The first inhabitants of the area where Chobe National Park is now located were the Basarwa people - descendants of the San Bushmen. Examples of their rock art can still be viewed on some of the rocky hills scattered throughout Chobe.
During the 1930's, the British High Commissioner visited the Chobe River and recommended that the region become a wildlife conservancy, following the example of the Kruger National Park which had already been established in South Africa. Subsequently, an area about a third of the park's current size was proclaimed a non-hunting area.
In 1960, the Chobe Game Reserve was created. It received official national park status in 1967. At this time, several commercial ventures, mostly related to the timber industry, were still located inside Chobe. These where moved outside the park's boundaries by 1975. Chobe has since established itself as one of Africa's most prolific national parks dedicated to conserving vast herds of common mammals as well as a number of rare carnivore and antelope species.
The park consists of four distinct areas. These are Chobe River frontage and Serondela in the northern part of Chobe, the central area around Nogatsaa and the pans found here, the Savute area that includes the Mababe Depression as well as Linyanti.
Chobe River Frontage and Serondela
The river and its floodplain that form the border between Botswana and Namibia attracts great concentrations of game during the dry season. The riverbank is lined by ancient trees which offer shelter to many bird species. The marginal floodplain between Kasane and Serondela is largely covered in dense groves of fever berry and woolly caper bushes.
This region of the park is located roughly 70km (42 miles) south of Serondela. The region is characterized by grassy woodlands surrounding a number of pans. These pans hold water for a period of several months after the first rains have fallen. Most notable of the pans in the area are Namuchira and Tchinga. Both of these attract elephant breeding herds from August to October.
Savute is one of Africa's finest wilderness regions. The annual zebra migration passes through this area, affording the opportunity to view thousands upon thousands of these mammals and the lion prides that prey on them. The Savute Channel started flowing a few years ago after a dry spell of almost a quarter of a century. It flows into the Savute marsh, providing a limitless supply of water and rich pastures in this otherwise arid landscape.
Linyanti lies in the furthest north western corner of the Chobe National Park. It resembles the Okavango Delta in many respects. It covers an area of roughly 900 square kilometers with reed-lined channels, islands with ancient trees and lagoons dotting the landscape. The area is a haven during the dry winters months when game is plentiful and bird-life almost astounding.
Though not as diverse in species as the Kruger National Park, the herds encountered in Chobe are normally much larger. Elephants, especially, can be seen by the thousand throughout the region. These large pachyderms have a substantial impact on the environment and have thinned out the dense thickets along the banks of Chobe River. Each fully grown animal requires roughly 150kg of fodder on a daily basis.
Buffalo, wildebeest and zebra can also be seen in large numbers, as can impala. Notable antelope species in Chobe include sable, roan, kudu and waterbuck. The rare puku and Chobe bushbuck can be seen almost nowhere else in Botswana. The small oribi and Sharpe's grysbok are other species rarely seen in the other national parks of Southern Africa.
Predators that are quite common in the park include lion, leopard and African wild dog. Cheetahs can often be spotted on the park's open landscapes, where their speed can be utilized to full advantage when hunting. Smaller cat species like serval and caracal, though not regularly spotted, maintain healthy populations in the Chobe National Park.
A number of activities, mostly focused on experiencing the wildlife and natural beauty of Chobe, are available to visitors. In addition to these nature-based activities, a few cultural experiences can also be enjoyed in the region.
Open 4X4 game drives
Conducted in the park by one of the lodges near or in Chobe, these drives are interpretive in nature and are accompanied by a local ranger and tracker. This is an ideal way of coming within close proximity to the animal and bird species that inhabit Chobe. Game drives are normally conducted during the early morning and the late afternoon. The duration of these excursions would typically be between three and three and a half hours.
Water-based game viewing
The signature wildlife activity in this region involves game viewing from specially adapted small boats. It offers visitors a unique way of observing the wildlife along the banks of the river. These boat safaris are offered during the morning as well as in the late afternoon. It is the author's opinion that late afternoon boat cruises are best, for more animals come to the water's edge during this time. It also has the advantage of a unique vantage point as the sun sets over this remarkable wildlife haven.
A few large river boats offer cruises of varying length devoted to exploring the Chobe and Zambezi rivers. The confluence of these rivers is near the town of Kasane. The Zambezi Queen is recommended for those wishing to experience this part of Africa from a riverboat. Two daily game activities are conducted from the boat.
Chobe has, in recent years become a very popular fishing destination, with 90 species of freshwater fish to be found in the wide stretch of the river near the town of Kasane. But it is the tiger fish, Africa's greatest freshwater fighting fish, that attracts more international anglers to the Chobe River than any other fishing pursuit.
Bush walks are conducted from almost all of the lodges in the area. These walks offer a unique way of viewing the wildlife in the area in a quiet and discreet manner. The walks are always accompanied by skilled rangers who are experts in interpreting animal behavior so as to ensure the safety of safari enthusiasts when potentially dangerous animals are encountered.
Visits to the Victoria Falls
The mighty Victoria Falls can be explored on a day trip from the northern part of Chobe. It is recommended to all that visit the region to dedicate a day to the exploration of one of the world's grandest natural wonders.