The opportunity of viewing a dazzling array of animals at home in some of Africa’s most unspoilt environments is the main reason for visiting Botswana for most people. The Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino and buffalo - along with a huge variety of other less famous but equally impressive animals – antelopes, giraffe, zebras, wildebeest, red lechwe, puku and hippo – can be seen in abundance in Botswana’s two main parks, Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve.
Botswana’s dry lands are home to over 150 species of reptiles. These include 72 species of snakes, such as the poisonous Mozambique spitting cobra, Egyptian cobra and black mamba. Although about 80% of snakes in Botswana are not venomous, watch out for the common and deadly puff adder. Tree snakes, known as boomslangs, are also common in the delta but generally don’t bother humans.
Lizards are everywhere; the largest are leguaans (water monitors), docile creatures that reach over 2m in length. Smaller versions, savanna leguaans, inhabit small hills and drier areas. Also present in large numbers are geckos, chameleons and rock-plated lizards.
Although Nile crocodiles are threatened elsewhere in Southern Africa, the Okavango Delta is full of them. You will hear rather than see them while gliding through the channels in a mokoro (traditional dugout canoe). Frogs of every imaginable shape, size and colour are more delightful; they jump from reeds to mokoro and back again, and provide an echoing chorus throughout the delta at night.
Botswana boasts about 8000 species of insects and spiders. The most colourful butterflies can be found along the Okavango Panhandle (the northwestern extension of the delta) and include African monarchs and citrus swallowtails. Other insects of note include stick insects, expertly camouflaged among the reeds of the Okavango Delta; large, scary but harmless button spiders; and sac spiders, which look harmless, but are poisonous (though rarely fatal) and live mainly in rural homes. The delta is also home to grasshoppers, mopane worms, locusts, and mosquitoes and tsetse flies in increasing and potentially dangerous numbers.
Scorpions are not uncommon in the Kalahari; although their sting is not fatal, it can be painful.