Chobe National Park – The Riverfront

The Riverfront section of  Chobe National Park – one of the finest Game Reserve experiences in Southern Africa, if not the whole of Africa.

Map of the Riverfront section of Chobe
Map of the Riverfront section of Chobe

I count myself fortunate to still have a part-time consultancy job as a QS, and doubly fortunate to be involved in a sizeable building project at Kasane in the far north of Botswana, on the doorstep of Chobe National Park. The project requires monthly site visits and during the few days we – that’s the professional team – spend there, we have managed to squeeze in a quick trip through the Riverfront section of the Park – all part of team building, you understand.

Prior to these recent visits, I was last in Chobe (pronounced Cho-bee) in 2000 and had good memories of this unique Park, although the intervening years had rendered my memories a bit fuzzy. So I was more than eager to renew my acquaintance with this part of Botswana and the first trip through the Riverfront section in May 2015 brought those memories from 15 years ago flooding back.

Chobe Background (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chobe National Park, in northern Botswana, has one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa. By size, it is the third largest park in the country, after the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Gemsbok National Park, and is the most biologically diverse. It is also Botswana’s first national park.

One of four main areas in Chobe,The Serondela area (or Chobe riverfront), situated in the extreme Northeast of the park, has as its main geographical features lush floodplains and dense woodland of mahogany, teak and other hardwoods now largely reduced by heavy elephant pressure. The Chobe River, which flows along the Northeast border of the park, is a major watering spot, especially in the dry season (May through October) for large breeding herds of elephants, as well as families of giraffe, sable and cape buffalo. The flood plains are the only place in Botswana where the puku antelope can be seen. Birding is also excellent here.

Flying in

The flight from Jo’burg is about an hour and a half and takes you over the Mkgadikgadi pans, an amazing sight from the air.

Makgadikgadi Pans from the air
Makgadikgadi Pans from the air

Approaching Kasane, there is usually a good view of the Chobe River and it’s quite possible to spot Elephant even before you have landed.

Chobe River from the air
Chobe River from the air

So How much Game is there?

Chobe tends to exceed all your expectations – yes there are patches with not much going on, not visible anyway, but there are parts that take your breath away, like the lush floodplains filled with game almost as far as the eye can see – dominated by Elephant and Buffalo. Elephants occur here in such numbers that there are real concerns about the survival of the woodland, but Botswana has a strict anti-culling policy and so Elephant herds grow and spread unabated. Perhaps nature will intervene as it often does.

Mostly Elephant and Buffalo on the floodplain
Mostly Elephant and Buffalo on the floodplain

Apart from the frequent Elephant sightings, there are some other very special animals to be seen – (some of the snippets of information are from the excellent maps/brochures on Botswana by Veronica Roodt which I originally obtained for my 2000 visit)

  • Sable Antelope, one of the most beautiful antelope in Africa with their perfectly curved horns, which are used to defend themselves. Glossy black colouring means it is a bull, while cows and juveniles are brown
Sable Antelope
Sable Antelope

 

  • Leopard – we have been very fortunate in finding a young Leopard on two of our three visits so far, quite possibly the same individual which, on our last visit, had dragged its Impala meal into a tree. This is to prevent Hyena and other predators reaching it.
Leopard
Leopard

 

  • Kudu – males have those impressive twisted horns, females are hornless so the ears are more prominent
Kudu
Kudu

 

  • Puku – Chobe is the only place in Southern Africa where this uncommon species occurs, in small herds. Mostly found near water
Lechwe
Puku – unique to Chobe

 

  • Giraffe – tallest animal in the world at 5,5m. Valves in the jugular vein help to control blood pressure when they bend down to drink water. The oxpeckers love them, gathering in numbers on their long elegant necks
Giraffe at waterhole
Giraffe at waterhole
Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers taking a ride
Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers taking a ride

 

  • Zebra – no African Game Reserve would be complete without them – our kids loved to call them pyjama-donkeys when they were small, now the grandkids do it
Zebra on the plains
Zebra on the plains

 

  • Black-backed Jackal – Pairs form long-term bonds, as these two seem to have done
Black-backed Jackal
Black-backed Jackal

 

  • Wild Dog – if you are very lucky you may encounter one as we did, crossing the tar road in front of us, then dashing off as we slowed down. They usually move around and hunt in packs.
Wild Dog dashing across the road
Wild Dog dashing across the road

And the Birding?

For anyone starting birding, this must rate as one of the best places to visit – there are many larger species that are easy to see and even photograph if that is your thing. Identifying them is also fairly straightforward if you have one of the birding Apps or one of the many birding books available.

The short trips through Chobe that I have done so far have been exciting but too short and rushed to do any in-depth birding and I look forward to getting to grips with some of the more difficult to see species during future visits. Nevertheless there have been some very good sightings and photo opportunities of some of the “obvious” species – here’s a selection :

Ground Hornbill – no other reserve I have visited can boast as many of this iconic species

Ground Hornbill
Ground Hornbill

 

Red-billed Hornbill – there is a good chance you will encounter five Hornbill species during a visit – the one above plus the four smaller species being Red-billed as this one below, Yellow-billed, African Grey and Bradfield’s.

Red-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Hornbill

 

Yellow-billed Stork – occur regularly among the myriad birds that frequent the pools of the Chobe floodplain

Yellow-billed Stork
Yellow-billed Stork

 

Yellow-throated Petronia – an uncommon and not at all obvious species, this one happened to be perched near the Leopard with its half-eaten Impala

Yellow-throated Petronia
Yellow-throated Petronia

 

Kori Bustard – another species with a more than good chance of being spotted in the open areas with grass

Kori Bustard, said to be the heaviest flying bird in the world (5,5kg)
Kori Bustard, said to be the heaviest flying bird in the world (5,5kg)

 

Bateleur – often seen soaring high in the air, this juvenile was perched in a dry tree near the track. One unique feature is their short tail which allows it to walk backwards – useful when trying to catch a snake!

Bateleur (Juvenile)
Bateleur (Juvenile)

 

African Jacana – this one had a few youngsters in tow, cute little fluffy chicks with outsize legs

African Jacana with little ones
African Jacana with little ones

 

African Fish-Eagle – no great river in Africa is worthy of the name unless it is frequented by  these magnificent birds of prey and Chobe has its fair share of them

African Fish-Eagle
African Fish-Eagle

 

Oxpeckers – the giraffes seem to attract the most oxpeckers but they are just as likely to be found on buffalo, kudu, impala

Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers
Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

 

Green Woodhoopoe – often heard before they are seen, this species is less common

Green Woodhoopoe
Green Woodhoopoe

 

The Close of Day – Sunsets for Africa

I don’t think I have seen sunsets anywhere in the world that can compete with those over the Chobe river – tell me if you agree!

Sundowners at the river

 

Elephant at sunset

Can’t wait for next time!

2 thoughts on “Chobe National Park – The Riverfront”

    1. Thanks Etienne
      It is certainly one of the great African experiences
      I am in Kasane right now, visiting Vic Falls Airport with our client tomorrow
      Hoping to do another quick trip through Chobe on Friday morning before returning to SA
      Cheers

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