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Jacada Guide Stories: Ona from Wilderness Safaris, Botswana

Safari guide Ona of Wilderness Safaris in Botswana tells us his story.

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Wilderness Guide Ona’s story of guiding throughout Botswana and capturing the perfect image – in his own words:

“I was raised in northern Botswana in a village called Maun, which is now the frontier for tourism in Botswana as it’s the gateway to Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta. I grew up at a time when Lake Ngami to the southwest of Maun was a pristine wilderness area. The Lake used to support a huge population of springboks and eland, and I remember seeing big flocks of Queleas there.”

“After school, I got involved with wildlife research organisations as a volunteer and field assistant, doing research on lions, leopard, hyena, wild dogs, cheetah, elephants, Okavango fish species and the Meyer’s parrot. After a while I felt I should share my knowledge, and I felt guiding provided that platform. During my time in wildlife research I interacted a lot with guides in the field, and from their stories, becoming a guide was an easy decision to make. It has turned out to be one of the most fulfilling decisions I have made in my life.”

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“In the bush, no two days are the same. I’m always looking forward to waking up and not knowing what is out there to see. The seasons do not only change the landscape but they also influence animal movement, so each season offers a different game viewing experience.”

“In the bush, no two days are the same. I’m always looking forward to waking up and not knowing what is out there to see.”

“There is so much to learn everyday, from literature, experiences unfolding before you, or from the guests. This dynamism does not only build your knowledge but also keeps your passion soaring, even as the years go by. I am passionate about photography and each day of guiding provides me with an opportunity to photograph something.”

“I have guided at camps in the Okavango Delta, but I’ve spent longer stretches in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Duma Tau Camp in the Linyanti region. Lately I’ve had the opportunity to guide at Vumbura Plains in the Okavango Delta too and will be guiding at the famous Mombo Camp soon. Of all the camps I have guided at, I have a soft spot for Kalahari Plains.”

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“The Central Kalahari can be harsh during the dry season, but as soon as the first rains arrive – often announcing themselves with loud thunders – the area becomes alive, transforming itself in a way that is indescribable. Big herds of animals that dispersed during the dry season return to the open plains and the predators in turn follow them. The game viewing then rivals the best of wilderness areas in Africa.”

“The herd drifted along slowly towards the opposite tree line and the cheetah followed at a trot.”

“I was once pulling out of camp to start a game drive when we stumbled on three cheetah brothers. They were hunched at the edge of the open area, watching a herd of Gemsbok grazing. I thought the calves were too big and the cheetah stood no chance, but we decided to wait to see what would happen. The herd drifted along slowly towards the opposite tree line and the cheetah followed at a trot. I drove around to the other side, just in case a chase would ensue. Just as I stopped, hooves pounded around us and I noticed that one cheetah had isolated a calf and brought it down, then the second calf burst through with another cheetah chasing it at close quarters. It was my first ever cheetah kill and the fact that they took down two animals at the same time remains my finest memory from the Kalahari Plains.”

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“My photo of an impala swimming at sunset remains my favourite. We were following wild dogs that were hunting around a big lagoon on an evening drive in the Linyanti when I took the photo. The wild dogs chased an impala ram, which ran straight into the water and proceeded to swim into the middle of the lagoon. I convinced my guests that we should stay put and wait for the impala to swim towards a clear spot, to be rewarded with a very unusual image of an impala. The sun was going down across the lagoon and the reflection on the water was turning gold and red. I managed to capture a photo of the impala’s silhouette in the middle of a lagoon.”

“The wild dogs chased an impala ram, which ran straight into the water and proceeded to swim into the middle of the lagoon.”

“If you have a guide who is taking photos, you should engage him whenever you need help. Guides who take pictures are always after the cream of sightings and guests benefit in a big way. Some camps have underground photography hides too. In such camps, try to utilize it as much as possible during siesta time, as you may come away with some great images.”

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The wildlife images in this article were taken by Ona himself.