NATIONAL PARKS, RESERVES & WILDERNESS AREAS:
Botswana is blessed with some of Africa's most beautiful subtropical wilderness reserves coupled with an array of African wildlife, a Botswana safari has much to delight and inspire.
- Okavango Delta
- Facts on the Okavango Delta
- Boro Channel
- Moremi Game Reserve
- Khwai River
- Xakanaxa Lagoon
- Chobe National Park
- Chobe Riverfront
- Linyanti Reserve
- Savuti Channel
- Savuti Marsh
- Makgadikgadi Pans
- Boteti River Area
- Nxai Pan
- Sowa Pan
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve
- Kalahari Desert
- Tuli Block
- Okavango Delta Panhandle Area
- Tsodilo Hills
Probably the best known area of Botswana is the Okavango Delta. This area is one of the world's largest inland water systems, a unique oasis of life in the centre of the Kalahari Desert. It stretches over 15,000km² and supports a staggering variety of animal, plant and bird life. The water is once thought to have reached the sea, but this is no longer the case. After a series of tectonic uplifts and earthquakes running along geological fault lines, the land at the edge of the Delta now lies lower than that of the surrounding area.
There are two fairly distinct areas of the Delta - the permanent swamp which is inundated with water all year round, and the seasonal swamp which is flooded annually and dries gradually with the onset of summer in October. The wildlife in the Delta is rich and varied. Many of the larger herbivores are present and include elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and antelope species as well as numerous smaller animals. The carnivore populations are healthy and widespread including lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, spotted hyena, crocodile and jackal. In addition to the animal populations, the Delta is home to a staggering variety of birds; some 450 species exist within Northern Botswana. The most exciting aspect of encountering this wildlife is that the populations have never been imported or controlled in any way, and the large, protected areas are not fenced. Botswana is one of the last remaining areas where you are able to witness the complex interactions of a truly natural environment.
FACTS ON THE OKAVANGO DELTA
The Okavango Delta occupies 15 000km² of the surface area of Northern Botswana.
The source of this great alluvial fan stems from the northern provinces of Angola, where the rains gather to form a mighty river that floods into the Delta on an annual basis and eventually runs dry in the Kalahari Desert.
On average 11 billion cubic meters of water flows into the permanent swamp of the Okavango Delta, this is enough water to suit the needs of an industrialised nation. An estimated 97% of the water that enters the delta is lost under the hot Botswana sun through evaporation and transpiration.
The Okavango Delta has three distinct sectors, The Pan-Handle - a + 70km stretch of the Okavango River from where the river enters Botswana until it fans out; the Permanent Swamp is the area that has water throughout the year and the Seasonal Swamp where the annual flood plays the major role in influencing the water levels. The region is extremely flat, the gradient varying a mere 35 meters from the Panhandle in the north, to Maun in the south.
An extension of the Great African Rift, the entire region lies in what is called the Kalahari basin. Graben faults, of which there are four major types, have trapped the Okavango River on its journey south, giving rise to one of Botswana's greatest gems.
Lying within an extension of the Great Rift Valley, the northern part of the country is prone to earth shifts. Seismic studies indicate that these shifts occur once every two days. The strongest such shift occurred in 1952 and measured 6.7 on the Richter scale.
It is said that termite mounds are the starting points of the Delta Islands. Through evaporation and transpiration, salts are deposited on the periphery of the mounds base. Over a period of thousands of years, the process is repeated and in so doing, an island is born.
The principal channel is called the Boro. The Boro channel borders Chiefs Island and also forms the south-western boundary of the Moremi Game Reserve.
It is said that the Boro channel also boasts one of the highest concentrations of African Fish Eagle in Southern Africa
MOREMI GAME RESERVE
In 1962 the local Batawana people set aside a third of the Okavango Delta to protect it for the future. This they called the Moremi Game Reserve, it was named after the BaTawana king "Moremi III". Moremi now forms the core of the region’s reserves. Moremi Game Reserve covers 4,610km² of the Delta’s wetlands and the main dry peninsula that juts into the Delta, known as the Mopane Tongue.
Moremi extends east and northwards to join Chobe National Park, ensuring a continuous area of protected land all the way to Kasane. Because Moremi reserve and Chobe National park are not fenced, animals are able to follow their own migration routes without interference, and use of the land adjacent to the officially protected areas is also carefully controlled.
Moremi is lush and varied – a patchwork of lagoons, shallow flooded pans, plains and forests. It is one of Africa’s finest areas for wildlife, with particularly high game densities. The animals found here are numerous, relaxed and often allow vehicles to approach closely.
On the northeast tip of the Moremi Game Reserve, Khwai River is a lovely area where tall evergreen trees line a wide floodplain. It boasts an excellent density and diversity of predator and prey species.
