First proclaimed a reserve in 1961, Chobe National Park covers 10,698 square kilometres of varied habitat ranging from grassland to woodland, river front to floodplain and swamp. Chobe supports the most diverse wildlife in the country and is home to the largest concentration of elephants on the planet: As of 2012 more than 165 000 elephants are believed to live in the northern regions of Botswana. The Chobe National Park has several regions, those of interest to us are Chobe River area in the north and the Savute area in the south.
THE CHOBE RIVER AREA
This area lies north along the Chobe River, bordering the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. The Chobe River, which flows into the Zambezi river, is the only source of water for the wildlife that live in this protected area. During the rainy season most of the wildlife disperses into the woodland, but in the drier months (March – November) they all converge on the river in large concentrations to drink, bathe and feed.
African Elephant, Southern Giraffe, African Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Impala, Bush Duiker, Steenbok, Puku, Red Lechwe, Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Honey Badger, Lion, Leopard, Painted Dog, Side-striped Jackal, Banded Mongoose, Dwarf Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, Porcupine, Nile Crocodile, Hippo, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Water Monitor, Tree Squirrel.
The Savute Channel, which snakes its way from the Zibadianja Lagoon through the arid grasslands of north-western Chobe to fill the Savute Marsh, has flowed and dried up several times over the past 100 years. After almost 30 years of drought it began flowing again in 2010 providing an oasis for the wildlife in the centre of an otherwise dry grassland. The flat landscape is punctuated by rocky outcrops and savannah woodlands.
African Elephant, Southern Giraffe, African Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Greater Kudu, Tsessebe, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Impala, Steenbok, Klipspringer, (very rare: Eland),Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Honey Badger, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Painted Dog, Black- backed Jackal, Side-striped Jackal, Banded Mongoose, Dwarf Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, Nile Crocodile, Hippo, Porcupine.
This area, which is situated in the north east of Moremi Game Reserve, is mostly open flood plains that attract big herds of animals during the dry season. The Maunachira river, a branch of the Okavango River, leads into the Khwai River here and is bordered by beautiful riverine forests.
African Elephant, Southern Giraffe, African Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Impala, Bush Duiker, Steenbok, Red Lechwe, Sitatunga, Blue Wildebeest, Tsessebe, Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Honey Badger, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Civet, Painted Dog, Side-striped Jackal, Black-backed Jackal, Banded Mongoose, Dwarf Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, Porcupine, Nile Crocodile, Hippo, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Water Monitor, Tree Squirrel.
Moremi Game Reserve was the first game reserve in Africa to be established by a local tribe, in this case the BaTawana tribe of Ngamiland. In 1963, the widow of Chief Moremi III set this land aside to protect it for future generations. The area was later enlarged and the present day park occupies an area of approximately 4,800 square kilometres which includes Chief’s Island, the largest island in the Okavango Delta. Moremi Game Reserve boasts one of the richest, most diverse ecosystems on the continent ranging from rivers to swamps (both seasonal and permanent), floods plains, lagoons, pans, grasslands as well as riparian, riverine and Mophane forests.
BLACK POOLS AND XINI
These 2 areas are in the south eastern part of Moremi Game Reserve. With both seasonal and permanent swamps, this flood plain landscape is home to a bounty of buffalo, elephant and prides of Lion while Cheetah and Painted Dog have frequently been seen hunting here. There are only two camping areas here reserved exclusively for the use of Botswana registered tour operators which keeps tourist activity to a minimum.
XAKANAXA AND THIRD BRIDGE
Tucked in the western part of Moremi Game Reserve, Xakanaxa and Third Bridge offer varied habitats for wildlife: Gigantic Mophane forests lead into wide open spaces, floodplains, rivers and both seasonal and permanent swamps, all of breathtaking beauty.
Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Spotted Hyena, Painted Dog, Black-backed Jackal, Side-striped Jackal, African Wildcat, African Elephant, African Buffalo, Southern Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Plains Zebra, Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Red Lechwe, Tsessebe, Bushbuck, Impala, Steenbok, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Caracal, 4 types of mongooses, Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodile, Water Monitor and a wide variety of birds including raptors and water birds.
The Okavango Delta is an inland oasis set in the centre of the Kalahari Basin which is a vast sea of sand stretching over 3 000 kilometres from north to south and 1 500 kilometres from west to east. The Okavango River rises in Angola from where it flows each year through the Caprivi Strip of Namibia into Botswana at the onset of the dry season. As the water flows into Botswana it passes over a tectonic trough which fans the flow of the flood and shapes the Okavango Delta.
