Chobe covers an area of 11,646 km2 and is world renowned for the magnificent array of wildlife contained within its borders. The elephant population alone has been estimated at between 40,000 and 60,000 individuals!
A wide range of distinctive habitat areas are represented within the National Park providing a fascinating variety of experiences.
The lush, almost tropical Linyanti swamps are found in the northwest of the Park while the unpredictable, harsh and beautiful Savuti channel and marsh are located in the southwest
The rich floodplains of the northeast run along the banks of the meandering Chobe River which forms the northern boundary of the Park. The remainder of Chobe is arid and hot, underlain by Kalahari sands.
The Chobe River originates in the Angolan highlands where it begins life as the Kwando River. Before becoming the Chobe, the water course changes its name twice to the Linyanti and then the Itenge. The vegetation changes dramatically throughout the Park, the compacted clay soils along the river front being dominated by Mopane trees while acacia species appear further inland. The land is much drier and more open than the Okavango area with wide plains and sand ridges.
The profusion of palatable grass species attracts an impressive variety of herbivores including the ever present elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, massive herds of buffalo, impala, kudu, waterbuck, tsessebe, steenbok and warthog. Chobe is also one of the few places on earth where you will find the rare Puku antelope. Similar in size and colour to the lechwe, they are never far from water and are only found in Chobe and a few areas of Zambia. The Chobe bush-buck is another endemic species.
Moremi Game Reserve covers 4,610km2 of the Okavango Delta and was the first wildlife area to be set aside by tribal people rather than colonial powers. Moremi extends east and northwards to join Chobe National Park, ensuring a continuous area of protected land all the way to Kasane.
Because Moremi reserve and Chobe National park are not fenced, animals are able to follow their own migration routes without interference, and use of the land adjacent to the officially protected areas is also carefully controlled.
A 350km2 area of land in the south eastern region of Botswana, the Tuli Block was originally ceded to Cecil Rhodes in the 1890's to facilitate the construction of the Cape to Cairo railway. After some time the construction came to a standstill due to the rocky and inhospitable nature of the land, and the railway was built elsewhere.
Subsequently, the Tuli Block was given to farmers who also discovered that the terrain was unsuitable for cattle or agriculture. In the end the area was dedicated to game conservation and today many visitors enjoy the private game reserves here which offer beautiful scenery of lush woodlands, rocky sandstone outcrops, rivers and gorges.The larger reserves include Mashatu (the largest private reserve in Southern Africa) and Tuli Nature Reserve.
The Kalahari Desert covers the entire western and central regions of Botswana and stretches into Namibia and South Africa. With an average annual rainfall of 250mm, it is not a true desert but rather a "thirst-land" with grasses and scrub vegetation prevailing. Despite the lack of surface water, the area supports a great variety of plants, animals and birds and many of these species have developed fascinating adaptations to their harsh environment. Because of its remote and arid nature, the Kalahari is difficult to access and human interference continues to be minimal, the area is therefore extremely important for conservation.
The best time to visit the Kalahari is between December and April when the rains bring the area to life and the harsh plains are transformed into swathes of lush grassland
Two distinct conservation areas exist within the Kalahari; the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in central Botswana and the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park in the south west of the country.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers a vast area of 52,800km2 (the approximate size of Holland and Belgium combined) and was originally established in order to provide protection for the San bushmen who still live in increasingly small and remote communities within the reserve. The landscape is predominantly sand with dry fossil valleys, dune fields and grassy plains. The Reserve itself is one of the largest in Africa, and the second largest protected area in the world.
Pans such as Deception Dry Valley, Piper Pans and Sunday Pans fill with water during the rainy season and attract great numbers of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, springbok, eland, cheetah, lion, leopard and wild dog. In addition to these larger species, the area is home to many smaller animals such as spring hare, suricate (meerkat) and bat eared fox.
The Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park was established in 1999 and incorporates the previous Gemsbok National Park of Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa. The Park now covers an area of just under 38,000km2 and is managed as a single ecological unit with the co-operation of both Botswana and South Africa. Rolling grasslands and pastel coloured sand dunes provide the backdrop for a range of species including hartebeest, eland, springbok, gemsbok, leopard, lion, cheetah and the rare brown hyena. The Park is also a haven for thousands of birds, more than fifty raptor species occur here. Infrastructure is extremely basic at present with camping sites being the only form of accommodation.
Probably the best known area of Botswana is the Okavango Delta. This area is one of the world's largest inland water systems, a unique oasis of life in the centre of the Kalahari Desert. It stretches over 15,000km2 and supports a staggering variety of animal, plant and bird life. The water is once thought to have reached the sea, but this is no longer the case. After a series of tectonic uplifts and earthquakes running along geological fault lines, the land at the edge of the Delta now lies lower than that of the surrounding area.
There are two fairly distinct areas of the Delta - the permanent swamp which is inundated with water all year round, and the seasonal swamp which is flooded annually and dries gradually with the onset of summer in October.
