When to go on Safari in Southern Africa

Apr 23, 2010

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Kind Thanks to Kevin Leo Smith who complied this wonderful and insightful calendar…

This calendar is designed to highlight the benefits of a safari during every month of the year (it was originally written for Botswana but applies to most of Southern Africa). We are often asked “what is the best time of the year to go on safari?”… this calendar will help you answer that question properly as it really depends on what you wish to experience.  Each month is different and special in it’s own way but what we have set out here is only a guide – weather and, therefore, viewing patterns are different each year.  So there are no facts – only trends and tendencies.  Game viewing will always remain a combination of guide skill and good luck.

jan africaJANUARY

Peak breeding time, for many of the colorful migrant birds species. Excellent wild flowers, brilliant green foliage, constant sounds day and night – from insects and birds – the bush is very alive. January is in the middle of the rainy season with spectacular afternoon thunder storms and warm days (average 85˚F plus) and nights (68˚F plus).  Game viewing is average with active predators still chasing the fast developing young of their prey species. An ideal photography month for all the colors and dramatic skies. The contrasts of the predators natural winter camouflage, with the summer colors makes for dramatic photos.  More easily spotted by their prey species the predators have to work hard while the prey have a time of plenty.

feb africaFEBRUARY

Ripe figs are eaten by many species including the fruit bats who make interesting night sounds while feeding. Water lilies flowering peak – colorful and noisy reed frogs – the Okavango Delta is brilliant, noisy and alive. With the rainy season all plants are growing actively, butterflies, birds, frogs and all the small creatures are at their most active and at their best. The rains continue in afternoon thunder storms with dramatic skies and sounds. Temperatures range up to 105°F but average above 85°F with warm nights (68°F plus). Can have both wet and very dry spells within the month. The giant bullfrog emerges from months and sometimes years of hibernation to indulge in nocturnal feeding frenzies. The resident game species do not have far to go for water and the young are almost as tall as the adults.

mar africaMARCH

The mighty Zambezi is in full spate and river rafting is often closed now. The Victoria Falls are as powerful as they can be and very dramatic even though you cannot see the bottom of the Falls. Visit now and you will know these are truly one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. While in Botswana the Marula trees fruit attracting their attendant bull elephants who wonder from tree to tree in search of their favourite meals.  The start of the rutting season leads to the sleek and fat impala males snorting and cavorting to attract females.  Temperatures are still warm both day and night but the air is drier and the rains less frequent.

april africaAPRIL

The first signs that the times are a changing – night temperatures drop to below 68°F on average but day temperatures continue to rise up to 105°F on some days. The cooler mornings with high relative humidity lead to wonderful early morning misty magic especially over the waters. The Impala rut is in full swing and the impala noises continue right through the night with dramatic clashes between rival males. Baboon and impala are often together assisting the safety of the busy Impala. The trees have completed flowering and fruit is ripening all over with the massive sausages hanging from the Sausage Trees. The reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the dry season about to start.

may africaMAY

Flood waters from Angola start to reach the top of the Okavango Delta and begin their slow and deliberate progress through the Delta. The rains are over and the nights are cooler with temperatures averaging 60°F while day temperatures still warm have lost their edge and maximum temperatures seldom exceed 95°F. Jackets are sensible for night drives.  The buffalo begin to group into large herds and visit the river more often as the seasonal pans begin to dry. Breeding herds of elephant increase in density daily as they visit the permanent waters. The greens start fading to the duller dry season colors and the predators begin to enjoy themselves again as their colors blend with the surroundings. The migratory birds begin their flights to winter feeding and breeding grounds in far away places.

june africaJUNE

June – what an exciting time – the African Wild Dogs begin to search for their den and guides search for them to discover their den. Once they have denned these endangered species will be easy to find for 3-4 months.  Exciting hunts; playful puppies – what more could you wish for!  Temperatures have dropped to their coldest by the end of June with night temperatures reaching as low as 40°F (very cold on night drives due to wind chill).  Day temperatures rise up to a very comfortable 78°F and dusty dry conditions begin to dominate. Some green bushes and trees persist but leaf drop commences and pans dry up.  Animals concentrate at the permanent water as do their predators.

