Chobe National Park, in northern Botswana, and in particular The Savuti Channel and the Savuti Marsh, have the largest elephant population, numbering upwards of 50,000. We are anticipating seeing many of these wonderful and majestic creatures over the next few days.
After a short flight from the Okovango Delta, we arrive at the bush strip in the Savuti Channel. We are met by our guide for the next three days – Gee! We quickly christen him Gee 2 (as we already had a guide named Gee in the Delta). He is an amiable young man with a good sense of humour who often pulls our leg with a few misleading “facts” or bit of teasing.
Savuti is very dry and very, very, very sandy. There are long flat vistas that are bone dry and sparsely vegetated with dry grass, bushes and stunted trees which have been devastated by the herds of elephants passing through. The plains are interspersed with round granite hills that punctuate the skyline and give some relief to the otherwise featureless landscape.
Occasionally, we travel through dense scrub and stunted mopane forests, which the elephants love. Their voracious appetite, is graphically seen, by the swathes of trees that have been pushed over and then carefully stripped of any leaves.
The Savuti Marsh area, 10,878 km² large, constitutes the western stretch of the park. 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 continuing tectonic activity in the area.
It is currently flowing and in January 2010 reached the Savuti Marsh for the first time since 1982. The region is also covered with extensive savannahs and rolling grasslands, which makes wildlife particularly dynamic in this section of the park. As it is the dry season, the variety of animals include; warthogs, kudus, impalas, zebras, wildebeests and above all elephants. Along the stream and pools in the marsh there is rich variety of birdlife – some 450 species in the whole park. 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.
Our camp is situated in a hillside and overlooks the Savuti Channel and has a “lawn” with a man-made waterhole beside the river. The elephants come to this waterhole daily, and particularly at sunset, when they come in after feeding out in the parched savannah. They come by in their tens and twenties and when the waterhole is full, others stand on the edge of the river and others rest on the “lawn” to wait for their turn at the waterhole. This is a magnificent sight but there is a significant draw back – it stinks! There is so much elephant poo & pee that the air is fetid and pungent, so much so, that it takes your breath away.
One of the rarest animals in Africa is the African Wild Dog and here in the Savuti Marsh we were lucky enough to sight a pack of three African Wild Dogs. These are distinctive looking creatures: lean, long bodied, large head with powerful jaws (the strongest bite of any canine) and very large erect ears. They have an unusually “painted” coat, which is a mixture of brown, red, black and greys all splodged together like an abstract painting. They are notoriously shy and their numbers are significantly limited.
Our trio had just made a kill of a baby kudu antelope and had gorged themselves into a stupor and were wearing this off while lying on cool green grass beside a pool in a large marshland. They were very much at ease but you could see that even though they looked asleep – their ears were registering every sound and assessing the need for action – fight or flight.
The African Wild Dog is an endangered species due to habitat loss and predator control killing. They range over very large territories, and are strongly affected by competition with larger carnivores that rely on the same prey base, particularly the lion and the Spotted Hyena. While the adult wild dogs can usually outrun the larger predators, lions often will kill as many wild dogs and cubs as they can but do not eat them. One-on-one the hyena is much more powerful than the wild dog but a large group of wild dogs can successfully chase off a small number of hyenas because of their teamwork and social organisation.
Apart from some rare and exciting sightings of birds and animals, we were treated to a very exciting sun downer experience. Gee 2 took us for a long afternoon drive and as the sun started to set, we crested a small rise and there before us was a splendid surprise – a grove of magnificent African Baobab trees. There are 6 species of baobab trees in the world – one in Africa, one in Australia and four in Madagascar.
These ancient and amazing looking trees reach heights of 5 to 30 m (16 to 98 ft) and have trunk diameters of 7 to 11 m (23 to 36 ft). An African baobab specimen in Limpopo Province, South Africa, often considered the largest example alive had a circumference of 47 m (154 ft). Its diameter is estimated at about 15.9 m (52 ft). Some baobabs are reputed to be many thousands of years old but this is hard to verify, as the wood does not produce annual growth rings. But they certainly look prehistoric and are sometimes called the upside down tree as the bare branches certainly look as though they are the roots of the tree.
As with anything so unusual, many myths and legends surround baobab tree:
• The Baobab tree fell from the sky that’s why it is upside down
• When God made the world, he gave each animal a tree. The Baobab was given to the hyena who threw it down in disgust with the tree landing upside down resulting in its impressive shape
• If you pick the flower of the baobab you will be eaten by a lion
• If you drink water in which a Baobab’s seeds have been soaked you will be safe from a crocodile attack.
Next blog – Zambia and a safari on the mighty Zambezi river….