Places: Botswana with Ker and Downey

2 February 2024

By: Tendai Bushe

I am looking back on my trip to Botswana with so much appreciation and joy in my heart. Ker and Downey hosted a group of 7 agents on a four-night trip in four camps. It is hard to put down in words everything that we experienced and learnt but I will do my best to share the beauty of Botswana, the very special Kalahari Game Reserve and the iconic Okavango Delta. The journey began at Maun Airport where numerous agents took over the airport all congregating with our assigned groups for the Botswana Travel and Tourism Expo pre-tours.

Dinaka Camp

We took a short flight from Maun to Dinaka Airstrip where we were met by our guides with refreshing towels - to be expected at every single airstrip pickup! After the usual welcome chat and a few safari rules we were on our way to explore Dinaka’s private concession. Our group of 7 agents + 2 hosts (Bame and Boi –two lovely ladies from Ker and Downey marketing team) was split into 2 vehicles. My guide was Ronnie- a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. As we drove through the Kalahari, he explained the differences of the area and how it is unique to most other safari destinations in Botswana and Southern Africa in general. One key thing he highlighted is that the animals are adapted to the difficult terrain- very deep sand and very hot weather. They have evolved to survive in the area and when Ronnie said the animals are bigger than their counterparts in other regions, we could not imagine just how much bigger! After a leisurely drive learning about plants and local geography we turned left into the bush and pulled up to a HUGE black maned lion- he was such a sight to behold! The size of his paws, the length of his body and the bulge of his belly was spectacular to see. We were all in awe and then Ronnie explained the dynamics of the pride. He told us the females had cubs and they would likely be close by so of course we slowly searched the area and just a few shrubs away we saw 2 lionesses. Their size could be compared to a male Lion in South Luangwa- they were big and muscular with the beautiful feline eyes that always seem to draw me in. Their cubs were hidden in the bush but after a while they popped out to feed.

We hadn’t fully soaked in their sheer size and the thrill of seeing lions on arrival but Ronnie said if we let them be for a while they might come out onto the road and we could be lucky enough to get a clear sighting of the whole pride on our way back so we took the risk to drive around in a circle and it was well worth it! On our loop around I saw a Gemsbok aka Oryx for the first time - what a majestic antelope! We saw lots of Steenboks as well – very cute little antelopes. On our loop back we found the lions spread out on the road! Seeing the pride all together lazing in the sandy road was so special. The cubs are a lot more active than the adults so watching them playing together, following and climbing on the big males to the point of annoyance was very cute and entertaining. We took our photos and left for camp. On arrival we were greeted by joyous song. We headed to the welcome area and before we could fully settle down for our orientation, we saw Zebras coming to the waterhole right in front of the camp to drink. This waterhole is such a great addition to the camp grounds because we saw many antelopes coming through to drink and after our tasty dinner just before we headed to bed, we saw a leopard having a drink- perfect way to end the night!

The next morning, we were woken up with coffee and breakfast, for those who can eat at that hour! We hit the road before the break of dawn because we had a very busy schedule. Our plan was – a short game drive, a bushman interaction and sight inspections of the hide, lookout and sleepout. We saw more antelopes on our drive, a nice herd of Wildebeest, lots of Kudu and a few impalas. It was such a different experience seeing so many other varieties of antelope in abundance. We made it to the meeting point with the San Bushmen and we hopped off the vehicle for our interactive and educational bush walk. After that we headed to the waterhole hide and saw a variety of antelopes come in for a drink as well as birds flutter around. It is such a peaceful and comfortable bunker- I would have loved to spend at least an hour in there but time was against us so we rushed off to the sleepout platform to see that location and set up. We managed to fit it all in and make it to the airstrip in time for our flight to Moremi for Okuti Camp.

Okuti Camp

After a 45-minute flight we arrived at Xakanaxa Airstrip – which several camps use for access into Moremi Game Reserve. We were met by Obi, a seasoned guide who would travel with us for the rest of the trip and keep us all in order! He is a distinct gentleman and it was a privilege to tap into his knowledge and experience his hospitality. Right off the bat we saw a leopard tortoise which was one of the agent’s major wishes so it was great to see her excitement! The great thing about travelling in groups is you are reminded about how diverse wildlife is and how many different interests people have. It gives you an appreciation for the wild and all she has to offer from big predators to smaller species to plants and geography. The Moremi Reserve is very large and it is comprised of varied landscapes between forests, open plains and swampy pond areas. We did an afternoon boat cruise which was excellent for birding. We took a detour and stopped on a bank for a beautiful surprise sundowner. We found a full bar set up with lots of snacks with the natural backdrop of the sunset. We then headed back to camp for dinner and were treated to a night of music with the camp staff choir singing and dancing before we sat down for our comforting and delicious meal!

The next day we did a game drive and we saw a variety of animals; to name a few we saw impalas, zebras, lots of monkeys, Southern Giraffe (which is the only species Botswana has) and lots of Red Lechwe. I went from only seeing pictures of Red Lechwe to seeing masses of them in the delta. The highlight of this drive was seeing a young strong lone male roaring and making his presence known one minute and him being chased by an older male the next! It was such a unique sighting to witness and watching the antelopes all scatter in dismay added to the reality of the circle of life. After that thrill we went to a secluded spot, for a coffee break. We soaked in the sun, enjoyed our beans and watched a large hippo pod interact and splash around in the large pool of water in front of us. We headed to the airstrip and jumped on our next flight to Kanana.

