Within the Chobe National Park, Savuti is perhaps one of the best-known game-viewing areas in the country. Under ideal conditions, the number and variety of animals seen can be quite staggering.
The Savuti area supports mainly Camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) sandveld, Silver Terminalia (Terminalia sericea) sandveld, scrub savanna, and mopane veld. Savuti's almost desert-like landscape with a scorching sun, loose, hot sand, animals escaping the heat by clumping together in the limited available shade, and elephants impatiently lining up to get to the ever-dwindling water supply, offer a wildlife experience so different, yet so true to Africa.
It is almost impossible to imagine that this desolate, harsh landscape was once submerged beneath an enormous inland sea. Geologically the five main features of Savuti (namely the Magwikhwe Sand Ridge, the Mababe Depression, the Savuti Marsh with its dead trees, the Rocky Outcrops, and the Savuti Channel) are all intricately linked in a fascinating manner.
There is still some speculation as to how this once massive lake received its waters. The most popular explanation is that once the Upper Zambezi, the Chobe, and the Okavango rivers flowed together, across the north of Botswana and down to the sea via the Limpopo. A gentle warping of the Earth's crust dammed this flow to create a vast lake. In time, however, further crustal movement caused these rivers to find a new route to the sea. The direction of these rivers changed by faulting; the Upper Zambezi and the Chobe turned to the northeast and, after plunging over the Victoria Falls, joined what is now the Middle Zambezi.
Trapped by an emerging rift valley, the Okavango bled its waters into the vast accumulations of sand to create the delta we see today. Condemned by a changing climate which reduced rainfall and brought a return of almost desert-like conditions, the super-lake, cut off from its supplies of water, dried up and was no more.
One of the great mysteries and fascinations of Savuti is its famous channel. It runs a distance of 100 kilometres from the Chobe river, through a gap in the sand ridge, to the Mababe Depression. Falling only approximately 18 meters (about 18 centimetres for each kilometre of distance covered), this channel brings water from the Chobe to Mababe, creating a small marsh where it enters the Depression.
It is the channel and its water, which explains the fantastic abundance of game that can sometimes be seen at Savuti. However, the channel does not always flow and therein lies its great mystery.
Reports from early explorers confirm that the channel was flowing in the 1850's and until about 1880. At that time it ceased to flow and remained dry until about the mid-1950's, when without explanation, it began to flow again. Since then, it has "switched" on and off several times. At the moment it is dry. It is this quixotic flow that explains the dead trees you will see in the channel.
The long dry period of this century gave the Camelthorn trees (Acacia erioloba) enough time to establish themselves and grow to full size. The flood that followed drowned the trees both in the channel and on the edge of the marsh. The dead trees, which have remained erect for more than 35 years, are today one of the most prominent features of the Savuti landscape.
A possible explanation for the erratic flow of the Savuti channel can be the tectonic movements (earth crust movements). Even without water from the Chobe, Savuti remains a place of enchantment, of singular beauty, and boasts one of the greatest concentrations of animals in Southern Africa.