Chobe safari | The Savute Channel or ‘Stolen River’ floods and dries up on its own mysterious schedule.

Meandering along the Savute Channel

Our Chobe safari took us to the legendary Savute Channel in northern Botswana. This area has a history of flooding and drying up inexplicably, probably as a result of tectonic activity. The Savute Marsh throngs with a staggering amount of game attracted by the summer grazing.

This was to be the climax of our Chobe safari. We arrived at our tented lodge just in time for a sumptuous tea on the deck. Then we headed out into the Savute Channel on a game drive. My partner and I were thrilled at the chance to experience this famous region, which we’d seen so many times on the National Geographic channel.

As we drove, our guide Dineo told us about the area: ‘The Chobe River starts life in Angola as the Kwando, then flows through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the Linyanti Swamp. Next, it threads its way eastward out of the swamp, becoming the Chobe, before merging with the mighty Zambezi River at Kasane. One offshoot of the Linyanti, however, is the Savute Channel, which feeds into the Savute Marsh.’

We drove through lush wetlands and grasslands thronging with game. Dead camelthorn trees were a prominent features of the landscape – skeletons of trees drowned during previous floods.

‘The Savute Channel has a strange history of flooding and drying up inexplicably, which we think is the result of tectonic plates shifting below ground,’ said Dineo. ‘When it’s lush, green and filled with water – like now – Savute attracts staggering numbers of game.’

Being a bit of birder, I was struck by the amount of avian life. We were rewarded with wonderful sightings at every turn. I kept jotting them down until my notebook was bulging with ‘lifers’. As we were driving in a marshy area, most of the sightings were waterfowl, including an array of kingfishers, egrets, geese, cranes, spoonbills and storks. Secretary birds and kori bustards strutted their stuff around the fringes.

The marshy ground was filled with red lechwe, waterbuck and tsessebe grazing in the muddy shallows. An impala carcass was surrounded by a busy squadron of vultures bickering with a pair of jackals.

‘It’s estimated that up to 3,000 buffalo are frequenting the channel at the moment,’ said Dineo. ‘We’re also thrilled to have so many species of antelope, including roan in decent numbers, and the odd sable.’

We arrived at a pan filled with elephant. There was much trumpeting, splashing and mud flinging. Babies in loose pyjamas with spaghetti trunks suckled beneath their behemoth mothers. Bat-wing ears disturbed the still air like mammalian punkah fans. It was utterly mesmerising.

Later, we rounded a bend and Dineo drew to halt. Before us was a herd of many hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of zebra. ‘My goodness, it’s just like the Great Wildebeest Migration of the Serengeti!’ I exclaimed.

‘You’re right, this is Botswana’s “great migration”. Each year, thousands of zebra make the trek, followed by plenty of big-cat predators. After wintering in the Linyanti area, they head south to the Savute Channel in November in expectation of summer rains and good grazing. Some zebra stay here, while others continue on to Nxai Pan.’

‘In fact, I should say it’s one of our migrations. We also have the Makgadikgadi Zebra Migration, between the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Pan.’

As we sat watching this miraculous sea of black and white, I thought about how privileged we were to be witnessing this little-known, mini migration. There was not another vehicle in sight. My partner squeezed my hand: we were both feeling the same thing. This piece of paradise was ours alone.

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