Big_Dog

Let's talk Chobe National Park. (Botswana)

25 posts in this topic

So who has been, where did you stay, how was the accomodation and tourist infrastructure? What sightings did you have? What are you recommendations for the Etosha National Park? Feel free to post anything which you think will be of interest to those visiting below, including photos.

Also, I have a few queries of my own that I hope can add to discussion of this park.
- As it is a national park, is self drive allowed and do the crowds ever reach the traffic jam levels of the Kruger or Serengeti-Mari?
- To those that have been to both, how similar is the topography of the Kwando Lebala and Lagoon concessions to that of the park?
- When not flowing, to those that have been in that time, does the Savuti area change very significantly?

- Are the elephant herds, lion prides and hyaena clans quite as prodigous as some guide books say?

Thanks and hoping for interesting discussion and sightings, recent and historical! :)

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I was in the savuti area on a mobile safari. You can self drive if you wanted to ..... Same on the chobe river side.

 

Some parts are similar to lagoon. Other parts very different. The river trips are very rewarding for the elephant viewing.

 

Not the big lion pride that used to hunt elephant a decade ago- definitely good area for them.

 

More crowded compared to the concessions ..... Nothing close to Mara or seronera at their worst.

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Thanks @@madaboutcheetah !
Very interesting stuff and thanks for fulfilling all the queries. Which bits are similar to Lagoon?
I think the elephant hunting lions never stopped...or at least, have taken it up again. There was a recent and good Natural World episode on them.
What is savuti like for the smaller predators too? Wild dogs, leopard and your favourite? :)

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All those other predators are around, but, you need luck. A few days before and after my trip they saw dogs and leopard. I saw lions, roan etc etc.,

 

Some general terrain similar is what I meant.

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I have been to Chobe twice. Once to the riverfront area (stayed at Chilwero Camp) and once to Savuti (mobile camping).

 

The riverfront area is slightly different from Kwando. More closed canopy (a lot of elephant damage though) on the inland side with lots of teak, slopping down to a narrow floodplain and to the Chobe River. A tremendous number of elephants in the dry season. It is quite crowded, and at times, I think, just as bad as the Mara or Seronera because there is basically one main river road.

 

The Savuti area is entirely different looking, with open plains and dead lead wood trees dotting them. I went there in March (off-season, sort of), and it wasn't crowded, but I understand it can get crowded.

 

In the dry season, one can expect to see lions. Decent chance of wild dogs at both places. In the dry season, very good chance for sable on the riverfront, as they come to drink.

 

There is a third major biome in Chobe: the mopane and its pans. I have not been, but the area is similar to Hwange, I hear.

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Very interesting, thanks @@Safaridude. Were any notable sightings had at either?
What is the park like for the spotted cats too, if anyone knows or has herd?

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Posted (edited)

Chobe was the first park/game drive for us back in '07. We went for 2 n after 2 n in Vic Falls before flying to the Sabi Sands /Timbavati areas for 10 days.

 

We had heard it was crowded but since we were so close we though we ought to go. Though Chilwero was a bit large and full of groups, it was our first African lodge and we were just happy to be there!

 

Fortunately there was just one other couple on our game drive and we were pleasantly surprised to see lion, leopard, dogs, buffalo and a rhino the first day. I thought this must be the daily routine!. We saw much more game in Chobe than the last 4 days we were at Exeter Leadwood in the Sabi area.

 

Of course at Exeter we had 3 male lions think our jeep was a large bush, so it was quite thrilling to have them right at our tires, opening their large mouths and roaring so loudly I shook....thank goodness they ran the opposite way. Have never forgotten that one either.

 

What totally blew us away was getting on a rather small boat with 4 others in the Chobe river and watching hundreds of elephants and their young snorkel their way across at sunset. It is an image I've never forgotten and what brought us back for the second safari....and on going since then. So to us it was special in that we have that image always in our hearts and minds. We've since been to more remote parks and seen so much more game ~but you never forget your first!

Edited by graceland

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Very interesting, thanks @@Safaridude. Were any notable sightings had at either?

What is the park like for the spotted cats too, if anyone knows or has herd?

