Botswana is a little known gem in Southern Africa, squeezed between South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is a unique haven that has avoided the normal troubles in this part of the world. With a population of around two million and occupying an area the size of England and France combined, it is a country of vast expanses, beautiful scenery and remarkable wildlife. It is also diverse in terms of topography and landscapes, from the arid bush of the Kalahari in the west to the green lushness of the Okovango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve in the North.
At the beginning of the year I was given the opportunity to go and visit this incredible place. A good friend works for Kanana Safaris, a 250,000 hectare game farm in the Kalahari Desert near the town of Ghanzi he offered a group of us the chance to both visit him and experience a part of the world that we would otherwise never go to.
We left England on a miserable day in December and after a series of flights and a few different cities (Paris, Johannesburg and Windhoek) we arrived at Kanana. As we drove through the picturesque thatched entrance to the estate, it became clear that despite the Kalahariâ€™s official title as a desert it had an abundance of life. Before even stepping out of the vehicle we saw majestic loping giraffe, beautiful springbok and mischievous warthog as well as a plethora of bird life!Â Throughout our trip we stayed at Motswiri Lodge, a self-run game lodge, located in the centre of can area of rock pans which form a waterhole. This attracts a whole variety of animal and bird life. It was a fantastic experience to lie in bed and be able to hear the wildebeest blowing along with all the activity around the waterhole just yards away!
Despite the fact it felt like we had seen enough game, to last a lifetime, in reality this was hardly the beginning. Our first full day (with some heavy heads and still full from the braai from the night before) was dedicated to some R & R. We started by going for a game drive and saw a huge variety of game with sightings of blue and black wildebeest, impala, eland, kudu, giraffe, zebra, gemsbok, steenbok, springbok, hartebeest and ostrich. This made for some ideal photo opportunities and some truly jaw-dropping sights. Alongside the sheer diversity of the wildlife at Kanana, it was astonishing how close you could get to the wildlife â€“it was not uncommon for the vehicle to have to stop to allow animals to cross or to be sat at the Lodge and be within metres of animals at the water hole.
In addition to viewing the game, we were also given the opportunity to hunt there. Kanana is home to some of the finest plains game in Botswana, regularly breaking trophy records and as a result attracting some very discerning and experienced hunters. We were allowed to hunt in the massive cattle section of the farm, with the aim of removing any animals that would graze and therefore compete for food with the cattle. This being the case, our main quarry would be gemsbok (Oryx gazelle), blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). Both species are prolific grazers of grass.
The method we used â€“ which is widely used in hunting in Africa, is to drive around the area in specially built Land Cruisers with high seats in the back using binoculars to try and spot animals. On sighting an animal, the truck would stop and the hunter and the Professional Hunter (PH) would stalk the animal and hopefully shoot it.
As soon as my chance to hunt came around the adrenaline pulsed through my veins and I was overcome with a sense of anticipation that I have never felt before. Although I am no stranger to shooting, the difference between shooting a pheasant in South Oxfordshire and game in Africa had never seemed more apparent!
We moved off slowly in the Land Cruiser with our eyes peeled for any sign of game in the bush surrounding us. We drove for around 20 minutes before the first sight of a gemsbok and my first chance of a shot. The PH (my friend Will) and I set off armed with shooting sticks, binoculars and the rifle â€“ a .270 Steyr-Mannlicher. We stalked silently through the sandy scrub for about 200 metres before spotting the gemsbok; a large female around 70 metres away. I set up the sticks and mounted the rifle. No sooner had I done this than she disappeared and we were forced to make our way back to the Cruiser and carry on searching. After more unsuccessful stalks over a few hours, I finally got my chance. Again spotting the animals from the Cruiser â€“ this time a herd of eight gemsbok, we leapt out, conscious of the fact that we were losing light and this could well be my last chance at bagging an animal. Quickly we spotted the herd and were in the fotunate position of being able to choose which animal to shoot. The one that stood out was a mature bull with a magnificent set of horns. Expertly guided by Will, I mounted the rifle on the stick and got his vitals in my sights. He moved forward a few paces so only his head was showing. My heart stopped. I thought I had blown my chance. He raised his black and white head presenting himself perfectly for a shot. Again I mounted and gently squeezed the trigger. He dropped immediately. I was overcome with excitement and on Willâ€™s say so I made my way over to the animal, making sure to pace out the distance on my way (97 metres). I had my trophy picture taken and measured the bulls horns â€“ 39 inches just 1 inch off an award. To say I was pleased would be the understatement of the century! We hauled the animal on to the truck and headed back to skin and butcher it ready for supper.
Sat around the braai that night with beers in hand with a feast of gemsbok, we reflected on our day and our very special trip. I was grinning from ear to ear â€“ this didnâ€™t stop until we boarded the plane to leave. Botswana is a very special place with a sense of wilderness and equilibrium with nature world that I do not think can be matched by anywhere else in the world.