The Khwai River is an extension of the permanent swamp channel, the Maunachira, which forms the northern boundary of the Moremi Game Reserve. The Maunachira channel flows into the Xakanaxa lagoons before becoming the Khwai River.
The annual flood of the Okavango Delta also influences the Khwai River. The water diverted to the most westerly finger of the alluvial fan, takes much longer to reach the Khwai and so the water is only seen in this area in August, unlike other parts of the Delta where the waters arrive in June.
Very close to Moremi North Gate, is the Khwai Village. This village is one of the last remaining River Bushman communities in the delta.
In the heart of Moremi, at the tip of the Mopane Tongue, lies Xakanaxa Lagoon. As with the word Xaxaba, "Xakanaxa" is river bushman meaning for "Place of Big Water." Here the Mopane forests meet a patchwork of deep waterways and shallow flooded areas. It's unforgettably beautiful and packed with game. Leopard and cheetah are regularly seen and the density of antelope is amazing. The area's birdlife is exceptionally varied, from innumerable herons, egrets, storks and other waders to many species of sparrow hawks, buzzards and kites.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
Located in the northern Kalahari region; the Chobe National Park was named after the Chobe River which runs along Botswana's northern border. The National Park covers about 11,700km² and consists mainly of dense thorny bush emerging from deep alluvial soils; this park is world renowned for the magnificent array of wildlife contained within its borders.
This is an old safari area, made famous by the massive herds of elephant and buffalo and significant prides of lion that have become skilled at to hunting large herbivores. Livingstone visited it in the 1850s, as have countless big game hunters since.
The highlight to this safari area is animal migrations. Some of the animals move with the rains seeking available food and water in the area, exhibiting the ancient patterns of time. Most animals head for open plains to the south and east during the green months (December to March). Then, gradually, from April to November, as the land dries out and the heat builds, the animals migrate back to the great rivers of the north and west.
A wide range of distinctive habitat areas are represented within the National Park providing a fascinating variety of experiences. The lush, almost tropical Linyanti swamps are found in the northwest of the Park while the unpredictable, harsh and beautiful Savuti channel and marsh are located in the southwest. The rich floodplains of the northeast run along the banks of the meandering Chobe River which forms the northern boundary of the Park. The remainder of Chobe is arid and hot, underlain by Kalahari sands.
The Chobe River originates in the Angolan highlands where it begins life as the Kwando River. Before becoming the Chobe, the water course changes its name twice to the Linyanti and then the Itenge. The vegetation changes dramatically throughout the Park, the compacted clay soils along the river front being dominated by Mopane trees while acacia species appear further inland. The land is much drier and more open than the Okavango area with wide plains and sand ridges.
The profusion of palatable grass species attracts an impressive variety of herbivores including the ever present elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, and massive herds of buffalo, impala, kudu, waterbuck, tsessebe, steenbok and warthog. Chobe is also one of the few places on earth where you will find the rare Puku antelope. Similar in size and colour to the lechwe, they are never far from water and are only found in Chobe and a few areas of Zambia. The Chobe bush-buck is another endemic species.
Chobe is also home to lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena and jackal as well as smaller species such as genet, serval and bat-eared fox. In addition the range of habitat from open water and floodplain to savannah and woodland means that the bird life is amazing. Several species of eagle, owl and vulture are present as well as oxpeckers, francolins, hornbills, woodpeckers, plovers and many others.
The Chobe Riverfront forms part of the Chobe National Park and is located on the northern border of Botswana, this pristine wilderness, ranges from the verdant flood grassland and thickets beside the Chobe River, to forest, Mopane woodland and scrub. The Chobe River apparently flows in both directions and holds the secrecy of the Savuti Channel which vanished in recent time.
Along the riverfront the wildlife roams in profusion and diversity. The elephant population, estimated to number in excess 30,000, is the largest single concentration in Africa surviving within the confines of a proclaimed National Park.
During the harsh season, the herds migrate south to north and congregate along the perennial Chobe Rivers fertile flood plains.
Other major species such as lion, square-lipped rhino, wild dog, sable and roan antelope are encountered in many areas of the reserve. Out on the open plains of Savuti and Mababe wildebeest, zebra and buffalo concentrate in massive endless herds.
The red lechwe and puku antelope co-exist on the floodplain and marshland and indeed Chobe is the southern limit of range of both these unique species. Within the riverine thickets, the nocturnal leopard and rare Chobe bushbuck are often observed and the bird life is abundant and diverse with in excess of 450 species recorded.
The riverfront area has become ever more popular. Easily accessed from Victoria Falls, makes it the clear choice if you would like to add a safari to your visit.
