Mokete, Botswana

Raw and wild at the new Wilderness Mokete

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Your Guide to Africa

Julian Carter-Manning


A land of giants; the home of Wilderness Mokete

Nestled in the heart of Botswana's most remote of wild places, lies the Mababe Depression – enjoying an almost mythical reputation in the industry. This is a legendary land, a destination that comes to life so rarely, that when it does, it’s one of nature’s great spectacles. It’s a parched, pristine expanse – the remains of an old super-lake that covered most of northern Botswana. And it remained dormant for decades, epitomising the harsh, arid conditions of the Kalahari. However, when Botswana’s tectonic plates shifted and the rivers swelled, a stunning (now annual) transformation unfolds.

New water brings life to mineral-rich soil, fuelling the rapid growth of grassland, as the plains foster a startling resurgence, giving hope to all life. Animals cross the Chobe, following ancient Kalahari sand trails and routes seemingly embedded in their genes. Their destination? Mababe


Big game concentrates on this newly revived lake depression in vast numbers, the likes of which are rarely seen anywhere else on the entire continent. Mega-herds of elephant and buffalo, huge densities of lion, and a wondrous diversity of antelope throng here. This is a truly special place; a unique, unspoiled habitat, and a land that is known only to the very best safari guides. 




A unique remote safari experience in the Mababe Depression

Recently, I embarked on a five-day adventure to explore a part of Botswana I’d often read about, but never visited. Set around the southernmost point of the Mababe Depression is an area called Mokete, where Wilderness is building its new camp – Wilderness Mokete. It’s a private reserve, an exclusive area where the Mababe River – an extension of the Khwai River in the northern Okavango Delta – fans out over the southernmost point of the old lake depression’s vast plains. The river's life-giving waters result in the revival of a vast wetland, teeming with life and incredible biodiversity. 



Leaving the southern Okavango, we arrived in Mababe by helicopter. The area is easily accessible via a jaw-dropping 35-minute flight from the Delta – so close, but at the same time this place is truly wild. Endless mopane forest suddenly stops and the wide, open plains lay out in front of you. I was travelling with Russell McLaughlin, a seasoned photographer with credits from National Geographic, Disney, BBC Planet Earth, and Netflix, to name a few. My mission? To fully understand what the area offers, the reason behind Wilderness Mokete, the movement of the game… and purely selfishly, to spend time living with the photographers amongst Mokete’s lions! 





The lions of Mababe: a reason to travel

Our days began with early starts while it was still dark, venturing out before sunrise to maximise our chances of seeing what the lions were up to. We would always start by scanning the horizon for buffalo. Any guide will tell you that if you want to find lion, you just need to follow the ‘buff’. Mokete has a herd of buffalo that’s highly likely the largest in Africa. Gathering from May every year, the buffalo come from miles around. Splinter herds join together and before you know it, numbers swell to well over 5,000 individuals. It’s an awesome sight. Kicking up clouds of dust this mass of muscle moves across the sun-drenched plains. They’re often trailed by Mokete’s lions. Make no mistake, this seemingly quiet, open plain is a battleground.



Wilderness has laid foundations for their new camp, Mokete, in the heart of the pride’s territory. Three large males –  a coalition in their absolute prime – rule this pride land, whilst three exceptional lionesses look after four cubs and lead the hunts. It is the perfect pride, with new cubs on the horizon, looking likely to add to their ferocious chaos. This pride dominates one of the richest game environments I’ve ever seen. 


Within the surrounding mopane and northwards up to the Chobe boundary, we found even more lions, approximately 100 in total. The Chobe pride, of approximately 35 individuals, works the area north of Mokete within easy reach on a game drive. This is prime safari real estate, and the lions know it.




In just four days, we saw a number of failed hunts as well as three kills, two orchestrated by the Mokete Pride. The lions were relentless in their pursuit of prey, hunting during the day, and whatever passed them by. Warthog, buffalo, testing fully grown elephant, and unfortunately their calves. It is a truly brutal environment. In the peak of the dry season, from the middle of October to the middle of November, Mokete is not a destination for the faint-hearted. This is nature at its most primordial, an ancient battle for survival. I’d urge any potential traveller not to forget this.