@ Big_Dog @@Paolo

 

August, 1993 - Chobe Riverfront (Chilwero Camp) - 13 lions on a buffalo kill, two separate sable sightings, one roan bull, hundreds and hundreds of elephants, lots of vehicles. The most notable sighting was Paolo and his father. It was years later that we figured out that we met there at Chilwero.

 

March, 2011 - Savuti - one lion, a female leopard, missed a pack of wild dogs who made a kill near our campsite the day before we arrived. Game was scant… wet season and a very wet year at that… we could not really use the Savuti Marsh for game drives due to the road conditions. Another sighting of Paolo and his father (actually we went together this time).

 

Very hard to see cheetah in Chobe. Better odds with leopard.

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I was in Chobe (Riverfront) in December 2013 for 3 nights. It was a wet season so no huge herds of elephants but we still saw a lot of them. No crowds, partially because I was in Chobe under Canvas (and Beyond camp) so we had some time in the morning and some time in the afternoon only for us as the majority of visitors would be driving out of the park. A few lion sightings (couple of them very close to roads), one leopard, lots of giraffes, lots of hippos and crocs, honey badgers (but quite far from roads), a lot of birds.

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@@Big_Dog

 

I have been to Chobe three times: August 1989 (riverfront), August 1993 (both riverfront and Savuti) and March 2011 (Savuti)

 

In 1989 it was marvellous - no predators, but fantastic, immense elephant herds. Great hippo action too in the river. My first good bushbuck sighting. Only a few vehicles around.

 

In 1993 sightings in a (then dry) Savuti Marsh were plentiful: amongst others lions (including Nitchwa Dumela of "Eternal Enemies" fame), wild dogs, spotted hyenas, wild cat, a beautiful Roan bull, lots of elephant bulls (no breeding herds)

 

At the riverfront the most important sighting was of @@Safaridude. Then everything he mentioned, but no Roan for us. Very good Sable instead. Lots of vehicles

 

As for March 2011 and a wet Savuti I refer to what Safaridude said.

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Thanks @@Safaridude and @@bettel - sounds like quite the sightings!

@@Paolo - The early years sounds excellent! From what you saw would it be safe to say Savuti is a predator highlight area?
In this thread, may we perhaps get the photos of Ntchwadumela? Even if not that high quality, would be good for the novelty. :)

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Thanks @@Safaridude and @@bettel - sounds like quite the sightings!

 

@@Paolo - The early years sounds excellent! From what you saw would it be safe to say Savuti is a predator highlight area?

 

 

It certainly was. Not sure about it now. We saw very little in 2011.

 

I should have some slides of Nitchwa Dumela in some box in another house, so do not hold your breath for them!

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I must have just missed you guys .... I was there savuti marsh feb 2011 ......

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@ Paolo - Do you think you could chalk the lack of sightings up to being in the green season. I hope wildlife has not declined there.

I won't, but I'll still live in hope for some first hand photos of 'He who greets with fire!' ;)

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@@Big_Dog

 

Wildlife has definitely declined in northern Botswana in general. According to @@Michael Lorentz (who spent 15 years based in Botswana, and thereafter has been visiting the main areas multiple times each year), wildlife numbers have declined by 50-60% in the past 20 years.

 

When we were in Savuti in 2011 it was indeed very wet, so that must have been a factor too.

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That's a dire shame. Hopefully the hunting bans and improvements in conservation will reverse some of the damage in in coming years.

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The hunting bans in Botswana, and Zambia are myths because hunting still continues in private game farms. One only has to put hunting in google to see that it is continuing in both countries. I don't want to get into my opinion of it here.

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@@optig

 

Yes, where it should be noted that the animals are privately owned and some distance from national parks. The properties must also be fenced.

 

Whilst it is easy to blame hunting and poaching, you also have to consider the serious impact of the dry spell Botswana experienced upto 2010. These natural cycles will have also played a significant in game viewing.

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@@Big_Dog

 

I believe that trophy hunting (whilst a non transparent industry in Botswana) has had very little role to play in the decline of Botswana's wildlife, which has particularly affected ungulates such buffalo, wildebeest (you seldom see a wildebeest herd in the Okavango these days), roan, sable etc... I am not saying it did necessarily have a positive effect either, though in those years when wildlife numbers were higher trophy hunting was much bigger than it has been in the past few years previous to the ban.

