Chobe National Park is a large wilderness area covering nearly 11 000 square kilometres, which makes it the third-largest park/game reserve in Botswana.
During the 1930's Botswana was still a British protectorate known as Bechuanaland. In those days very few people visited the Chobe riverfront, and the area was used mainly for hunting and timber. The large elephant population lured many a hunter to the area during the time when ivory trade was rife, and conservation of wildlife and the environment was not a high priority. The then commissioner of Botswana, Colonel Charles Rey, wanted to proclaim the area a reserve, however, his dream was only realised in the early 1960's when the Chobe National Park came into existence under the Bechuanaland Government proclamation no. 22 of 1961.
The Chobe River forms the northern boundary and in the extreme southwest corner, it borders onto Moremi Game Reserve. The primary function of Chobe National Park is the protection of the full range of southern Africa's large predators, as well as the localized puku antelope and migratory elephant population, which can number up to 70 000.
The Chobe National Park offers extreme contrasts and a variety of wildlife experiences within the confines of one park. It covers a variety of vegetation types and geological features that vary from the almost tropical habitat of the Linyanthi swamp to the severe, desert-like landscape of the Savuti, and from the lush Chobe floodplain grassland to the deep sands of the Brachestegia woodland.
It also has the Mababe Depression with its black cotton soil and Acacia scrub, as well as the pan-studded mopane and Combretum areas at Nogatsaa.
Four main areas have been developed in Chobe (namely: Savuti, Chobe River, Linyanthi, and Nogatsaa), each of which offers a unique experience. The Savuti and Chobe River Front areas will be discussed since these are the two areas of focus during the trail.
Chobe River Front
The Chobe National Park was named after the Chobe river, which forms the northern boundary of the park. The Chobe River area is very rich in plant life, offering Bachestegia sand veld, mopane woodland, mixed Combretum veld, floodplain grassland and the riverine woodland. The latter has, unfortunately, been severely damaged by elephants and has in places been reduced to scrub or totally denuded.
Perhaps the greatest attraction of the Chobe river area is the elephants, which can almost always be seen there. Their late afternoon visits to the water's edge offer hours of fascinating viewing and wonderful opportunities for the photographer.
Along with the huge herds of elephants, huge herds of buffalo can also be seen in this area during the dry season. You can also expect to see tsessebe, waterbuck, roan, eland, sable, giraffe and, if you are lucky, one of the rare puku.
The floodplains of the river make an ideal viewing area, with mixed patches of open grassland, thickets of bush and riverine forest. In the river itself, you should see hippo and crocodile. The Chobe river area has a rich selection of bird life as well. Exquisite sunsets make this a wildlife experience not to be missed.
The Chobe river has its origins in the highlands of Angola and flows in a south-easterly direction. This section of the river is called the Kwando.
When it enters Botswana, it not only changes its name but also undergoes a dramatic 90 degree change in course at the point where it meets a major fault line. The name of the river changes another 3 times before it reaches the Zambezi river.
After entering Botswana the Kwando river becomes the Linyanthi. At Parakurungu it becomes the Itenge and only near Ngoma Gate does it become the Chobe river. From the point where the Chobe abruptly bends, The Magwegqana or Selinda spillway links the Delta to the Chobe. It is popularly believed that the Selinda can flow in both directions, resulting in the Chobe doing the same. This is not true. In fact, the water merely backs up for a considerable distance, creating the impression of a change in the current.