Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Botswana with Natural Habitat Adventures. This two-week trip on the Secluded Botswana Photo Safari enabled our small group to view wildlife in a variety of settings, from the arid Chobe National Park to the lush Okavango Delta.

It had been 15 years since I’d visited Botswana and while the urban development was remarkable, the wildlife was more abundant than I’ve seen anywhere else in Africa.  Here are my two favorite wildlife encounters:

Tent Showers Make for Great Wildlife Viewing

After spending a day on the Chobe River, we traveled to our first tented camp.  Located on the banks of the Linyanti River, the area is home to large herds of elephants, hippos, hyenas, crocs and the occasional lion or leopard.  It was our first night “in the wild,” as wildlife wandered freely around our camp. This meant an escort to your tent after dark, where you had to remain until a guide came to retrieve you for the early game drive at 5:30 am. It was quite something trying to sleep that first night knowing that the only thing between me and the very large, wild critters, was a canvas tent with a few screened windows.  The sounds we’re accustomed to hearing–televisions, cell phones, video games, traffic–were replaced by the sounds of animals moving freely about the camp.

I spent the first couple of hours listening and trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to sleep (while guessing whether I was hearing an elephant, a hippo or a hyena).  Not wanting to wake my new roommate, I grabbed my book and a headlamp and went behind the curtain to the bathroom portion of our tent.  Yes, it’s close quarters, but I quickly realized that the full length, screened “window” in the shower faced the river and was an ideal place to sit and see what was going on outside.

With the help of the moon, I could see the animals but they couldn’t see me.

After an hour or so watching elephants wade in the water to reach the best grass, I was rewarded with a view of two adult hippos grazing with a calf right outside the window–they were almost close enough to touch.  Just as I was about to make a second attempt at sleeping, I heard a growl I’d not heard before. The silhouette of an animal with a very long tail passed between the hippos and me.  When the guides asked us at breakfast if anyone was lucky enough to have heard the leopard, I was able to say I’d seen her, too.

Elephants are Nosy Neighbors

After two nights at Linyanti, we traveled to Gomoti Camp in the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland water system.  Of all our camp sites, this one – situated near a watering hole rather than a river – had the largest wild animal population milling about.  As a result, the guides were particularly diligent about getting us to and from our tents safely.  As with Linyanti Camp, we received quite a welcome that first night, this time in the form of a curious bull elephant.

It was a warm August night so all the windows were open; my bed was a few feet from the front of the tent, which was all screen.  Shortly after my roommate and I turned in for the night, we began hearing what we were starting to think of as “typical” animal sounds, outside our basic canvas tent.  My roommate dozed off and I continued to listen, thinking how bright it was outside with the full moon and absolutely no light pollution.

Ever so quietly a shadow fell upon the front of our tent–a large shadow–that quickly became the face of a bull elephant. He walked right up to the front of our tent and peeked in.  I’m sure he was amused to see the look on my face as I tried to wake my roommate without moving around too much.  As we watched, he took his trunk and ran it up and down the zipper on the front screen a few times before moving on towards the water hole.

Having the opportunity to interact, respectfully, with these magnificent animals in their own environment was extraordinarily special.  Listening to and seeing these glorious animals up close reminded me how important it is to stay curious about this complex earth we live in.

See more photos from this Secluded Botswana Photos Safari:

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Jen Reutershan is the Deputy Director for Individual Giving at WWF.  In this role, she assists the VP with the day-to-day operations of the major and principal gift fundraising teams. She serves as the headquarters contact for regionally based gift officers, working with all areas of the organization to support the teams’ fundraising goals. She last visited Botswana in 2000 while backpacking through Africa with a friend.