Chobe National Park, in northwest Botswana, has one of the largest game concentration in Africa continent. By size, this is the third largest park of the country, after the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Gemsbok National Park, and is the most diverse. This is also the country's first national park.
The park can be divided up to 4 areas, each corresponding to one distinct ecosystem:
At the beginning of the 20th century, the region that would become Botswana was divided up to different land tenure systems. At that time, a major part of the park's area was classified as crown land. The idea of a national park to protect the varied wildlife found here as well as promote tourism first appeared in 1931. The following year, 24'000 km² around Chobe district were officially declared non-hunting area; this area was expanded to 31'600 km² two years later.
In 1943, heavy tsetse infestations occur throughout the region, making the idea of creating a national park momentarily left aside. It was only in 1953 that this project received governmental attention again: 21'000 km² were suggested to become a game reserve. As a result, the Chobe Game Reserve was born in 1960 with an area smaller than originally wanted. Finally, in 1967, the reserve was declared a national park.
At that time there were several industrial settlements in the region, especially at Serondela, where the timber industry proliferated. These settlements were gradually moved out of the park, and it was not until 1975 that the whole protected area was exempt from human activity. Nowadays traces of the old timber industry are still visible at Serondela. Minor expansions of the park took place in 1980 and 1987.
The park is probably best known for its spectacular elephant population: 60,000 elephants today, it is actually the highest elephant concentration of Africa. Moreover, most of them are probably part of the largest continuous surviving elephant population on Earth. The elephant population seems to have solidly built up since 1990, from a few thousand. They have not been affected by the massive illicit exploitation of the 1970s and 1980s.
Elephants living here are Kalahari elephants, the largest in size of all known elephant populations. Yet they are characterized by rather brittle ivory and short tusks, perhaps due to calcium deficiency in the soils.
Damage caused by the high numbers of elephants is rife in some areas. In fact, concentration is so high throughout Chobe that culls have been considered, but are too controversial and have thus far been rejected.
At dry season, these elephants sojourn in Chobe River and the Linyanti River areas. At rain season, they make a 200-km migration to the southeast stretch of the park. Their distribution zone however outreaches the park and spreads to northwestern Zimbabwe.
There are three main camping sites within the park, all of which are equipped with shower-toilets facilities and require booking in advance:
Each camping ground is designed differently, which makes the visit of all of them interesting. 4-wheel vehicles are usually used for transfer between camps, as the road network here is recent and relatively primitive. The road is best near the Chobe River. However it exists no facility between Maun and Kasane. Therefore it is always safe for tourists to carry with them basic items such as food, water or tools.
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