More than just lions: an incredible diversity in this land of giants

And if the lions were sleeping, we’d set off across the plains, head into the mopane forest, or explore the edges of the wetland. One morning, the Mokete Pride were fast asleep, bellies full from feasting on buffalo from the night before, so we set out across the plains towards Chobe. The diversity of species was incredible. Where else do you get roan, sable, tsessebe, waterbuck, zebra and oryx in one drive?! We also bumped into two male cheetah and witnessed the Chobe Pride hunting warthog across the northern plains. We drove around the entire wetland and came back through the local Mababe village, stopping for magwinya (doughnuts) and a cool drink – a great experience in itself.





As we returned back to Mokete, we left the mopane and joined the waterfront again. Stretching out ahead of us, along the banks of the wetland, were elephants as far as the eye could see. Large tuskers, breeding herds and a huge number of small calves all focusing on a two-kilometre stretch of water. Bathing, drinking, playing. From 11am every day the herds focus on this area and stay until dusk. It’s a remarkable scene, the herds appearing every day like clockwork.


We drove through the herds. Every now and then a huge tusker stopped in front of the vehicle. The big males here are a sight in themselves; seven-tonne specimens are all but guaranteed. Huge lions, huge buffalo herds, huge elephant – Mababe is a genuine land of giants!





Night safaris only added to the wow factor of this wildlife-filled land. Unlike many other areas, where night drives can be a little hit-and-miss, Mababe’s plains are especially prolific. We saw four aardwolf and two serval on one short drive, as well as a bat-eared fox the following morning. Aardvark, pangolin and porcupine have also been seen here. 





The stars here are also well worth a mention. Zero light pollution, just open plains and clear skies – showing off the full glory of the African night sky. 

One day I will return to Wilderness Mokete

During my time at Mokete I saw Africa at its most beautiful, but also at its most fierce. In this remote corner of the world, amidst the vast plains and endless skies, I found a slice of Africa so unique, so special, that I believe any Botswana safari should include time here. This is the perfect camp to combine with the lush waterways of the Okavango Delta and should be visited by anyone looking for Africa’s big game, potentially at its most ferocious. The probability of seeing lion vs buffalo here is as good as you will find anywhere, and the diversity of game is simply incredible. It may not be nearly as pretty as the Delta, and the environment may well be limited to the waterfont and open plains. But Mokete is a special place; I’ll return.





It’s also significantly easier to access than the likes of the Kalahari itself, Nxai Pan or Tau. I’d stay for a minimum of two days and probably a maximum of three. Travel late in the season – from August to November – and you’ll be travelling right in the peak of the action. Slightly earlier and the experience will be softer, certainly less intense. 


Finally, with incredible game at the end of the dry season comes incredible heat. October will highly likely see temperatures of 40° Celsius (104°F) or more. You will be guaranteed an astounding safari environment but an experience that’s geared towards the intrepid traveller. I can’t stress that enough. Of course, I can’t ever guarantee that you’ll see everything I did; but Mababe is an arena where life and death play out every single day in a relentless cycle of predator and prey. An adrenaline-filled corner of a truly wild world. 





On our final drive before the helicopter flight out, we bumped into a pack of wild dog on the hunt! A fitting end to a perfect stay.


I can’t wait to see what we do with this camp. There’s nowhere else I’ve been that matches its raw power, diversity and remoteness. A lion stronghold that’s for sure. 

A land of giants; the home of Wilderness Mokete.

Raw sense of adventure

Wilderness Mokete, our remote & diverse camp in the heart of the Mababe Depression

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Julian Carter-Manning

With over twenty years experience in the safari industry, Julian is one of our Sales Directors here at Wilderness, with a passion for getting guests returning to Africa time and time again. He has travelled extensively across the entirety of 'Safari Africa' and works closely with our teams on the ground.

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