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Africa Geographic
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Shenton Safaris

One lion, many habitats

Lions are one of my favourite animals (I have a few) but one of the reasons that I find lions interesting is their adaptability. The diverse habitats that are found in Botswana illustrate this well.

In the south and central parts of the country, especially the western half, rainfall is low. Dry Kalahari sands are the dominant soil type, and vegetation, especially in winter, is sparse. This semi-arid habitat has specialist antelope species that are adapted to surviving without very little surface water. These are the springbok and the oryx. Lions live here too, preying on the springbok and the oryx, and getting their moisture requirements from the body fluids of their prey. They also lick dew off each their own fur, and will eat water-rich plants like tsamma melons to survive. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, as well as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are good examples of such areas.


In more well-watered savannas and woodlands, such as those that occur in the vicinity of the Okavango River, the Savuti and the Chobe, the most common herbivore species are impala, blue wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe and zebra. Lions prey on these animals with much success, and they usually reach their highest densities in such habitats. Water is no longer such a limiting factor as it is in the semi-desert areas.


Deep in the heart of the Okavango Delta, there are places where there is so much water that there are antelope which are specially adapted to living in these permanent marshes. They are the red lechwe. They have widely splayed hooves and powerful hindquarters, for running in the water. Their skin and fur are adapted to being wet much of the time. Whenever lechwe feel threatened, they seek shelter in shallow water. Here again, lions are their chief predators.


These three different and contrasting habitats each has its own set of specially adapted plant-eaters. And yet just one lion species is adaptable enough to be able to hunt and survive successfully in all three habitats.


I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page