The Linyanti Reserve covers 1,250km², situated in the north, beside the Linyanti River. The environment is like that of the Chobe riverfront: open floodplains beside the water, an adjacent band of riverine forest, and then dense (mostly Mopane) forests stretching away south. Te south of the park borders onto a remote stretch of the Savuti Channel.
Savuti is the name of an extinct channel that last saw water in 1981. The channel once fed the Savuti Marsh, now a vast grassland, some 100km ². The channel source was from the elbow part of the Kwando River known as Linyanti. The Savuti Channels' ability to flow and stop flowing, stems from tectonic movements deep below the Kalahari sands.
Savuti is one of Africa’s most famous big game areas, with an atmosphere all of its own. Yet it’s also something of an enigma. Its key is the mysterious Savuti Channel, which sometimes flows from the Linyanti waterways and into the heart of Chobe National Park, flooding the Savuti Marsh.
The dry marsh has formed immense, open grassland dotted with the skeletons of drowned trees. Large herds of game route through Savuti on annual migrations between Botswana's parched interior and the rivers of the north and west. The remarkably nutritious grasses of the area attract large herds of zebra, impala, wildebeest, giraffe, tsessebe, buffalo and elephant. Leopard are always plentiful around the granite kopjes and retain permanent territories here, so do the packs of spotted hyena and large prides of lion and an abundance of old bull elephants that are forever about. Much activity concentrates around the three waterholes at Savuti, and recently elephant killing lions have become a great draw card.
The Great Salt Pans - East of Maun and the Okavango, in the middle of the northern Kalahari, lie a complex of huge, flat salt pans. The geology and history is fascinating, they play a vital role in the regions ecology.
These magnificent, vast salt pans cover a total area of over 12,000km². They are ancient remnants of a vast super lake which used to cover over 60,000km2 and was up to 50m deep in some places. This lake once stretched from the Makgadikgadi system north-westwards and incorporated the Delta as well as the Savuti region of Chobe. Tectonic shifts eventually reduced the flow of water into the area from the northern rivers and caused the lake to dry up. Today evidence of the lake can be seen in the form of smooth, wave shaped boulders and fossil beaches.
The pan system is made up of several separate pans, the major ones being Ntwetwe, Nxai and Sowa Pans. The Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park was formed in 1993 by combining the Nxai National Park and the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve. It now covers an area of 7,500km² within this system. The Park is unfenced, therefore allowing unhindered migration routes for the many species which are found here.
Makgadikgadi literally means "vast, open, lifeless land" and although it is far from lifeless, the area is certainly vast and open and is believed to be the largest salt pan of its kind in the world. The landscape is characterised by an endless horizon of flat, salt pan stretching into the distance, surrounded on the extreme fringes by low scrub. The pans flood between January and March, if it rains enough. This causes grasses to burst info life, flamingos to arrive by their thousands to nest, and a great migration of countless zebra and wildebeest to arrive. When this happens it is one of Africa's great wildlife spectacles.
Undoubtedly the most spectacular of the bird species are the greater and lesser flamingos which congregate on the pans to breed each rainy season. The pans are the second largest breeding site in Africa, and most of the birds migrate from Etosha National Park in Namibia or even from as far as East Africa.
Big game in the part of Makgadikgadi is scarce for most of the year; therefore lodge activities here aim to give you an understanding of the area's geology, archaeology and anthropology, as well as a chance to observe its wildlife.
BOTETI RIVER AREA
The Boteti River forms the western boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. From July to about November this reduces to a string of permanent pools that attract large herds of zebra and wildebeest - sometimes numbering tens of thousands of animals - together with hartebeest, giraffe, and many predators. During this time it's an exciting area full of animal interaction.
North of Makgadikgadi, Nxai Pan National Park is a fascinating park, often under-rated because of the unpredictability of its game. The pans here - Nxai, Kudiakam and Kgama-Kgama - are mostly fossil pans covered with grasses.
Nxai Pan differs from Makgadikgadi in that the wide, open plains are covered in lush, sweet grassland interspersed with "islands" of trees. The grasses provide sustenance for a wide range of herbivores including huge herds of zebra as well as wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, springbok, eland and giraffe. Associated predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah follow the migration and add their presence to a spectacular wildlife experience. The game is more prolific in the rain season between December and April. The bird life in this area is breathtaking with around 250 species present. Among these species is the 30kg Kori Bustard, the worlds' heaviest flying bird.
A famous landmark in the Kudiakam Pan is the seven "Baines baobabs", named after Thomas Baines who first immortalised them in his painting of 1862. They are positioned on a small rise and create a fascinating interruption to the endless horizon. They have changed very little since Baines' painting and appear strangely timeless. Many of the majestic Baobab trees in the area have the signatures of explorers from past ages carved into their trunks, and act as unwitting archives of Botswana's pioneer history.
