A Linyanti safari – one of the best safari experiences in Botswana – explores the legendary swamplands of the country’s north. Vast herds of elephant and buffalo gather here, especially in the dry winter months. The Linyanti Wildlife Reserve throngs with a staggering amount of general game and a full deck of predators that prey on them.
The remote Linyanti Wildlife Reserve is a legendary corner of Africa. My partner and I had come to this marshy area in northern Botswana to experience pure wilderness. Our luxurious, tented camp had a magical view of one of the Linyanti’s many lagoons. The camp rang with the calls of emerald-spotted wood doves, hooting away like children practicing their recorder scales.
Late one golden afternoon, we set out on the first safari. Our camp lay on an important elephant corridor, and the gentle giants were everywhere. It was not long before we ran into a large maternal herd, hastening towards the water for a sundowner drink. There was much trumpeting, splashing and mud flinging. Babies suckled beneath their behemoth mothers. Teenagers made mock charges on the vehicle, then thought better of it and returned to cavorting in the shallows.
As we drove, our guide, Lesh, told us more about this unique environment: ‘The standout feature of the area is the Linyanti River. After rising on the slopes on Mount Tembo, the Kwando River flows into Namibia’s 900-square-kilometre Linyanti Swamp. The river that flows out the other side, on the northern border of Botswana, is the Linyanti, which ultimately joins the Zambezi. Our game drives take us through the Linyanti’s floodplains, beside its lagoons and through its riverine forests. As you can see, this is Eden.’
We drove through wetlands and grasslands thronging with game. The marshy ground beside the lagoons was filled with red lechwe, waterbuck and tsessebe grazing. Lesh even managed to show us a rare sitatunga, disappearing into the reeds.
We turned a corner and drew to halt. Before us was a herd of many hundreds of zebra. ‘This is one of Botswana’s zebra migrations, which are smaller versions of the Great Wildebeest Migration of Kenya and Tanzania,’ said Lesh. ‘Each year, thousands of zebra move back and forth between the Linyanti and Savute, followed by plenty of big-cat predators. They spend the winter months here in the Linyanti area, then head south to the Savute Channel in November in expectation of summer rains and good grazing. Next winter they’ll return here again.’
Our camp lay in the midst of the hunting grounds of all the big predators, especially lion and endangered wild dog. We didn’t have to drive long before we bumped into predators. And what a sighting it was!
Rounding a bend in the sand road, a wild dog bounded past us at speed, coming within a few metres of our vehicle but paying us no heed. My heart may well have paused its beating for just a moment. The dog was on the hunt and we were of no importance to him.
Lesh spun the vehicle around and we took up the chase. After a few minutes, we came upon the dog, standing in the road over the body of an impala it had just taken down. With a few loud yelps, the rest of the pack joined him, and the animal was devoured in no time. It was a gory and shocking but elemental scene.
Our dog encounter was the climax to a magical game drive, one that I won’t forget in a hurry. We headed back to camp along the banks of a lagoon. The setting sun cast a path of molten fire on the waters of the swamp. The Linyanti: what a place.