The Chobe National Park is located in Botswana’s north eastern district of Kalahari. The park covers around 11,700 square kilometres and is known for its high density of game. This national park is an old safari and has become famous for being home to huge herds of elephants and buffalos as well as large prides of lions.
After a quick safety briefing, during which our driver/guide advises us to keep our arms and legs inside the truck and not to jump out when we see wild animals, we set off on the River Bank Route and follow the dirt track into the thicket.
We have only travelled a couple of hundred metres along the track when the truck stops and our guide points into the trees. A baboon appears, it pauses for a second and glances over at us before crossing the track and continuing on its way.
Baboons are some of the largest monkeys in the world and all five species live in Africa or Arabia. The males can grow to over 1 metre long (excluding the length of their tails) and weigh almost 40 kilograms. They are Old World monkeys, however their tails are not prehensile despite the fact that they do climb trees to eat, sleep and look out for trouble. Baboons spend a lot of their time on the floor and have a very varied diet. Their diet mainly consists of fruit, grasses, seeds and bark but they also have a taste for meat and hunt birds, rodents and even the young of larger mammals such as antelopes and sheep.
A little further on we see a family of baboons sitting by the track; a baby is feeding and the mother is looking down at it, just like a human mother would look at her child. As we approach the baboons move into the shrubbery and out of sight. Up in a nearby tree another baby is clinging on to its mother. The mother ignores us completely but the baby watches us inquisitively as we pass by.
Our truck comes to a stop as a heard of impalas block the track. Slowly they get up and move to the side of the track before lying back down on the grass. Nearby, some young impalas are playing but they stop to watch us as we approach. Once the impala have moved out of the way we continue along the dirt road.
Soon we leave the forested area and the river comes into view. Above us are two African fish eagles and a little further on we spot an African maribou stork on a branch high up in a tree. On the ground below a phalanx of maribou storks are preening themselves. This species of stork is a very strange looking bird; it has a bald head with red spots and a very large bill. It is very large, with a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres and can grow to 1.5 metres tall. Its hollow legs and toes allow what would otherwise be a very heavy bird to fly. The stork’s legs are actually black however they defecate on their legs and feet to regulate their body temperature and this whitewash gives the impression that they have white legs.
A juvenile African fish eagle takes off. The African fish eagle is one of the best known of all birds of prey, partly due to the wide usage of footage of the bird catching fish from the water. The juvenile of this species is a drab brown with a whitish head and a white bib that is streaked with brown. The transition from juvenile to adult takes around five years and, once this bird reaches adult plumage, it will have a white head, breast and mantle, offset by a chestnut brown abdomen and shoulders and black wings.
As we slow down to let a baboon cross the track in front of us, we spot a dung beetle rolling a ball of manure in the red sand below us. These creatures are extremely strong and some species can rolls balls of dung as big as apples. In the early part of summer the beetle will bury itself, along with the ball to feed on. Later in the season the females deposit their eggs in balls of dung, which the larvae will feed on once they hatch.
We continue to a watering hole, where we find lion prints. Our guide explains that a pride of lions came this way early this morning. It is now midday and too warm now for the animals, so the watering hole is quiet.
A herd of sable antelope cross the path in front of us and graze on the grass under the trees. This species of antelope is one of the most impressive and most endangered antelopes. Both males and females have semi-circular, ridged horns. The female’s horns can grow to over 1 metre in length and the male’s horns can grow to an impressive 165 centimetres. The adult sable’s biggest predator is mankind through habitat destruction and poaching.
It is time for a quick break and we stop at Serondela picnic site. When the Chobe Game Reserve was declared the first national park in Botswana in 1967, there was a large settlement, based on the timber industry, in Serondela. This settlement was gradually relocated and by 1975 the national park was void of human occupation. Some of the remains of the settlement can still be seen today and the name of the settlement was retained for the picnic site which now stands here.
After a quick refreshment break our driver takes us back into the densely forested area and the truck begins to slow. He points into the undergrowth. We look but we can’t see anything. “Elephants” he says, “lots of them, moving through the trees”. It seems ridiculous that we can’t spot a herd of elephants and I am considering whether it might be joke when I hear a rustle in the trees and, sure enough, an elephant comes into view.
Suddenly our driver’s radio crackles. He starts the engine and we take off. He tells us that there is something interesting nearby but we have to go quickly to get there. We rush through the puddles as our driver expertly navigates the winding track. “Sorry about the bumps” he yells, “we call this the Chobe massage!”
We pass other safari trucks and the passengers eye us suspiciously as we rush past. Eventually we slow down as we approach a few other trucks that have stopped in the path and we discover why we are here. “There are some lions resting just behind these bushes”, says our driver. As one truck moves away we inch forward until we have a clear view and, sure enough, we can see two lions lying in the shade under the foliage of the bushes and trees. One of the lions slowly turns its head, as it hears us approaching. It looks at us for a moment and closes its eyes again, disinterested in our presence.