Today we are heading out on a boat that is allowed to enter the waters of the Chobe National Park. Our guide checks us in at the entrance to the park; a tiny wooden cabin on stilts on the river. Once we have been approved (by way of an official nod from the man inside the cabin) we continue into the national park.
We spot two young male elephants that have recently left their family herd. Elephants leave the herd between the ages of 12 and 15, when they reach puberty. They may live alone or with other males while they search for a potential mate.
These two young elephants are heading down to the waters-edge to drink out of the river. One of the elephants smells us and raises his trunk, pointing it in our direction, tasting the air. Elephants have the best sense of smell of all animals and their sense of smell is probably the most important of all their senses.
The elephant’s trunk is really quite amazing; it gives these animals the ability to perform a range of functions from picking up a small coin from a flat surface to lifting objects that weigh over 250 kilograms. In 1996 Rasmussen and Munger studied the trunks and found that they are packed with nerve endings making them the most sensitive tissue ever studied.
We pass a hippopotamus grazing in the grass with a cattle egret by its side. The cattle egret is the national bird of Botswana and is native to Africa, although it somehow found its way to South America in 1877. They follow large animals or machines in fields, eating invertebrates that are stirred up from the ground. These birds will also fly towards smoke from long distances away to catch insects fleeing a fire.
As we sail down the river we see a storm coming. The sky ahead is black and we can feel it starting to rain. We pass a pod of hippos, resting in the shallow waters by a small, grassy inlet. A few stir and look up at us as we pass by. These animals often sleep under water, bobbing up automatically, without waking, to breathe. They spend up to 16 hours per day in the water and their pods are generally made up of between 10 and 30 individuals.
By the time we leave the national park’s waters to return to the Zambezi Queen a beautiful sunset is breaking out through the clouds.