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The Kalahari desert, Botswana (Harald Süpfle CC-BY-SA-2.5 )

The lion wakes me at 3 a.m. as it walks past my tent. It must be some while since an ancestor of mine has had to fear encountering the animal, so I am impressed at whatever hardwired impulse wakes me (amid all the other natural noise of the night) when the low grumbling occurs outside.

Three hours later the sun rises over the Okavango delta. In the distance elephants migrate between islands in the water. Before breakfast we find that the lion’s tracks lead through the camp and — crucially — out of it. Following by jeep, our Botswanan guide uses not just the dust tracks but the remarkable signals from the rest of nature. A baboon is sitting as high up as possible in one of the first trees we get to — another sign that a lion recently came this way.

It is hard to think of any country as rich in wildlife as Botswana. The country’s famous strictures on hunting mean that elephants, giraffes, water-buffalo and much more are here in unbelievable abundance. A few days after finding our first lion we come across a pack of nine busily finishing off a baby water buffalo. The two lead males have gorged first and too greatly. Both are so full that they are lying on their sides, visibly pained and heavily panting.
The stay is one ceaseless gallery of unforgettable sounds and images. A solitary giraffe taking a drink from the water as the sun goes down before making its way gingerly — almost in slow motion — across the water. A baby monkey engaging me in a game of peek-a-boo over breakfast. The frogs at night, making a noise like a bag of xylophone keys being constantly dropped. And at the second camp a whole day spent in search of a leopard.

Aside from the beauty of the scenery, the abundance of wildlife and the friendliness of the locals, one of the outstanding features of Botswana is the realisation that people can pick up wildlife language with such precision. Shyly elusive though leopards are, the only means to get to them apart from tracks — which we follow on foot and by jeep — are the warning calls from the rest of nature. A tree squirrel issues alarm cries from near where the leopard tracks have been erased by a herd of water buffalos. Much later, as we think we may have lost the trail, we hear a terrifying quasi-human shout. It issues every few minutes: a deep belt-out from the diaphragm. It turns out to be a baboon’s warning about a leopard in the area. It helps this baboon’s distant relatives too.
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