Every year, 11 cubic kilometres of water flows into the Okavango Delta over an area of between 6 000 and 16 000 square kilometres. Most of the waters evaporate, transpire into the atmosphere through plants or seep away into the ground, but some of the waters reach Lake Ngami in the south while others flow east into Moremi Game Reserve.
For millions of years, the Okavango Delta has remained intact and is relatively under developed. It is one of the most pristine inland wetlands in Africa with a dynamic, naturally-functioning ecosystem rich in biodiversity. A substantial amount of this area is also incorporated in the Moremi Game Reserve and on 22 June 2014 the Okavango Delta became a World Heritage Site.
THE PERMANENT SWAMPS The Permanent Swamps cover an area of about 3 000 square kilometres which hardly varies in size from year to year. This area is a maize of papyrus, deep lagoons, channels and islands punctuated by vast expanses of water. Lodges here are accessed by light aircraft or motor boats and all game viewing activities are water-based.
THE SEASONAL SWAMP The surface area of the seasonal swamps varies with the seasons and depending on the size of the annual flood. This area is an ever changing patchwork of flood plains, islands, pools and channels where the Mokoro (dug out canoe) which silently glides over the shallow floodplains, is the mode of transport. With the abundance of water and vegetation in the Okavango Delta the wildlife is dispersed throughout this huge area which does not make this a primary game viewing area.
African Elephant, Southern Giraffe, African Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Impala, Bush Duiker, Steenbok, Red Lechwe, Sitatunga, Bushbuck, Tsessebe, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Honey Badger, Lion, Leopard, Painted Dog, Cheetah, Side-striped Jackal, Black-backed Jackal, Banded Mongoose, Dwarf Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, Porcupine, Nile Crocodile, Hippo, Cape Clawless Otter, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Water Monitor, Tree Squirrel.
When viewed from space, the Okavango Delta looks like a giant frying pan with the upper Okavango river in Botswana forming the handle of that pan. The panhandle is well-known for its excellent fishing and even better bird watching. For fishermen the peak time to visit this region is during the so-called ‘Barbel runs’ when a local species of catfish school in massive numbers, feeding on bait fish which spill out of the floodplains as the floodwaters recede. This normally occurs in September-October and during this period there is some spectacular tiger fishing to be had along these waters. The Brown-throated Weaver, Greater Swamp-Warbler, Brown Firefinch, White-backed Night-Heron, Wattled Crane and the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl can all be spotted in this area. During the summer months the Carmine Bee-eaters form large colonies and nest in the banks of the river and gather in large flocks around the colony making for some wonderful photographic opportunities. The rare Sitatunga, an aquatic antelope with elongated hooves which enable it to walk on floating vegetation, frequent the papyrus.
Crocodile, Hippo, Sitatunga, Cape Clawless Otter, African Elephant.
These pans are the remnants of a once vast paleo-lake which covered much of northern Botswana and extended into western Zimbabwe covering, at it’s maximum extent, over 80 000 square kilometres. It is thought that the last remnants of this inland sea must have dried up as recently as 10 000 years ago with the Makgadikgadi Pans and Nxai Pan being the deepest and therefore the last areas to see water.
Nxai Pan was proclaimed a conservation area in the 1970s with a surface area of 1 676 square kilometres. In 1992 it was declared a national park and enlarged to include Baines’ Baobabs. Today it comprises an area of 2 578 square kilometres. Nxai Pan National Park consists mainly of a series of fossil pans, all of which are covered in short, nutritious grasses. On the pans are islands of Acacia trees that form shady spots in which the animals rest during the day. This makes for beautiful scenery and is unique to Nxai Pan.
These famous Baobabs are situated about 20 kilometres from Nxai Pan and were painted by the early explorer missionary Thomas Baines in the late 1800s. Groups of majestic baobab trees stand on the edge of these huge salt pans in this otherwise barren landscape.
African Elephant, Southern Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Greater Kudu, Impala, Gemsbok, Springbuck, Bush Duiker, Steenbok, (very rare: Eland), Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Brown Hyena, Honey Badger, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Painted Dog, Black- backed Jackal, Bat-eared Fox, Banded Mongoose, Dwarf Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, Porcupine, Tree Squirrel.
