The water lapping the hull of our pontoon boat had the appearance of being peaceful. It’s silky ribbons almost tempting one to swim and escape the scorch of the Botswana sun. But these waters are also home to some of Africa’s most aggressive animals. About halfway into our overland adventure with Acacia Africa and we’re exploring the Chobe River in Chobe National Park. Our eyes are scouring the water’s surface for signs of hippos and crocodiles.
Less than 30 minutes into our river safari, nature did not disappoint. Beady eyes and twitching ears poke just above of the water’s surface. A hippopotamus has every initial appearance of being a rather docile creature. Its nearly 3000 kg (6600 lb) portly figure giving the appearance of a lazy animal choosing to escape the sun’s heat. As our boat inches closer, however, its ears twitch our direction. Locking in like radar on an approaching threat, the animal’s gaze pivots toward the boat. Meter by meter we inch closer for a better look and photo. And then the hippo indicates we should reconsider course. It’s head thrusts upwards bringing with it a cascade of water. The jaw opens and reveals the hippos most deadly asset – large, pointed and curved teeth that could easily kill any of us if we are to leave the refuge of our boat. It was a warning shot. We were close enough.
Mere minutes later we spy a line of scales slicing through the water’s surface, trailed behind another pair of beady eyes. It’s an African crocodile, known for their deadly ambushing of unsuspecting thirsty animals. The waters of the Chobe River no longer appear tempting, but are mesmerizing us with its diverse life. The river starts in Angola, known upstream as the Cuando, and flows southeast before breaking up into channels and swamps that mingle with the Kalahari Desert. What little water doesn’t evaporate empties into the mighty Zambezi River. Along its meandering route, scores of wildlife flock to the river’s shore or wade in its shallow depths. Cape Buffalo, impalas, elephants and giraffes join the hippos and crocodiles. Wild dogs, baboons, and warthogs scuff along among their larger brethren. Luckily for us, the river provides a different perspective of Chobe National Park.
But Chobe National Park extends far beyond the banks of the Chobe River. In fact, it’s Botswana’s third largest national park after the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Gemsbok National Park. It’s rolling hills and plains bordering the Chobe River host the greatest diversity of any park in Botswana. It also is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations with some estimates suggesting nearly 50,000 elephants call the park home. With such a grand expanse, it’s hard for one to explore its diversity via just one method. Thankfully, Acacia Africa had us covered and as the sun set on our river safari, we knew the next day would have us explore Chobe National Park by land.
Trading in our pontoon boat for a four-wheel drive safari vehicle, we excitedly set out to see Chobe National Park from a new vantage point. Instead of scanning the glossy surface of the water, our eyes darted over stubby grass plains and prickly underbrush. But as with our jaunt on the Chobe River, the wildlife was far from hidden. A herd of elephants and their young flanked the river’s shore. Baboons rustled in and out of the bushes. And impalas grazed among the park’s plains. But the feeling of danger lurking still permeated the air. Instead of the growl of hippos, sharp barks and scurrying caught our attention. No more than two meters from our vehicle a young impala made every attempt to escape a pack of African wild dogs. Its fate was all but sealed as the dogs began dismembering the impala while still alive. Life…in its most brutal form. Yet across the shore near the drifting pontoon boats, Cape Buffalo grazed in a peaceful moment. Our new perspective afforded the unique experience of witnessing the circle of life in Chobe National Park.
Along the bouncy road back to our overland vehicle we scrolled through the photos we each had taken on our phones and cameras. Our albums beginning to like encyclopedias of African wildlife. The diversity of Chobe National Park came alive and by exploring by boat and safari vehicle, we were afforded two different perspectives of life and death along the Chobe River. Meaningful exploration should always take multiple paths. The beauty of Chobe National Park is that it’s perfect for doing just that.
Note: This post is also featured on www.acacia-africa.com/blog in collaboration with Acacia Africa.