Chobe National Park in northern Botswana is the most diverse of all of Botswana’s reserves, and covers about 11 700km2. It is also the oldest reserve in the country. The Chobe River runs along the northern border of the reserve, with the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve flanking the southwestern side. It is less than 100km from Victoria Falls, so it is a great place to visit if you want to combine different areas into one trip. When you think Chobe, think elephants. They are everywhere.
Peter Matthiessen once wrote: “Elephants command a silence usually reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.” Never will you find this more true than the first time you witness a herd of 300 Kalahari elephants (the largest elephants in Africa) racing over the dusty ground towards the Chobe River. Big, lumbering matriarchs pushed aside enthusiastically by trumpeting calves who jostle for position under their mother’s feet, tripping over their own feet, their trunks flailing about in excitement as they rush to drink and frolic in the cool water.
There are four distinct geographical areas in the park: the Chobe River front, the Ngwezumba pans, and the Savuté and Linyanti Rivers.
The Chobe River is the most famous of the four areas, and huge herds of elephant, buffalo and other animals converge along its banks during the harsh dry season.
The Ngwezumba pans lie about 70km south of the Chobe, and during the rainy season these usually dry pans fill up and attract an abundance of animals. Predators and herbivores alike make the long journey to take advantage of the seasonal banquet.
The Linyati River and the Linyati Marsh lie on the northwestern edge of the reserve. In these more permanent bodies of water concentrations of red lechwe, sitatunga and especially elephant, are very high.
The Savuté is a word that sends chills up your spine. It is known for its predators. Lions and hyenas wage war on each other, continuing a battle that has raged for generations long since past. The Savuté marsh is a birding hotspot, as the waters of the Linyati spill out onto the marshlands, and migratory birds take advantage of this area as an important stopover during their strenuous journey north. The Savuté channel itself is one of nature’s mysteries. It cycles through dry spells, where it dries completely, only to resume its flow a few years later.
Speculation is that this is due to tectonic activity. In fact, the working theory is that the Savuté is the relic of a large inland lake to which the water supply was cut a long time ago by these very tectonic movements. It is currently flowing again, and in January 2010 its waters reached the Savuti Marsh for the first time since 1982.
As in most of the reserves in Southern Africa, the two main seasons contrast sharply and will offer visitors uniquely different experiences. The rainy season, usually from late November through to March, is complemented by high temperatures and beautiful African storms. These seldom last long, and when the sun re-emerges it leaves the green landscape refreshed and bursting with summer colours. The birthing season brings a breath of new life, and young antelope caper around their mothers, oblivious to the hard battle for survival that lies ahead. It is the best time for spotting the 460 different bird that flock to the region, and the river is at its highest, making river cruises a must. The wildlife is spread over a much larger area as animals move to areas in the reserve that are barren in the dry season.
In contrast, the months from April through to October are accompanied by gentler temperatures and consistently clear blue skies. During June and July, night time cools down dramatically and can even approach freezing point. Pack your scarf and gloves! However, do not let this put you off, as it is definitely the prime game viewing time. The ground is parched and the effect of the 50 000 elephants that gather around the life-giving Chobe river is immediately noticeable. It is a harsh time of year, and the reality of the constant battle for survival is thrown into sharp relief. Dust rises from the feet of countless buffalo and elephant as they trample the packed ground in search of food. Predators follow the weak and the old, and hyenas whoop and cackle into the night, broadcasting the macabre message of the never ending cycle of life.