 

I would say that overall hunting (with probably the exception of lions) has been quite a neutral factor.

 

Main culprits have been loss of habitat, cordon fences, human/wildlife conflicts. Maybe even the growth of elephant population has been detrimental to other species.

 

And I would not bet my house that we have always been told the true story about poaching in Botswana.

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That is very depressing to know the most easily controlled threat is the most neutral...

I imagine cordon fences are very severe. To my knowledge habitat loss isn't as severe as in other areas and Botswana has a comparativley small population. The Owens and Estes reported in particular what a severe affect fences would have on wildebeest.

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To be honest, its quite difficult to determine the real reason for the decline as many aspects are little understood. There is no doubt that a number of factors have played a role:

  • Trophy hunting - yes, commercial hunting has had an impact, especially on predator populations in some areas. There were also a number of unscrupulous hunting companies that overshot quotas and abused the system.
  • Citizen hunting - although not a recent factor, this had a massive impact in the past
  • Poaching - this has been rife for many years, especially in hunting concessions where there was very little human footprint or management
  • Fences - devastating
  • Fire - this has had a very real impact on habitat degradation and therefore carrying capacity. The Okavango is a very nutrient poor environment, so any depletion at the lower level of the trophic pyramid will have a massive effect higher up.
  • Human / wildlife conflict has had some role, although not massive
  • Fluctuations in flood levels - these are natural cycles but relevant to some extent.
  • Poor management - considering the wealth of the country and the value of tourism to the private sector it is surprising how badly the greater Okavango Delta has been managed over the last 30 years. Both government and the private sector are to blame for this.

So, in a nutshell we do not have enough historical data to fully understand the decline - what we need to focus on is ensuring that it now stops and hopefully reverses!

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Thanks for the indetail (albeit morbid) summary @@Michael Lorentz .

I didn't realise fire would be so prevalent? Is it natural or man made?
Between the Okavango, Savuti & Concessions, and Kalahari, has any area done better than the others or from what you know would you suggest it's equally bad?

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Thanks @@Big_Dog

 

Some fires are certainly natural, but the majority are man made.

 

The one great thing about Northern Botswana is that it is a single large ecosystem - the down side is that negative effects are therefore felt across the ecosystem. This is particularly true when you look at the impact of fences. The general decline in population density is sadly a trend across the region.

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I travel regularly to the Savute Marsh area and the game viewing overall has been incredible.

There is a film crew based out there (Natural History Film Unit Botswana) following the pride of lion that operate in that northern area of the marsh.

Indeed with the water flowing into the marsh again and the long dry season that we had again over 2012/13 resulted in huge elephant numbers around that area and as a result some easy pickings for these lions who became bolder and stronger as the season continued. Look out for it on BBC iPlayer (Africa’s Giant Killers). Nat Geo have also commissioned them to stick around for another two-years following these lions.

Simultaneously we’ve been lucky to see leopards fishing in the channel. What we thought was luck and pure opportunistic behaviour became quite a regular occurrence. Remarkable the amount of leopard sightings reported in Savute whereas in the past (‘83-2011) I don’t think they were seen regularly. In addition there appears to be three packs of wild dog operating in the area with one pack of 9 operating often around wild dog pan and near the lodges and public campsite.

 

No doubt there are more vehicles than in the past but the marsh and pans and other areas are well spread out with open areas making sharing of sightings not too onerous. 6 – 8 vehicles can be common. Occasionally a few more but nothing close to what I understand goes on in Kruger etc.

(Chobe Riverfront can be a bit more challenging due to proximity to Vic Falls/Kasane). If you don’t like the idea of sharing sightings then private concessions are for you. But areas like the Chobe Riverfront and Savute marsh are unique biomes and with it some special sightings.

 

Department of wildlife are setting about a new road which will hopefully be in operation next year linking Savute with Nogaatsa and then up to Chobe riverfront. Nogaatsa is relatively unvisited at the moment and has incredible pans out there with some interesting game. Big herds of eland, roan, sable etc. Game still a little skittish there but this will change in time.

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That sounds great @@Jamesinchobe - do you think the leopards are just less shy or may have actually increased in number? The wild dogs too?

Very cool the elephant-hunters are still being filmed, the Natural World on them was great. Though with nat geo's recent documentaries we'll have to see how it turns out...

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