The Chobe National Park, which is the second largest national park in Botswana and covers 10,566 square kilometres, has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent. Its uniqueness in the abundance of wildlife and the true African nature of the region, offers a safari experience of a lifetime.
The park is divided into four distinctly different eco systems: Serondela with its lush plains and dense forests in the Chobe River area in the extreme north-east; the Savuti Marsh in the west about fifty kilometres north of Mababe gate; the Linyanti Swamps in the north-west and the hot dry hinterland in between.
The most popular area in and just outside Chobe National Park is the short 9-mile (15km) stretch of Chobe River from Kasane town to the Serondela campsite. Few people come to Chobe without taking a trip on this river to see hundreds of hippopotamuses and crocodiles. Both hippo’s and elephants epitomise this park more than any other animals and are often featured on the cover of brochures to the area. The only subject more photographed in Chobe are the exquisite sanguine sunsets sinking slowly over the water.
Chobe National Park is probably the most affordable of Botswana’s parks and with the lure of excellent game watching both on and beside the river, the well frequented areas can become quite crowded.
From Kasane, follow the new tar road past the airport to Sedudu Gate. Here all persons are required to check in and pay the park fees, unless proceeding on the tar road to Ngoma. Four-wheel drive vehicles are essential, especially if the intention is to travel extensively into the park – deep sand in some areas tests the skill of the driver and the capabilities of the vehicle. However, most rewarding game viewing awaits.
The original inhabitants of what is now the park were the San people, otherwise known in Botswana as the Basarwa. They were hunter-gatherers who lived by moving from one area to another in search of water, wild fruits and wild animals. The San were later joined by groups of the Basubiya people and later still, around 1911, by a group of Batawana led by Sekgoma. When the country was divided into various land tenure systems, late last century and early this century, the larger part of the area that is now the national park was classified as crown land. In 1931 the idea of creating a national park in the area was first mooted, in order to protect the wildlife from extinction and to attract visitors.
In 1932, an area of some 24,000 square kilometres in the Chobe district was declared a non-hunting area and the following year, the protected area was increased to 31,600 square kilometres. However, heavy tsetse fly infestations resulted in the whole idea lapsing in 1943. In 1957, the idea of a national park was raised again when an area of about 21,000 square kilometres was proposed as a game reserve and eventually a reduced area was gazetted in 1960 as Chobe Game Reserve. Later, in 1967, the reserve was declared a national park – the first national park in Botswana.
There was a large settlement, based on the timber industry, at Serondela, some remains of which can still be seen today. This settlement was gradually moved out and the Chobe National Park was finally empty of human occupation in 1975. In 1980 and again in 1987, the boundaries were altered, increasing the park to its present size.
A major feature of Chobe National Park is its elephant population. First of all, the Chobe elephant comprise part of what is probably the largest surviving continuous elephant population. This population covers most of northern Botswana plus northwestern Zimbabwe. The Botswana’s elephant population is currently estimated at around 120,000. This elephant population has built up steadily from a few thousand since the early 1900s and has escaped the massive illegal offtake that has decimated other populations in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Chobe elephant are migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 kilometres from the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, where they concentrate in the dry season, to the pans in the southeast of the park, to which they disperse in the rains. The elephants, in this area have the distinction of being the largest in body size of all living elephants though the ivory is brittle and you will not see many huge tuskers among these rangy monsters.
Public camping grounds are situated within Chobe at Ihaha, Savuti and Linyanti with toilet and shower facilities available. Each of these camping grounds has its own unique character and a visit to each is recommended – however, it is once again stressed that a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential. Visitors travelling through the park should remember that this is essentially a wilderness area and, as such, no services are available between Kasane and Maun. Because of this, it is wise to carry basic safety items such as water, food, fuel, torches, extra wheels, tools, jacks and pumps. In all public camping grounds booking for campsites is essential.
Serondela has been closed down and a new camping ground has been opened at Ihaha. Ihaha has modern facilities, an attractive reception office and is more remote in nature.
Often described as one of, if not the best, wildlife-viewing area in Africa today. Savuti boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent. Animals are present during all seasons, and at certain times of the year their numbers can be staggering. If you allow yourself adequate time here (a minimum of three to four days is recommended) you will probably see nearly all the major species: giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, tsessebe, roan, sable, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, eland and accompanying predators including lion, hyaena, jackal, bat-eared fox and possibly even cheetah and wild dog.
