This vast northern park (11 700sq km) encompasses a variety of diverse habitats which are home to the greatest concentration ofgame on the southern African subcontinent. Next to the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park is probably Botswana’s next most well known conservation area. It is a diverse area, from the border at the Chobe River, to the now dry Savute Channel and beyond to the borders of the Moremi Wildlife Reserve / Okavango Delta. The Park is best known for its concentrations of elephant - some 120 000 individuals, along with good numbers of buffalo, antelope and predators. Birding is also excellent, with many migrants visiting from November to March.
Although there is much to see in the Chobe National Park, it is usually combined with Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta. From the dense riverine forests and swamplands, towards the eastern region, the countryside changes first to mopane and mixed deciduous forest and then to open grassy plains and rocky kopje. Chobe is most often associated with its elephant population – which covers much of Northern Botswana and the north-west of Zimbabwe. The elephant population is migratory, making seasonal moves of up to 200 kilometres from the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers (their dry season home) to the pans in the south east of the Park, where they disperse to in the rainy season. The Chobe elephants are known for their extreme site, although they don’t tend to have large tusks.
In general, game viewing is best in the dry months (generally April to October), although birding is at its height from November to March. Malarial mosquitoes are found throughout the Park and you are strongly advised to anti-malarial prophylactics before, during and after travel to the area.
Chobe is the site of a dramatic annual migration of zebra and at times the roads become almost impassable and congested with thousands of animals forming a solid mass moving across the landscape. Throughout the year herds of elephant and buffalo can be seen drinking along the river’s edge. Their numbers swelling into thousands during the dry season. The Chobe area contains the highest concentration of elephant in the world, with a total population of 120 000.
The park has four distinct areas: the Chobe River frontage including Serondela, the central area around Nogatsaa and the associated pans, which attract great concentrations of wildlife long into the dry season; Linyanti with its riverine marshes and papyrus beds and the Savuti area which includes the Mababe Depression. The 125 000-hectare (308 000-acre) private Linyanti Concession bordering Chobe National Park's western boundary is an enormous, wildlife-rich area, shared between just three small camps (DumaTau, Kings Pool and Savuti), which creates an unrivalled atmosphere of remoteness and space.
There are three main features of the Linyanti Concession: the Linyanti River, the woodlands of the interior and the well-known Savute Channel, famous as a sporadic and unusual watercourse. The Channel stopped flowing between 1980 and 2008; during this time it was an open grassland, home to a wide variety of animals. In 2008, the Savute Channel once more flowed, creating a water source that rapidly filled with aquatic life, wide varieties of waterbirds and hippo, amongst other changes. With two-thirds of the Channel located in the concession, Wilderness guests have private and exclusive access to its abundant game.
These three features together with the floodplains, woodlands, grasslands, palm islands and scrub vegetation of the area harbour one of the densest dry season concentrations of elephant in Botswana - at times the Linyanti must have several thousand elephants roaming around. This phenomenon is one of the main attractions for travellers to northern Botswana, but the area is also important in holding good numbers of predators, providing an integral stronghold for species like the critically endangered wild dog, as well as lion, cheetah and spotted hyaena. The roan antelope found in the area can provide an equal thrill however, as can the high concentration of birds of prey, seasonal zebra congregations and the cathedral-like woodland of mature mopane trees.
Aside from roan, other plains game includes red lechwe, Burchell's zebra, blue wildebeest, impala, common waterbuck, sable, eland, southern giraffe, chacma baboon, vervet monkey, warthog, hippo and Cape buffalo. Nocturnal species often seen are lesser bushbaby, spring hare, aardwolf, serval, large spotted genet and if you are extremely lucky the elusive pangolin!
Birding is outstanding here ranging from the Okavango specials, such as Slaty Egret, Hartlaub's Babbler, African Skimmer, Allen's Gallinule and Wattled Crane, to the drier mopane woodland species like Racket-tailed Roller, Bradfield's Hornbill, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Bennett's Woodpecker, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Arnott's Chat. This area is also excellent for Kori Bustard, Ostrich, Secretarybird and Ground Hornbill with Southern Carmine Bee-eaters in summer. The Savute Channel is famous as an area with a high concentration of eagles and raptors and this area is internationally recognised as an IBA (Important Bird Area), particularly for birds of prey like Dickinson's Kestrel and waterbirds. There are also various owl species to be seen here such as Verreaux's (Giant) Eagle-Owl and African Scops-Owl.
The many varied habitats within these areas - marshes, waterways, riverine forests, dry woodlands and grasslands - and the prolific and diverse wildlife and spectacular scenery together form a wonderful contrast to the Okavango. Adding this area to a Botswana itinerary makes for a varied and balanced experience of the country and in many ways it is an essential complement to a visit to the Okavango.
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 most commonly used route into the park is via Kasane, near the Kazungula border post where the four countries of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia meet at a single point. This scenic little town just east of the national park entrance gate is strung out along a shady tree-lined avenue on the Chobe river bank.
The boundary of the Chobe National Park butts right up to the western edge of the town and, as it is unfenced, many animals including elephant and hippo can be seen wandering casually through the streets and camp sites of Kasane.