I have been an avid amateur photographer for about 8 years. Most of what I have shot have been landscapes of the United States and Europe. for an even longer time, I have loved wildlife. As a boy, I grew up watching Wild Kingdom and similar shows. Once NatGeo, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel came into existence, I was hooked.
With this as a background, it was natural that I wanted to photograph big game, but not in a zoo or zoo-like setting. The basic questions were: where, for how long, what season and how much would it cost. All of these are great questions, but I was lucky enough to stumble upon a “one stop shopping” answer to many of these – my solution came in the form of Paul Salvado. More on him later, but for now, I am going to focus on “why Chobe?”. In later blogs, I will address suggested stay length, season and cost.
Why Chobe? As I researched potential destinations, I read a great deal about Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and South African locations. There was also some information on Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and a few other countries, but most consider my list to be the Big Four. I also met and interviewed people who had been to the various reserves and parks. Each locale has pro’s and con’s and I plan to vist them all many times; however, for photography, I think the best starting point is Botswana and specifically Chobe. Interviews with African travelers and searches on photo web sites like Flickr.com repeatedly revealed more density of game and closer proximity of game at Chobe. I can write a lot more, but … really, that is your answer.
Animal Density – I am not going to quote numbers here, but rather explain my experience. In Chobe, after 3 p.m., I have never been along the banks of the river or out on the Puku Flats when I could not see buffalo, impala, hippos and elephants – all at once. In addition, you can be assured of seeing kudu, sable, warthogs and giraffe sometime during each and every afternoon. You want to shoot baby baboons? I am pretty sure you can find them every afternoon. Of course all of the above are basically grazers. You also have a fair chance of seeing lions or a leapard every few days. Within a weeks stay, you will see Jackel and Hyenas.
Game Proximity – I have already mentioned elephants, but from a photo point of view, you will catch them spraying water, dusting, covering with mud, in your roadway, crossing the river, etc. etc. etc. I promise great elephant photos with ample chance to be up close and personal. It is also easy to get closel-up images of buffalo. As a matter of fact, on my trip in 2007, my vehicle suffered a punctured tire (or tyre for Africans) and I had to wait an hour to repair it while a herd of 500 cape buffalo grazed past my Nissan on either side of the vehicle. Morning or afternoon, you can always find warthogs, impala and kudu grazing and pull your vehicle with 10 meters of the animals. On my 2009 trip, giraffes were equally prevalent. It is great to sit and watch these tall creatures drink while the sun sets behind them.
While not wanting to bad mouth other parks, I must mention that I have had freiends spend an entire day at Kruger or Pilansburg and report only seeing a single hippo from a distance. The photos my friends show me from Kenya ususally have the tail of a leapard as a spec within the photo frame. Trust me … that is not the Chobe experience.
Privacy – You will feel like the park is your and yours alone. In addition to plentiful game, Botswana’s relative remote location gets you away from the more heavily trekked tourist routes. There are tourist groups within Chobe, however, on a given game drive you will see vehicles with tourists a few times in 3 or 4 hours. The exception is if a large predator has made a kill. This brings tour groups at a rate that would rival vultures. On the other hand, when I see images from eastern Africa, the photo frame almost always includes a vehicle. The alternative are private camps which are good, but also more expensive.
I am sure that, after I finish this blog, I will think of other reasons this is such a super first destination, but that’s my spin on things for today.
All photos in this blog are copyright of Justin and Buddy Eleazer