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BOTSWANA WALKING SAFARI

Story and photos by

The lion looked as if he was whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the lioness, cuddled up next to him, under an umbrella tree. We grabbed our cameras.

Lion and lioness rest under tree.
Lion and lioness rest under tree.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Don't stand up!" ordered our driver. "They may look docile, but they think you're part of the vehicle. If you stand up, you could be lunch."

Gulp.

The lions were only a tail's flick away from our four-wheel-drive open-sided vehicle. Here, in a private concession, in the Northern Botswana Okavango Delta region, there are no regulations prohibiting our driver from veering off established tracks to be within a trunk's reach of an elephant.

How to avoid attack by wild animals

Private concessions also permit night drives and foot safaris — two exciting activities banned by most national parks. You can imagine our surprise, the next day, when our guide, Gavin Ford, announced that we were going to view animals by walking through the savannah. "What about those man- (and woman-) eating lions?" we asked.

Hikers observe giraffe.
Hikers observe giraffe.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"We avoid predators by bypassing dense bush and understanding animal behaviour," he explained. "Because the possibility of unexpected encounters with wildlife exists, there are rules."

Gavin reviewed them right away. "Stay close together, in open areas, and line up in a single file in the bush, so animals see us as a single large unit. If an elephant appears suddenly, back off slowly. On the other hand, if a lion threatens you, stay rock steady. If you run, you're acting as prey and he'll follow his predator instincts and chase you."

Easier said than done. Our hearts pounded at the mere thought of a rendezvous with a bulldozer-size elephant, with no vehicle to protect us.

Wild animal footprints and spoor

Our group of eight left our tented camp at 6 a.m., when the air was cool and the rising sun turned the dry-season grasses the amber colour of lions' eyes. We walked diagonally towards a half-dozen giraffes that were plucking tender acacia leaves from the treetops with their long tongues.

Two steps into our journey, Gavin bent down. "Baboon spoor," he said, pointing to a series of footprints in the sand. Spoor is a word we heard often on this trek. It means any signs of wildlife, from paw prints and foraging marks to dung. And elephant tracks. Each footprint was so massive that the two of us could stand in it.

Guide views elephant footprints, spoor.
Guide views elephant footprints.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We crunched our way over broken branches and dried leaves, in a small thicket of trees, and peered at a herd of grazing female kudus, donkey-size antelopes with white stripes on their sides. Several metres away, a solitary male, with a magnificent set of spiralled horns, eyed us.

Carefully avoiding a bee colony (Gavin recognized the buzzing) we stepped out into open grassland. "Do you hear those starlings scolding?" asked Gavin. "It means there's a mongoose nearby." Sure enough, three banded mongooses dashed by, twittering as they ran.

Waterbucks, impalas and leopards

A lone waterbuck, looked up at us, startled. (The white ring on his rear looked like he was sitting on a freshly painted toilet seat.) Realizing that we were harmless, he merged with a herd of zebras and continued grazing.

Leopard lies on tree limb.
Leopard lies on tree limb.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Below a sausage tree, Gavin Ford noted: "Leopards often wait, up here, then pounce on impalas when they come to eat." We looked up warily, but saw no leopards.

The previous afternoon, during a game drive, we saw a leopard lounging on a low limb. She looked at us curiously, then draped her furry spotted legs and tail over the branch, yawned and fell asleep.

Toothbrush trees and red-billed hornbills

We sat in the shade to relax. Gavin reminded us that lions and warthogs also cool off under trees. We carefully looked around, but Gavin had already ensured that we were in a safe spot.

Pointing at the toothbrush tree next to us, he explained: "Chewing the root makes your teeth brilliant white and your mouth fresh-tasting."

Two red-billed hornbills landed on the tree above us. A painted lady butterfly fluttered by. Except for a lone spotted hyena, all the mammals were cooling off under shady trees. It was time to head back to our tented camp for brunch.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Abercrombie & Kent runs tours to Botswana that include four-wheel-drive and walking safaris. For more information, visit: www.abercrombiekent.com

What to Bring:

Sunscreen, comfortable sneakers or walking shoes, khaki or drab-coloured clothing, binoculars, camera and malaria pills (see your travel clinic).

More African safari and wildlife information:

How to Pick an African Safari

Luxury African Tented Safari Camps

Botswana Safari - Nxai Pan National Park

The Africa Book - A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent

The Complete African Safari Planner