Animal Encounters at Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe National Park in Northern Botswana, is a haven for animals and safari-goers alike. The park is teaming with wildlife and our full day there was split into three sections: land safari, lunch, river safari. The river safari was the highlight as it’s such a different way to experience the surroundings and observe the animals.

I was there at the end of May, the beginning of the dry season, and had the lucky opportunity to witness scores of animals converge on the majestic Chobe River.

{Africa’s Big 5}

Africa’s Big 5 is defined as:

  1. lion
  2. leopard
  3. elephant
  4. rhino
  5. Cape buffalo

Unfortunately the rhino population in Chobe has been decimated; though it is slowly being reintroduced in private sections of the park. During our one day visit from Victoria Falls, we saw lion, elephants and Cape Buffalo. I would have been shocked if we’d seen a leopard as they are extremely shy!

{Elephants at Chobe National Park}

Chobe National Park is home to the highest population of elephants…in the world. It is estimated that there are over 120,000 living within the 4517 sq. miles that make up Chobe National Park. Elephant herds comprise of multiple females who form very tight bonds with one another. Collectively they look after and protect their young. They are extremely protective as you can see in this video.

Males remain in the herd until they’re between the age of 12-15 years old after which they either live solitary lives or temporarily with other males.

Elephants are very intelligent and experience many of the same emotions humans do – grief, joy, anger. Babies in particular are playful as you can see in this adorable video of a baby elephant chasing birds. And just like a little boy or girl, the baby runs to his mother when it falls!

Because we (my husband and I) were at the Chobe River, we had the chance to see a few elephants cross, right in front of us! In fact we had to move out of their way so as not to block their crossing! We saw lots of elephants cross during land safaris. It’s a totally different (and awesome) experience to watch an elephant cross a river!

What I particularly loved about the river safari was how peaceful it was and such a contrast from the hustle bustle of life. I sat in that boat, silent for a few hours (how often are we ever silent for several hours…contiguous hours?!?). Silent and surrounded by a live canvas of endless beauty. I couldn’t help but be extremely grateful and appreciative of life.

Here are a few of my photos from my fortunate encounter with these stunning animals at Chobe National Park.

{Camera Tips}

 If you’re into photography, this is one trip to have a DSLR with you. Buy, borrow, rent…whatever. And have a good, zoom lens. It doesn’t have to be one of the fanciest lenses. At least. 55-250mm zoom, though 300mm would be even better. And with image stabilization. Depending on the situation you may or may not be able to setup a tripod to capture photos. It certainly wasn’t practical during our river safari.

Also, take a selfie stick for your cell phone/tablet. These are really inexpensive on Amazon.

ele-family-chobe-riverJPG.JPGadult-ele-in-chobe-river.JPGele-up-close-chobe-Botswana.JPG

{Lions}

We saw one “lazy” lioness during our visit to Chobe National Park. Lions are often referred to as “lazy lions” as they are mostly nocturnal. And do most of their hunting at night when it’s cooler. Thus they accumulate rest and sleep during the day. Again we were there in mid-May, the tail end of the shoulder season. The most game viewing occurs in the dry months June thru October. The cool thing was I was able to capture images of her movement. It was much like me waking up in the morning, snoozing my alarm clock until it’s finally time to get the day started, as you’ll see in the images below. We happened upon her while she was sleeping, waking up, to fully alert.

We were probably 40 feet away from her (inside the vehicle of course)!

Did you know: that in a lion pride the females do most of the hunting? Males get involved only when the prey is too large/strong for the female such as Cape Buffalo, giraffes, and sometimes elephants.

{You’ll Always Run Into That Tourist}

Our day trip to Chobe National Park was not on a private tour. We were paired with some students. I forgot what state they were from, it doesn’t even matter but they must’ve missed the “don’t be the dumbass, Dudley” memo. When we stopped to observe a lioness, they started yelling, “Simba! Simba!” and “Here kitty kitty kitty”. One of them was dumb enough to stick her arm out of the vehicle and wave the lion over. She got yelled at by our guide for that mistake.

  1. They put everyone in danger
  2. It was annoying
  3. They ruined the experience and peacefulness
  4. There was a high potential for the animal to get scared and walk away

For my fellow Harry Potter fans, you’ll recognize the reference to Dudley at the Reptile House from the first movie, The Philosopher’s Stone.


{Buffalo}

These “cattle of the bush” are found in abundance in Chobe National Park. African Buffalo prefer to live in grassy areas with water and shade. These highly sociable and huge animals are a lions favorite prey. It’s not uncommon to see them travel in herds of thousands and like any human society they also maintain a dominance and pecking order amongst males as well as females, respectively.

Their signature horns look like an embellished “w”. Males’ horns are more pronounced than females. All males have horns whereas only adult females grow them. The horns are made of keratin and other proteins over live bone.

Fun Fact: Buffalo are herbivores and mostly graze at night. If you saw the section on lions above, at night is when lionesses mostly hunt as well.

Fun Fact: A buffalo pregnancy last 340 days! And the calf can weigh 88lbs. (40kgs) at birth!

I was able to capture images of several buffalo. You can see the males with their more embellished “w” shaped horns compared to the females. Luckily I was also able to capture them in action such as drinking water and crossing the river, as well as from various angles.

{Hippos}

Hippos are mostly-herbivorous semi-aquatic mammals that live between 40-50 years. Adult males weigh between 3,300 – 4,000 lbs.  and adult females between 2,900 – 3,300 lbs. and often only 55lbs. when born! They average 13ft. long and 5ft. tall. They live in rivers and swamps and are considered amongst the most dangerous animals in the world as they are very aggressive.

