The Riverfront section of Chobe National Park – one of the finest Game Reserve experiences in Southern Africa, if not the whole of Africa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- Kudu – males have those impressive twisted horns, females are hornless so the ears are more prominent
- Puku – Chobe is the only place in Southern Africa where this uncommon species occurs, in small herds. Mostly found near water
- 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
- 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
- Black-backed Jackal – Pairs form long-term bonds, as these two seem to have done
- 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.
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
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.
Yellow-billed Stork – occur regularly among the myriad birds that frequent the pools of the Chobe floodplain
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
Kori Bustard – another species with a more than good chance of being spotted in the open areas with grass
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!
African Jacana – this one had a few youngsters in tow, cute little fluffy chicks with outsize legs
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
Oxpeckers – the giraffes seem to attract the most oxpeckers but they are just as likely to be found on buffalo, kudu, impala
Green Woodhoopoe – often heard before they are seen, this species is less common
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!
Can’t wait for next time!