The present-day pan complex presents the traveller with an other worldly landscape which is both vast and desolate. During the wet months (Dec-April), large herds of Burchell’s Zebra and Blue Wildebeest can be found grazing on the large grassland areas which fringe the pans. In the southern part of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park large stands of the tall and iconic Mokolwane Palms can be seen standing more than 20 metres above the flat grasslands.
Besides the seasonal rains, the only source of water is one man-made waterhole filled with under-ground water. Springbok and Impala congregate around this waterhole and occasionally attract Lion, Cheetah and sometimes even Leopard. Elephant bulls and giraffe track between Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pans and they too are common residents at the waterhole. Ostrich, Kori Bustard and Secretary Birds are common to this desert area as are sandgrouse.
Vast almost beyond comprehension, the Central Kalahari is home to a hardy population of wildlife that has made this thirst land their home. Characterised by immense grassland expanses and punctuated by valleys, ancient dune ranges and small tree islands, the Central Kalahari is an astonishing destination. Most of the tourist activities within the Central Kalahari take place in the northern parts of the reserve and mobile safaris in particular favour the locations of Deception and Passarge Valley. During the rainy season (Dec-Apr) this arid environment turns green and minute wildflowers emerge in their millions. During the winter months the night skies of the Central Kalahari are unrivalled, the coal-black heavens sparkle with innumerable stars and the ghostly silence is palpable.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is good for dry country wildlife. Springbok and gemsbok are abundant in the valleys after the rains. The predators here are the Kalahari Lions, Cheetah, Leopard and Brown Hyena, while Honey Badger, Black-backed Jackal and Meerkats can also be spotted.
Botswana is a land-locked country which has a sub-tropical, desert climate characterized by great differences in day and night temperatures, virtually no rainfall in the winter months and overall low humidity. During the rainy season one can expect short lived thunder storms with torrential down pours or witness the gentle “mother” rain from the north which can sometimes last for a few days.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
April - October: Okavango, Moremi, Chobe
March - May: Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan and Central Kalahari Game Reserve
July - October: Not crowded, except on the Chobe River
December – March: Some lodges and camps close down and mobile safaris are not ideal due to flooding and heavy mud.
April – September: moderate temperatures, little to no rainfall and few clouds.
October – November: very hot.
January – February: peak rainy season.
May - The temperatures are relatively cool, typically 10°C/50°F in the morning and 28°C/80°F in the afternoon.
June, July and August - Be sure to pack winter clothing because morning game drives in our open vehicles will be cold. The average morning temperature is 6°C/42°F. Night temperatures can drop below freezing, especially in the dryer desert areas. Afternoons can be sunny and pleasant with temperatures around 25°C/78°F.
September and October - The heat gradually builds and it can get very hot in October (39°C/100°F), but the average temperature remains around 34°C/93°F in the afternoon.
As the vegetation thins out and waterholes in the interior of the bush dry up, animals concentrate in large quantities around permanent water in areas such as Moremi Game Reserve, Khwai River, along the Savute channel and the Chobe River. This makes game viewing a real pleasure and one can spend hours observing the behavior of various species.
November and December - Clouds start to appear, bringing cooler temperatures and an occasional late afternoon shower. This pattern continues in December, with typical temperatures between 20°C/69°F in the morning and 33°C/91°F in the afternoon. The more extreme Kalahari areas can still have very hot days, and cold mornings. Humidity is typically between 50 and 60%.
January and February - These are the wettest months, characterized by torrential downpours in the afternoon and sometimes continuous rainfall for days. Daytime temperatures are around 32°C/90°F and the humidity is between 50 and 80%.
March and April - Rainfall decreases and it steadily cools. This trend continues through April, which has lovely, clear weather and few clouds. The nights tend to be cooler but the days are very temperate at 30°C/87°F.
As the vegetation becomes thicker during the rainy season it becomes more difficult to spot game in the northern National parks, having said that, you will still see plenty game, including newborn animals and large herds of Buffalo, Zebra and Wildebeest in the Savute Marsh. In Nxai Pan you can witness huge herds of Springbok, Gemsbok, Zebra and Wildebeest followed by Lion and Painted dogs. Large migrations of Springbok and Gemsbok can also be witnessed in the Central Kalahari National Park with predators like Lion, Cheetah, Painted dogs and brown Hyena. It is a birders paradise during this period as the migratory birds from Europe and Northern Africa come to breed, nest and rear their fledglings. During October and November the birds are in their colorful breeding plumage.