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Chobe National Park and Savuti Marsh in Botswana

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Chobe National Park and Savuti Marsh in Botswana

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By Antoinette Booyse

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Botswana’s famous Chobe National Park, which includes the Savute Channel and the natural grandeur of the Linyanti River, is a must-see wildlife attraction. Chobe National Park, which covers about 11,000 km2 (4,247 square miles), was Botswana’s first national park and has Africa’s highest concentration of wildlife. Chobe Savuti Marsh is located in Chobe National Park.

Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park was proclaimed in 1968 and protects an area of 11,700km2 (4,517 square miles) that was mainly ravaged by big game hunters and commercial logging at the time of its formation.

The Park is located in the northeast of Botswana, falling within the convergence of two major biomes: Kalahari savanna meets broad-leaved and acacia woodland and Zambezi Teak forest.
Running through these beautiful ecosystems is the illustrious Chobe River, with its yawning floodplains and surrounding riparian forest. Chobe has some of the best safari lodges in Africa, with great views of the wildlife, delicious food, and excellent service on a Botswana safari holiday.

Elephant in Botswana are a sight to behold
Elephant in Botswana are a sight to behold

The Chobe River rises in Angola as the Kwando (Cuando) River and then disappears into the swamplands of the Linyanti, reemerging as the Chobe River. During winter months, the banks of the Chobe attract the largest population of elephants in the world at around 60 000 – 70 000 individuals.

Add great herds of buffalo, notoriously fearless lion prides, and 468 bird species to date, and you’ve got a playground for nature-lovers that’s second to none. From November to December, herbivores migrate between the Chobe River and the Savuti Marsh in pursuit of fresh grazing grounds.

The Savuti Marsh in Botswana

The Savuti Marsh is an expanse of grasslands in the western region of Chobe National Park. In Botswana’s BaYei dialect, the word Savute means “unclear,” which is thought to be a reference to the area’s unpredictable water supply, the Savuti Channel.

During the rainy season, the Savuti plains are lush and green. While Bateleur eagles and White-backed vultures circle the skies, large herds of buffalo and zebra can be seen roaming the open plains. Small islands with Ilala and Wild date palms are grouped together, providing shady hiding places for predators during the midday sun. During the dry season, many elephants are drawn to three man-made water holes introduced to the Savuti region in 1995.

A lodge overlooking Savuti
A lodge overlooking Savuti

The Savuti channel has been a subject of great intrigue throughout history for its mysterious patterns of flow that experts believe to be influenced by underground tectonic forces.

The earliest mention of it can be found in European missionary explorer David Livingstone’s journal where, in 1851, he referred to Savuti (“Sontwa”) as a “dismal swamp”. The channel seems to have remained a drying wasteland for close to a century but began to flow again in 1957 when it drowned a large portion of the area’s acacia trees.

These dead trees still stand today, creating an intriguing, almost ghost-like landscape. In 1982, the channel again dried up, a process that Dereck and Beverley Joubert documented in their film Stolen River and, later, Journey to the Forgotten River.

Elephant wandering the Savuti Marsh
Elephant wandering the Savuti Marsh

The drought transformed a thriving wildlife area into a dramatic battleground for survival. Large lion prides became specialized elephant killers, and crocodiles sought refuge by hibernating in the Gubatsaa Hills. In 2008, the area got wetter, and the channel flooded into the marsh in 2010, with the channel beginning to dry up again in 2016.

The drying-up process is fascinating, with storks, eagles, herons, and numerous other bird species flocking around small pools to feast on trapped fish. Even leopards have been caught grabbing catfish from the muddy shallows, showing their remarkable ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

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