more willing to encourage hunting dollars to make up for the loss.
Safaris VS Hunting: One Has to Win
The reality is that what makes money is what survives. Right now, there’s a debate between what’s worth more for Botswana: hunting licenses or tourism dollars? These two avenues are in direct opposition to each other, so in the long term, only one can win, and we want it to be tourism.
Currently, tourism generates more jobs and revenue than hunting, but if you decide to not go on safari in protest of hunting, that could change. It could show that tourism isn’t as economically powerful as the government thought, and so hunting could become even more financially valuable.
Instead, we need to continue to prove that safaris are the far better choice for everyone and that that safaris and hunting cannot coexist. The government needs to choose the better option—to save Botswana’s elephants.
In an ideal world, it should be enough to say that protecting elephants is the right thing to do, but that’s not an argument that typically wins. Governments and big business only listen to one thing—money.
They ignore the fact that elephants are highly intelligent creatures that are aware of the world around them and their family. They overlook the stress that elephants undergo when one of their own is killed. They ignore that hunting is an outdated practice that should have no place in today’s world. What they don’t ignore is the bottom line.
So, although you can make countless arguments for preserving wildlife, saying that it’s better for our environment, better for future generations, and kinder, that’s not what will stop hunting. What will stop hunting is showing that not only is it not worth the money but that it actually hurts the amount of money they can bring in.
Fighting for Botswana’s Elephant
To do this, we have to continue to show that tourism safaris, which protect the environment and are kind to the animals, are the way to go. With our money, we have to demonstrate that it’s essential to keep elephants around, to continue to ban the ivory trade, to be harsh to poachers. The only way to have an impact is to spend your money on the activities (such as a Brave Africa safari) and items that you want to see more of.
It’s how we’re fighting back.
We’re also fighting for elephant conservation by donating a portion of the proceeds from every guest’s stay with us to Elephants Without Borders, a charitable organization dedicated to conserving wildlife and natural resources. They perform research, census, rescue, and education all focused on conserving Botswana’s amazing wildlife. Their goal is to change people’s perceptions in the community and on a national level with regards to the value of wildlife and managing relationships between humans and wild animals.
It’s just one more small way going on safari can help Botswana’s elephants.