Chobe National Park is Botswana's first national park, and also the most biologically diverse. Located in the north of the country, it is Botswana's third largest park, after the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Gemsbok National Park, and has one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa.
Geography and ecosystems
The park can be divided up to 4 areas, each corresponding to one
- 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. Large numbers of carmine bee eaters are
spotted in season. When in flood spoonbills, ibis, various species
of stork, duck and other waterfowl flock to the area. This is
likely Chobe's most visited section, in large part because of its
proximity to the Victoria Falls. The town of Kasane, situated just
downstream, is the most important town of the region and serves as
the northern entrance to the park.
- The Savuti Marsh area,10,878 km2 large, constitutes the
western stretch of the park (50 km north of Mababe Gate). The
Savuti Marsh is the relic of a large inland lake whose water supply
was cut a long time ago by tectonic movements. Nowadays the marsh
is fed by the erratic Savuti Channel, which dries up for long
periods then curiously flows again, a consequence of tectonic
activity in the area. It is currently flowing again and in January
2010 reached Savuti Marsh for the first time since 1982. As a
result of this variable flow, there are hundred of dead trees along
the channel's bank. The region is also covered with extensive
savannahs and rolling grasslands, which makes wildlife particularly
dynamic in this section of the park. At dry seasons, tourists going
on safari often view the rhinoceros, warthog, kudu, impala, zebra,
wildebeest and a herd of elephants bullying each other. At rain
seasons, the rich birdlife of the park (450 species in the whole
park) is well represented. Packs of lions, hyenas, zebras or more
rarely cheetahs are visible as well. This region is indeed reputed
for its annual migration of zebras and predators.
- The Linyanti Marsh, located at the Northwest corner of
the park and to the North of Savuti, is adjacent to Linyanti River.
To the west of this area lies Selinda Reserve and on the northern
bank of Kwando River is Namibia's Nkasa Rupara National Park.
Around these 2 rivers are riverine woodlands, open woodlands as
well as lagoons, and the rest of the region mainly consists of
flood plains. There are here large concentrations of lion, leopard,
African wild dog, roan antelope, sable antelope, a hippopotamus pod
and enormous herds of elephants. The rarer red lechwe, sitatunga
and a bask of crocodiles also occur in the area. Bird life is very
- Between Linyanti and Savuti Marshes lies a hot and dry
hinterland, mainly occupied by the Nogatsaa grass woodland.
This section is little known and is a great place for spotting
The original inhabitants of this area were the San bushmen (also
known as the Basarwa people in Botswana). They were nomadic
hunter-gatherers who were constantly moving from place to place to
find food sources, namely fruits, water and wild animals. Nowadays
one can find San paintings inside rocky hills of the park.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the region that would
become Botswana was divided into different land tenure systems. At
that time, a major part of the park's area was classified as crown
land. The idea of a national park to protect the varied wildlife
found here as well as promote tourism first appeared in 1931. The
following year, 24,000 km2 around Chobe district were
officially declared non-hunting area; this area was expanded to
31,600 km2 two years later.
In 1943, heavy tsetse infestations occurred throughout the
region, delaying the creation of the national park. By 1953, the
project received governmental attention again: 21,000 km2 were
suggested to become a game reserve. The Chobe Game Reserve was
officially created in 1960, though smaller than initially desired.
In 1967, the reserve was declared a national park.
At that time there were several industrial settlements in the
region, especially at Serondela, where the timber industry
proliferated. These settlements were gradually moved out of the
park, and it was not until 1975 that the whole protected area was
exempt from human activity. Nowadays traces of the prior timber
industry are still visible at Serondela.
Minor expansions of the park took place in 1980 and 1987.
The park is widely known for its spectacular elephant
population: It contains an estimated 50,000 elephants, perhaps the
highest elephant concentration of Africa, and part of the largest
continuous surviving elephant population. The elephant population
seems to have solidly built up since 1990, from a few thousand.
Elephants living here are Kalahari elephants, the largest in
size of all known elephant populations. They are characterized by
rather brittle ivory and short tusks, perhaps due to calcium
deficiency in the soils.
Damage caused by the high numbers of elephants is rife in some
areas. In fact, concentration is so high throughout Chobe that
culls have been considered, but are too controversial and have thus
far been rejected.
At dry season, these elephants sojourn in Chobe River and the
Linyanti River areas. At rain season, they make a 200-km migration
to the southeast stretch of the park. Their distribution zone
however outreaches the park and spreads to northwestern