Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park is famous for its huge populations of animals—60,000 elephants, 12,000 zebras, and several thousand grazing buffalo, half-ton ungulates whose irritable dispositions can cause them to charge people or sometimes even vehicles.

Zebra migration is a stunning sight that can hardly be imagined without actually seeing it. These vast throngs of striped wild horses, no two patterns alike, cover the landscape. As they move, stripes against stripes, it almost seems as if the ground itself is moving. Sometimes in migration there can be 5,000 in one group.

Elephants along the Chobe River can number 35,000—largest herds in any African national park—with up to 2,000 in a single assemblage, including family members of all ages, from nursing babies to matriarchs. Visitors in off-road vehicles can find themselves surrounded by a sea of these behemoths as far as the eye can see.

These great animals and others trek through Chobe in search of food and water, grazing on Savuti marshlands which green up during the rainy season, and moving to the river during the dry season. Zebras come first, followed by wildebeest, then herds of up to 1,500 tsessebe, also impalas and giraffes, males sometimes wrapping their long necks about one another in an apparently affectionate but actually competitive territorial embrace. Along with them come their predators—lions, wild dogs, hyenas, and more-secretive cheetahs and leopards.

Chobe has three main wildlife-viewing areas depending on where water is found. Savuti, on the Savuti Marsh, left dry when the river channel changed course, now has water only during and immediately after rainy season. The Savuti River has flowed into Savuti Marsh at various times in its history, depending, it is thought, on tectonic plate shifts from the Great Rift Valley. When it is dry, as now, animals depend on artificially pumped water holes, which unfortunately are subject to breakdown.

Linyanti, bordering the upper eastern Chobe River, is a mini-Okavango Delta papyrus swamp. Serondela is on the permanently flowing Chobe River. The Chobe River can get a double dousing of water. Most of the year it flows from west to east, but on meeting the Zambezi in flood, it can back up again.

This 4,100-square-mile (10,698-km2) reserve in Botswana’s northeast corner is an area of extreme habitat contrasts, from the near-tropical Linyanti Swamp and the lush Chobe floodplain, to areas almost as dry as the arid Kalahari desert (which covers about 70 percent of the country). One can readily see why any water here acts as a magnet for wildlife.

The diverse habitat attracts a wide variety of birds. Some 450 species have been noted at Serondela—storks, waders, skimmers, and kingfishers around the river; marabou storks and hornbills there and on higher ground; and raptors such as martial and fish eagles. Savuti also has dry land specialties such as kori and Stanley’s bustards, exquisite lilac-breasted rollers, and migrant carmine bee-eaters—sometimes dozens swirling around, unmindful of visitors, when a field full of grasshoppers takes flight. During the rainy season there often are thousands of northern migrants as well.

Best times to visit are during the dry season June–October for Linyanti and Serondela, and the end of the rainy season, April into May, for Savuti.

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