july africaJULY

The floods arrive in the Okavango Delta, after a slow path from the wet Angolan highlands thousand of miles away.  The paradox is obvious – the flood arrives when dust and dryness pervade and the rains have long gone. The leaves are falling off the trees the grasses are getting shorter every day and visibility is excellent.  The nights are still cold but the days are marginally warmer and the weather typical Botswana – sunny and clear.  More and more animals congregate near the water and flood plains – a special time of the year.  Water spreads into areas where there was none the day before and the mekoro and boat trips become more exciting as new places can be accessed. Soft early morning and evening light combined with dust produces many photo settings.

august africaAUGUST

The herds are getting larger and space near the water leads to tension between the breeding herds of elephant.  The nights are filled with elephant sounds. The bush is bare and the dust pervades but the action is around and with patience and perseverance the rewards are great.  The floods have passed through the Delta and now reach Maun – leading to excitement for the locals in town and water related speculation is at a peak – how high? when will it stop? How far will the water go?  The weather is warming even at night with daytime peaks averaging closer to 85°F now and night time averages rising to around 50°F.  Another special time and peak visitor season.  The herons, storks and other birds start to congregate at the Godikwe heronry and begin nest building.

september africaSEPTEMBER

The climate has changed and winter is all but gone.  Night temperatures rise rapidly within the month and by month end the averages reach 60°F plus and day temperatures soar well in the 80’s°F.  The sun shines, the skies are clear and it is really dry.  Unbelievably the elephant concentrate in still greater numbers as do the buffalo keeping the predators busy as the season takes it’s toll on the prey species – a time of plenty for the lions. The colors explode as the carmine bee eaters return from their winter grounds and the other migrants begin to arrive. The water levels have slowly started to drop as the waters from Angola have completed their trek. The fish begin to get active and some trees start to get the first green shoots – fed by the flood waters and temperatures and not by any rain as it is still some 6 weeks to the first rains.

october africaOCTOBER

It is hot – really hot but never will you experience game viewing like this – well worth the sweat.  Day temperatures rise regularly above 105°F and nights are warm with averages in the 60’s°F.  Start early and leave late – that is the solution.  There is no place to hide everything is bare and the grasses are eaten or trampled. Night drives are at their best and the pervading dust makes all scenes dramatic. Predator chases erupt into clouds of dust as the eternal game of eat and be eaten plays out daily in the very open plains. Fishing frenzies with the annual catfish (barbell) runs in the rivers.

november africaNOVEMBER

The expectation – in fact desperation – for rain dominates all discussions.  The residents and the animals all seek an end to the dryness and dust.  Temperatures remain high both day and night and the game viewing improves – until the day of the first rains – normally around mid November.  The rain comes; the animals are relieved and disperse to eat on new vegetation and drink from the seasonal pans. The birthing season begins with the Tsessebe , followed by the impala and Lechwe.  The predators seek out the vulnerable young and kill many times a day to get their fill.  Plenty of action and great visibility and short green grass – trees bursting into life – a wonderful time for the photographers – action, color and visibility.

december africaDECEMBER

Protein rich grass feed the mothers of the antelope while the lambs and calves grow at astounding speed. The impala complete their lambing, the wildebeest start and complete in a few weeks. The rains become more regular with thunder storms every few days. The pans remain full and the colors shine in brilliant green and the grasses begin to get away from the hungry mouths. While the grazers enjoy the green tender mouthfuls, the predators are ever watching and stalking but their winter camouflage lets them down and they have to work harder.  However, the bushes become more dense allowing more hiding places for them to observe their prey. This ensures that the predators devote much of their time to hunting the young impala and wildebeest – producing plenty of predator prey action. All the migrant birds have arrived.  Temperatures have cooled on average but hot days still occur and nights are still warm and humidity can rise after rains. Good colors – dramatic skies and lightning at night in the distances all add to the magic of December.

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