Sowa Pan is located to the east of Makgadikgadi, Sowa being the bushman word for salt. This Pan is also an important site for breeding flamingos, as well as attracting many other species
during the winter months such as bee-eaters, kites and eagles. The Nata Sanctuary is a private reserve that was established to protect the bird life of this area and covers 230km². Kubu (hippo in the Setswana language) Island is located on the western side of Sowa Pan and is a granite outcrop rising 20m above the clay and sand surface. Evidence of wave action from the bygone era of the super lake can be seen on the north-eastern side, and the fossil beaches, stunted baobab trees and mysterious stone walls combine to create an enigmatic atmosphere.
CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the ultimate in ‘remote’ destinations. It covers over 50,000km², most of which is inaccessible. It was, until very recently, closed to the public.
The Central Kalahari is probably at its most enticing when travel in the area is at its most difficult: in the first few months of the year. Then, the beautiful inter-dune valleys become lush with vegetation, attracting thousands of springbok and gemsbok and good numbers of ostrich, giraffe, herds of wildebeest, cheetah and the Kalahari’s famous black-mane lions.
The Kalahari Desert covers the entire western and central regions of Botswana and stretches into Namibia and South Africa. With an average annual rainfall of 250mm, it is not a true desert but rather a "thirst-land" with grasses and scrub vegetation prevailing. Despite the lack of surface water, the area supports a great variety of plants, animals and birds and many of these species have developed fascinating adaptations to their harsh environment. Because of its remote and arid nature, the Kalahari is difficult to access and human interference continues to be minimal, the area is therefore extremely important for conservation.
The best time to visit the Kalahari is between December and April when the rains bring the area to life and the harsh plains are transformed into swathes of lush grassland. Two distinct conservation areas exist within the Kalahari; the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in central Botswana and the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park in the south west of the country.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers a vast area of 52,800km2 (the approximate size of Holland and Belgium combined) and was originally established in order to provide protection for the San bushmen who still live in increasingly small and remote communities within the reserve. The landscape is predominantly sand with dry fossil valleys, dune fields and grassy plains. The Reserve itself is one of the largest in Africa, and the second largest protected area in the world.
Pans such as Deception Dry Valley, Piper Pans and Sunday Pans fill with water during the rainy season and attract great numbers of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, springbok, eland, cheetah, lion, leopard and wild dog. In addition to these larger species, the area is home to many smaller animals such as spring hare, suricate (meerkat) and bat eared fox.
The Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park was established in 1999 and incorporates the previous Gemsbok National Park of Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa. The Park now covers an area of just under 38,000km2 and is managed as a single ecological unit with the co-operation of both Botswana and South Africa. Rolling grasslands and pastel coloured sand dunes provide the backdrop for a range of species including hartebeest, eland, springbok, gemsbok, leopard, lion, cheetah and the rare brown hyena. The Park is also a haven for thousands of birds, more than fifty raptor species occur here. Infrastructure is extremely basic at present with camping sites being the only form of accommodation.
A 350km² area of land in the south-eastern region of Botswana, the Tuli Block was originally ceded to Cecil Rhodes in the 1890's to facilitate the construction of the Cape to Cairo railway. After some time the construction came to a standstill due to the rocky and inhospitable nature of the land, and the railway was built elsewhere. Subsequently, the Tuli Block was given to farmers who also discovered that the terrain was unsuitable for cattle or agriculture. In the end the area was dedicated to game conservation and today many visitors enjoy the private game reserves here which offer beautiful scenery of lush woodlands, rocky sandstone outcrops, rivers and gorges. The larger reserves include Mashatu (the largest private reserve in Southern Africa) and Tuli Nature Reserve.
OKAVANGO DELTA PANHANDLE
The Okavango River rises in the highlands of Angola and flows southeast into the north-western side of Botswana; this side of the Delta is known as the Panhandle; here the characteristics of the river changes, as the fast following river washes over the sands of the Kalahari it gradually spreads out into a delta formation covering over 15,000km² with a lush water wilderness of papyrus swamps, shallow reed-beds and floodplains, dotted with islands and laced with a network of channels.
The Panhandle is regarded as fishing destination, as the tiger-fishing here is particularly good. Bird watching in this area is also first-class, with rarities like skimmers, as well as a host of egrets, storks, kingfishers and warblers. The camps in the Panhandle offer an Okavango experience that can be good value if you’re driving on the west side of the Delta.
Tsodilo Hills are located to the west of the Okavango Delta, these hills are not the highest point in Botswana as they are situated in a low- lying area, however, if one measures from the foot to their peaks, they hills are the tallest.
The 3 000 odd rock paintings at Tsodilo Hills are proof of long gone habitation. Excavations in these hills suggest that cattle had arrived in the area by AD 550.