Kanana Camp

On arrival at Kanana Airstrip we split into 2 vehicles as usual – one with Obi and one with Ona. I was with Ona and wow, what a great communicator and spotter! We tried to swap around so all of us could experience both guides. The guides at Ker and Downey are all very well educated, informed and interactive. Keep in mind, the guides do not drive with a spotter (even at night) so they do it all and they do it well! Kanana Airstrip is only 4 minutes away from camp so we were able to quickly settle into camp on arrival. After we settled into our rooms, had lunch and a small rest we headed out on a game drive and canoeing combo. We drove out and saw a very relaxed gorgeous herd of elephants! Up to this point we had not seen elephants so it was so nice to see them so clearly and in a very relaxed mode despite them having quite a few young ones. We headed to the bank to get on the Mokoros and enjoy the slow and steady trip on the water. This is very good for birders, plant lovers and anyone who wants to relax and soak in the view from the river. We had to navigate our way back quicker than expected because there were some hippos ahead.

We hopped off the mokoros and had a break- bring on the gin and tonic. Before we could finish our drinks, we told to quickly pack up and get going for a special sighting. We pulled up to a leopard and although it was not clear enough for phone photography it was very clear to the naked eye. We watched the leopard for a little while and then left because it was hunting time- I hope he was successful. After dinner we went out for a night drive! This was my first true night drive and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not a fan of spotting in the dark but we saw much more than I thought we would; Elephant, Giraffe, Civet, Scrub Hares, Night Jars and Lions under the moonlight. We headed back to camp and slept peacefully ready for an early wake-up!

The next day we headed out for our game drive and pulled up to a surprise bush breakfast. The white linen table was beautifully set up and we had a chef making hot breakfast and eggs to order! After our breakfast we got back into safari mode and headed back out to see what was happening in the bush. We very randomly came across wild dogs and it ended up being such an amazing sighting - something I will never forget. We found them walking and playing around a little bit and then suddenly one started prancing off and the other 2 followed. We followed them and found them under some trees sharing a kill! The all grabbed a piece of the impala and pulled until it tore into 3 pieces and they devoured their share. It was nice to see how they shared and then cornered off to eat on their own without fighting. As if that was not special enough, we got a radio alert about 2 leopards mating and of course we raced there. We witnessed them mating a few times and learnt more about the solitary animals mating, breeding and rearing practices. While waiting in between mating sessions we saw a lilac breasted roller with a small snake in its mouth perched on a branch. It flew across to another tree and delivered the meal to the female who fed it to the little ones nesting in a hole. We ended out time at Kanana on such a high note and left for our final night of the trip at Shinde.

Shinde Camp

We got to Shinde Airstrip and were welcomed with a special surprise from the Ker and Downey team – short and sweet scenic helicopter flights for us…...another first for me! We got on the helicopter with the doors off and flew above the delta. We saw hippos, zebras, impalas and elephants from above but the best part for me was seeing the landscape. The weaving water pools, the lush green swampy ground around the pools of water and the big trees that looked so small from that perspective. After being on cloud 9 we had a special high tea set up for us at the airstrip before heading to camp to see the well renowned Shinde Camp. It is just as beautiful as expected, I see why it is so hard to get availability there! We had a very quick orientation and then we went off to see Shinde Footsteps. It was about an hour drive away and we tried not to stop because we were working against time but we had to stop for 2 hyenas we saw with cubs popping in and out of the burrow! We also stopped to see some Tsessebe antelope and a few carmine bee-eaters nesting on the ground.

On arrival at Footsteps, we were warmly received with a song. All the camp staff love singing and dancing – which is part of our culture as Africans but this particular song was special because it was in English and were able to pick up the key lyrics and sing along.  We had a quick tour of the very charming camp and enjoyed some Okavango Gin at the main area before heading out to get back to Shinde in time for dinner. The next day we had a quick breakfast and headed out for a short game drive. We had a morning departure so we could not explore the area too much and go too far but we were able to get a general idea of the landscape. We saw some Kudus, very relaxed and happily grazing. We found some Wildebeest and the herd had some playful calves that were a joy to watch! We went on a bit of a lion chase- and ended up not seeing them and getting stuck in the mud BUT teamwork makes the dreamwork and the other vehicle got us out in time to head to the airstrip for our departure flight. We said our goodbyes to all the staff and shared a special moment with our private guide Obi before we left for Kasane Airport. That was the end of this special trip where I experienced many firsts and made many memories - thank you Botswana and thank you Ker and Downey!

Our Fun Group Male Lion and Cub Lilac Breasted Roller with Snake Fire lesson with our San Guides Mokoro in the Afternoon Wild Dog Eating Oryx at Waterhole Coffee Break Leopard Mating Pair Herd of Elephants Hyenas and Cub Black Mane Lion Bush Breakfast Helicopter Horizons Beautiful Rainbow Ker and Downey Botswana

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