LAND OF GIANTS
The Chobe National Park is one of Africa’s last havens for its biggest animals and nowhere is that more obvious than the Chobe River in the far north of the park. Home to a vast array of resident animals and an excellent wildlife destination year-round, the river is at its best during Botswana’s long dry season when heavyweight animals arrive in increasing concentrations at what has become the only water source for miles around. You’ll explore the river’s floodplains and surrounding forests on 4X4 game drives looking for elephant, buffalo, giraffe and antelope plus their predators – big cats, crocodiles, hyenas and wild dogs. The birdlife is spectacular and you also have a chance to take to the river on a Chobe boat cruise – a must-do activity in the late dry season. Some lodges located outside the park are permitted to offer guided walks with local naturalists and birding experts.
Decades of dedicated conservation have resulted in the Chobe River becoming the number one destination to see Africa’s biggest herds of elephants. Tens of thousands of them arrive between June and November, juggernaught-sized bulls, jostling juveniles and mothers with wobbly-trunked babies all crowding the river banks in an unforgettable riot of noise and drama. During the driest months (September to November) it’s not uncommon to watch herds swimming across to the Caprivi floodplains, their trunks held up like snorkels. And so successful has their conservation been that these elephants barely acknowledge you as you drive past, making for amazingly close-up shots of Africa’s iconic animal.
With this much wildlife concentrated at the river, it is not surprising that the Chobe River has a great reputation for predators. Prides of lions are the most obvious, dominating the scene during the dry season as they follow herds of buffalo to the river and back, but Chobe’s forests are home to leopards while nomadic cheetahs put in regular appearances on the river’s open floodplains. Spotted hyenas are never very far away from the action – especially when Chobe’s lions are hunting buffalo – while packs of African wild dog occasionally move through the area on the hunt for impala and other antelope. Take a boat trip on the Chobe River to see the most effective predators of them all: Nile crocodiles, measuring up to six metres in length and patiently waiting for their prey.
More than 450 species of bird have been recorded in the Chobe River region, making it one of the best birding destinations in Africa. There is a dazzling display of birds all year round thanks to a generous mix of habitats – storks, spoonbills and egrets by the river, eagles and vultures circling in the sky, kingfishers and rollers hunting insects in the grasslands, woodpeckers and warblers in the forests – but the very best time for bird watching on the Chobe River is during summer – November to April – when migrant species arrive – kites, cuckoos, swallows and swifts as well as paradise flycatchers and the outrageous pennant-winged nightjar. September and October are spectacular months too, with clouds of colourful carmine bee-eaters flitting back and forth from their riverbank nests, and the Chobe River is home to several regional rarities that feature high on a birdwatcher’s tick list such as African skimmer, Pel’s fishing-owl and rock pratincole.
CHOBE RIVER WILDLIFE
A game drive on the Chobe floodplains will reveal a wealth of wildlife but the best way to see what’s living in and next to the swirling waters of the Chobe River is to get aboard a boat – large or small – and let a local guide show you. Hippos and crocodiles are easily seen, sunning themselves on sandbanks, but look a little closer and you’ll see terrapins and marauding water monitor lizards, whip-tailed reptiles up to two metres long and adding a prehistoric note to the scene. The birdlife is nothing short of spectacular on the river and a pair of keen eyes will pick out animals that prefer the thick cover of the riverside bush such as the exquisitely-patterned Chobe bushbuck and its arch-enemy, the leopard.