The wildlife in the Delta is rich and varied. Many of the larger herbivores are present and include elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and antelope species as well as numerous smaller animals. The carnivore populations are healthy and widespread including lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, spotted hyena, crocodile and jackal. In addition to the animal populations, the Delta is home to a staggering variety of birds; some 450 species exist within Northern Botswana. The most exciting aspect of encountering this wildlife is that the populations have never been imported or controlled in any way, and the large, protected areas are not fenced. Therefore Botswana is one of the last remaining areas where you are able to witness the complex interactions of a truly natural environment.
Of the many lodges within the Delta, most are small and intimate. Access to the Delta is generally by light aircraft into one of the many airstrips attached to private safari lodges. Mobile safaris operate out of Maun and Kasane and combine game viewing with nights spent in luxury lodges or private campsites. It is also possible to hire a 4x4 vehicle and drive through Moremi and Chobe stopping at the four municipal campsites, although organised safaris are by far the easiest way to view the area. On many of the private concession areas located in the heart of the Delta, outside the Game Reserve, it is possible to take part in organized walking activities from a lodge base. These are by no means strenuous but usually take around 3-4 hours and are included as part of the activity packages of many lodges. The opportunity to see wildlife at relatively close quarters on foot is one of the most exhilarating parts of any African holiday, and the knowledgeable and experienced guides ensure a thoroughly safe experience!
These magnificent, vast salt pans are located in northern central Botswana and cover a total area of over 12,000km2. They are ancient remnants of a vast super lake which used to cover over 60,000km2 and was up to 50m deep in some places. This lake once stretched from the Makgadikgadi system north-westwards and incorporated the Delta as well as the Savuti region of Chobe. Tectonic shifts eventually reduced the flow of water into the area from the northern rivers and caused the lake to dry up. Today evidence of the lake can be seen in the form of smooth, wave shaped boulders and fossil beaches.
The pan system is made up of several separate pans, the major ones being Ntwetwe, Nxai and Sowa Pans. The Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park was formed in 1993 by combining the Nxai National Park and the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve
It now covers an area of 7,500km2 within this system. The Park is unfenced, therefore allowing unhindered migration routes for the many species which are found here.
Makgadikgadi literally means "vast, open, lifeless land" and although it is far from lifeless, the area is certainly vast and open and is believed to be the largest salt pan of its kind in the world. The landscape is characterised by an endless horizon of flat, salt pan stretching into the distance, surrounded on the extreme fringes by low scrub. When the rains arrive in November or December, the pans are transformed by a vast, shallow layer of water which attracts thousands of water birds, herds of grazing herbivores and many carnivores.
Undoubtedly the most spectacular of the bird species are the greater and lesser flamingos which congregate on the pans to breed each rainy season. The pans are the second largest breeding site in Africa, and most of the birds migrate from Etosha National Park in Namibia or even from as far as East Africa.
Nxai Pan differs from Makgadikgadi in that the wide, open plains are covered in lush, sweet grassland interspersed with "islands" of trees. The grasses provide sustenance for a wide range of herbivores including huge herds of zebra as well as wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, springbok, eland and giraffe. Associated predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah follow the migration and add their presence to a spectacular wildlife experience. The bird life in this area is equally breath-taking with around 250 species present. Among these species is the 30kg Kori Bustard, the worlds' heaviest flying bird.
Sowa Pan is located to the east of Makgadikgadi, Sowa being the bushman word for salt. This Pan is also an important site for breeding flamingos, as well as attracting many other species during the winter months such as bee-eaters, kites and eagles. The Nata Sanctuary is a private reserve that was established to protect the bird life of this area and covers 230km2. Kubu (hippo in the Setswana language) Island is located on the western side of Sowa Pan and is a granite outcrop rising 20m above the clay and sand surface. Evidence of wave action from the bygone era of the super lake can be seen on the north-eastern side, and the fossil beaches, stunted baobab trees and mysterious stone walls combine to create an enigmatic atmosphere.
Another famous landmark in the Makgadikgadi area are the seven "Baines baobabs", named after Thomas Baines who first immortalised them in his painting of 1862. They are positioned on a small rise and create a fascinating interruption to the endless horizon. They have changed very little since Baines' painting and appear strangely timeless. Many of the majestic Baobab trees in the area have the signatures of explorers from past ages carved into their trunks, and act as unwitting archives of Botswana's pioneer history.
Tsodilo boasts the greatest concentration of San rock paintings in the world. Located in the extreme northwest of Botswana, the site consists of four quartzite hills rising 400m out of the surrounding landscape. Revered by the San people as the resting place of their spirits, there are more than 3,500 paintings covering the rock faces of the hills which are known as "male, female, child and unborn" by the San. Archaeological discoveries from the area have provided evidence of continuous human occupation for the last 80-100,000 years. Most of the paintings depict animals in symbolic hunting designs.
Destination:Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana
Destination:Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana
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