Savuti is famous for its predators, particularly its resident lions and spotted hyaena populations. Sometimes you will have them uncomfortably close, as both they and marauding hyaenas do wander through the campsite. Do NOT feed them. Almost certainly you will hear lion at night.
Savuti has an excellent new campsite. Lying 172 kilometres southwest of Sedudu gate, Savuti camping ground overlooks the Savuti River channel, which is currently dry. Geographically, Savuti is an area of many unknowns. One of the greatest mysteries is the Savuti Channel itself, which has over the past 100 years inexplicably dried up and recommenced its flow several times. The present dry period started in 1982.
In the furthest corner of Chobe National Park lies the forgotten paradise of Linyanti. Secluded and uncrowded, this short strip of swampy river frontage is reminiscent of the Okavango’s permanent waterways with papyrus-lined lagoons, reed-beds and a towering canopy of trees.
The Linyanti Swamp covers an area of almost 900km2, to which follows the river and fills the area between the converging courses of the Kwando and Linyanti rivers. The national park only touches the river for a short section on the far eastern edge of the swamp.
The wildlife is plentifull, especially in the dry winter months when great concentrations of elephant, buffalo and zebra congregate along the river, with giraffe, impala and roan antelope being seen in the forests. The birdlife is diverse, if not overwhelming in its numbers. Waterbirds, including pelican, are common.
Linyanti has a small camping ground, 39 kilometres northwest of Savuti, among tall riverine trees overlooking the perennial Linyanti River. This is generally a quieter camp as it is off the main tourist circuit, but for those seeking a remote and peaceful environment, with spectacular dry season concentrations of elephant, Linyanti is the place to go. Access is rough and sandy and only reliable 4×4 vehicles should attempt this journey.
The Sedudu gate near Kasane also gives access to a public road that passes for 54 kilometres through the park to Ngoma gate. Ngoma is the entrance used by visitors from Namibia, with the border crossing nearby. The southern entrance to the park is at Mababe gate, along a route that connects with the Moremi Game Reserve. Mababe gate is some 56 kilometres south of Savuti and many visitors enter from Kasane, camp at Ihaha and then at Savuti, exit through Mababe and on through to Moremi – or the other way around. Apart from this circuit and the charming camp ground at Linyanti, another route within the park, which intrepid visitors take, is south from Sedudu for 68 kilometres to Noghatsaa and then across to Savuti, which is a further 140 kilometres. Roads through this area are not clearly signed at this time, so visitors should carefully plan their route before setting out and it is advisable to inform park staff of intentions to visit the Noghatsaa area.
Game viewing is at its best during the dry season, when the majority of natural pans have dried up, and it is wise to avoid the Chobe River front during the heavy rains from January to March. It is also wise to note that no fuel supplies are available within the park and visitors travelling between Kasane and Maun should ensure that they are self-contained for the entire journey. All drinking water should be boiled or chemically treated. Mosquitoes are prevalent throughout the park and visitors are strongly advised to take an anti-malarial prophylactic before, during and for four weeks from visiting the park, especially during the rainy season.
Rainy season: November to March with a peak during January and February. Rains often only begin in mid- December. Travelling through areas of clay soil can be very difficult at this time, but much of the Chobe River area is accessible. These are the warmest months with temperatures and humidity high and mosquitoes abundant. The wild flowers that emerge during the rains are quite stunning and bird life is abundant. Many animals give birth during this period of abundant grazing and if you are prepared to negotiate some mud, the rainy season in Chobe is a delightful time.
Dry season: May to October is dry and as the months progress and water dries up inland, animals congregate in huge numbers along the river. Game is at its most dense and easily visible during the dry season and most visitors come at this time. October is the hottest month and although it is the best for game viewing, it is also the most uncomfortable as the expectation of rain is high and the heat can be oppressive.
· Elephants by the hundreds especially by the Chobe River during the dry season
· Sundowner river cruises culminating in spectacular Chobe sunsets
· 440 species of birds
· Big cats may be seen stalking buffalo on the grassy floodplains
· Fishing on the Chobe River for 20 different species of edible fish
· Spectacularly positioned safari lodges and tented camps along the Chobe River
· Rare Pel’s Fishing owl can be spotted at night
· Small flocks of African skimmers, only found in this region are best seen in June or July
· Exceptional photographic opportunities
In line with many of Africa’s national parks, off-road and night driving is not permitted.
Chobe National Park covers 7 270 square miles (11,700 square kilometres)
This is a malarial area.
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