From the country of the world’s last wild places like the Okavango Delta to the Chobe National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, it took Botswana many years to have a famous lion. With a healthy population of wild lions like no other, Sekoti – the young lion king from Savuti – is becoming the poster boy of Botswana’s wildlife tourism and this is inspiring the rebirth of the love for wildlife amongst Batswana, writes THALEFANG CHARLES
While in Maun last year during our Rediscover Expedition, I sat in a low lit bar with a group of friends, mostly safari guides, downing some cold ones disguised in coffee mugs and sharing stories about the hardships of the closed tourism industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rediscover Expedition team members were like rock stars and had been granted special access to do the national duty of reviving the then bleeding tourism industry.
It was at one of those special access joints that I met Joe Ramsden, a legendary safari guide of Thru-The-Lens Safaris based in Maun.
Having seen our itinerary, Uncle Joe, as we called him, requested that when we reach Savuti in the Chobe National Park, we should look for a certain young lion with a snip tail, “ya mogatla wa sekoti’nyana”. He told us that there are some foreigners following the young lion’s life. I was immediately intrigued.
I knew the lion he was talking about because I had photographed it before during my previous safari trips at Savuti.
Although Ramsden made it a casual request, I made a mental note of the request and shelved it in the back of my head before continuing with the cold beverages in the coffee mugs.
We would then arrive at Savuti two days later after going through Khwai before entering Chobe National Park via Mababe Gate. Since the Rediscover Expedition was mostly a touch-and-go aimed at interesting Batswana about local destinations, we only had one night out at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. But the short morning game drive was productive as we spotted the 14 lions – the Savuti Northern Pride – with one big male named Pretty-Boy.
We did not have time to search for Sekoti or the Marsh pride. So I told our hosts that I would be back to search for the rest.
Five months later, in December 2020, I was back at Savuti, with Belmond Safaris and this time, with the specific mission to search for Sekoti. We had three nights and I was then with a fellow photographer, Pako Lesejane from The Botswana Guardian. The search proved futile too.
We saw more than 36 lions from the two lion prides, but there was no Sekoti. Immediately
This became another reason why I had to return. So, a couple of weeks later, I was back for my festive vacation in Savuti.
Belmond Safaris had assigned to me their best tracker and legendary guide Robert Obonye hoping to find Sekoti this time. Four nights later the search was in vain and I left Savuti again with no Sekoti in sight.
It was as if the more I failed, the more I got intrigued. I wanted to be back again. Every time I left the area, the guides would report Sekoti’ sightings and share with me what he had been up to.
And so in January this year, I pitched an article about this elusive lion.
Mainstream newspapers do not usually write articles about lions, but Mmegi features editor Mbongeni Mguni liked the idea.
The first article about Sekoti was published in the print edition of Mmegi of January 15, 2021, titled ‘Will Sekoti be King’ with my 2018 picture of the young lion. After the print edition, we took the story to social media and that is where it picked traction. This is a story of how social media proved its impact on storytelling.
Before long the story of the lion with snip tail became a sensation.
Six months later Sekoti has become a poster child of wildlife tourism that inspired the rebirth of the love for wildlife in Batswana.
From a country of the great wilderness areas like the Okavango Delta, the 1,000th World Heritage Site, the Chobe National Park, the mighty CKGR and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, with a healthy population of wild lions like no other, it took us these many years to have a famous big cat that could be a poster child for wildlife tourism.
Savuti was unknown by many before Sekoti’s fame. Now many tour operators, hoping to cash in on the new Savuti sensation, have begun to curate safari packages for the lion. There have been Sekoti tours and lately another Savuti character; Silvereye is also the most sought-after. Looking back, this unfolding legend of Sekoti that is now becoming profitable, all began from an ‘illegal’ gathering while drinking beer in coffee mugs. All hail King Sekoti!