We saw so many hippos lying together so it surprised me to know that they are actually very individualistic creatures and the only bonds that are formed are between mothers and daughters. We also learned that they mostly graze at night which is also an “every hippo for him/herself” activity.

In those large pods, they tend to segregate by group – bachelors lie close to other bachelors, the females together, young females together etc. They’re only territorial in the water where a bull presides over about ten females. Younger “bachelor” males are also allowed as long as they behave submissively to the bull.

I was fortunate to capture several images of these giants in and out of the water, as well as in action!

The scratch marks are from fighting/interacting with other hippos.
As you can see, we got up pretty close!

Given how many and how closely hippos spend time together, it was surprising to learn that they’re highly individualistic.

Sometimes it was hard to distinguish hippos huddling close together, from boulders and mud.

{Impala}

Impalas are elegant. They  can weigh between 88–168 lb. (40–76 kg ) and the males’ horns (not antlers, scroll for more info on the differences) can be anywhere from 1.5-3ft. long (45-92cm.). Impala are mainly active during the day and they behave according to a social structure consisting of bachelor male herds, female herds, and a territorial male. Impala can be found in herds ranging from 50-200, depending on the season.

Gestation is usually 6-9 months and mating usually occurs in May. We actually got to see a male courting females during our visit to Chobe!

Impala are lovingly referred to as the McDonald’s of Africa due to the distinct black, “M” on their backsides. The flash of color scares off prey, serves as a follow me signal to their calves as well as believed to break up their silhouette making it harder for predators to see them.

Luckily since I was in Chobe in May we saw a huge herd of impala and a male courting the females. And we were so close I really got to capture images of them including the male’s horns!

These beauties posed for me!
Bachelor male herd

Female herd

{Differences Between Horns and Antlers}

  • Horns are found on buffalo, cows, sheep, goats, gazelles, and antelopes; antlers are found on deer, moose, elk
  • Horns are permanent; antlers are shed and regrown every year. The new antlers are typically larger every year.
  • Horns appear on males and females; antlers appear only on males (exception: the caribou).
  • Horns are mostly bone and keratin whereas antlers are mostly made of bone and calcium
  • Horns are never branched; antlers are branched (see below)
branched antlers; photo credit: infinitespider.com

{Nile Crocodiles}

These large predators can live between 60-100 years and are one of the oldest species on Earth. They are the largest predator in Africa and while they can live in saltwater, the vast majority are found in freshwater. They can weight between 500-1200lb. (227-544kg.). Adult males average about 14ft. and adult females 8-12ft. Young crocodiles do not go in the water much and dig shelter for themselves on river banks and mud. During hotter months you might see a croc with its mouth open (we didn’t see any do this as we were there during winter). That’s how they lose excess heat.

Crocs are very aggressive animals and work together when attacking prey. They follow a strict social structure dominated by the oldest males. When the social structure is challenged it can lead to violent, often deathly fights. Females protect the hatchlings but they hunt on their own; not fed by their parents.

{Giraffes}

{Warthogs}

Warthogs are the adorable creatures of the african jungle. They are fearless and are known to face off with predators. Adult males weigh between 130-330lb (59-150kg.) and adult females 100-170lb. (45-77kg.) and they grow to anywhere between 2-3ft (1m). tall.

We stopped for lunch at the Chobe Safari Lodge in-between the river and land safaris. The lunch was buffet style and they had salad, potatoes, bread, and dessert for vegetarians. It was a bit sparse but tasty and fresh and hit the spot as we were hungry. And to be honest we didn’t care that much as we ate lunch overlooking the Chobe River…not exactly something you do everyday.

Enjoying lunch at the Chobe Safari Lodge

{Conclusion}

Chobe National Park is one of the best places in the world for safari. Offering land and river safaris, and the residence of the densest population of animals in the world! Over 120,000!! All of Africa’s Big 5 can be seen here, with exception of the rhino. Hopefully efforts to reintegrate them into Chobe National Park will be successful! Otherwise to see rhinos in Southern Africa, head to Kruger National Park!

During my one day visit to Chobe, I saw lions, buffalos, giraffes, hippos, elephants galore, impalas, including male courting females, warthogs, and lots of birds. It’s a true oasis and anyone who has the opportunity to visit, don’t miss the chance!

It’s also a short jaunt to the mighty, natural wonder, Victoria Falls and well worth it to visit!

Happy travels and cheers to adding more stamps in your PassportPages!

{About Samta}

When I’m not traveling and/or adventuring (and even when I am), I operate my tech startup, ShaadiShop. ShaadiShop is a marketplace for Indian-friendly wedding venues in California.

During undergrad I decided to study abroad which triggered my travel passion. I lived in Adelaide, Australia for a year and after that, for the next 10 years I spent 1-2 months each year, traveling to various destinations around the globe, on my own while I managed my direct marketing company.

I think traveling solo, prepared me to become an entrepreneur – journeying into new experiences, figuring it out as you go, self-reliance, facing your fears head on, trying new things, and so much more!

Then I decided to get a Masters in Business Administration, and I met my husband. Now we travel around the globe together and often. I love backpacks, vegetarian and vegan cooking and of course planning our next trip. I’m also kinda addicted to blueberries. =p

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Samta, Founder, PassportPages

{About PassportPages}

I created the PassportPages travel blog, to provide nuanced, detailed travel advice, tips, and hacks for traveling all over the world — from a unique and different perspective than the other popular travel blogs. There aren’t as many travel blogs geared towards:

  • nuanced, detailed travel tips and advice
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  • ethnic Americans, Canadians, and others
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