Botswana: Chobe River

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Rick is sharing his adventures in Africa with staff from our conservation partner, Elephants Without Borders. Read his previous post, Botswana: Lions.

May 7, 2009 (Thursday)

In the morning we met up with Dr. Mike Chase and Kelly Landen to do some interviews with them about Elephants Without Borders (EWB). It was a beautiful morning, so we decided to do the interviews along the shore of the Chobe River near the offices of EWB.

One of my jobs during the interviews was to scan the shoreline for crocodiles and anything else that may not want us there on the shore. Given that we were at the point on the shore where the elephant corridor came to the river, I was also looking for any elephants that might want to get a drink. However, Mike and Kelly assured us that the elephants would not be back until later in the afternoon.

The next part of our day was spent in a small six-person aluminum boat that Mike and Kelly use to observe elephants from the river. This allows them to cover a large amount of shoreline on both sides of the river in less time than it would trying to traverse the land by vehicle. This also gave us the opportunity to view and get footage of the multiple herds that come down to the river in the late afternoon.

The wildlife we saw was remarkable. Almost right away we saw elephants that were at the river’s edge bathing, drinking, and playing in the water. All in all we must have seen at least a dozen herds totaling well over 100 elephants or more. Given that we traveled around 15 miles (25 kilometers) up river and back down, we very well may have seen more than I can recall.

On our trip we also saw kudu, water buffalo, impalas, and at least a dozen crocodiles on the shore. And then there were the three different pods of hippos; thankfully, they are all content to keep napping as we traveled by. There were countless birds, including more Egyptian geese, every species of kingfisher you can think of, many fish eagles, plovers, hornbills, spoonbills, and rollers. The highlight for me with all the birds we saw was when we came across a dirt cliff at water’s edge where many brightly colored bee-eaters were nesting. Given that their nesting area was right on the water, we were able to get pretty close. Oh, and the go-away bird, who’s call sounds like a whiney “Go Away! Go Away!” is very funny to listen to.

We continued up stream for a while, seeing more animals and finally reaching the widest point of the flood plane. If I had to guess, I’d say it was several miles from the shore of Botswana to the shore of Namibia; at one point it really sunk in that I was in the middle of the flood plains of the Chobe River in AFRICA: just amazing!

We noticed the sun was starting to hang low in the sky and sundown would soon be upon us. On our way back downstream, Mike was able to get us into a lagoon that put some elephants between us and the sunset. It made for an amazing shot with the camera as the elephants were silhouetted and reflected in the water. If you notice spots in the picture it is because of the dragonflies. In the evening hours the dragonflies come out in clouds. Not swarms, clouds. Thankfully they are mosquito eaters, so the more the merrier, I say!

That was pretty much our adventure for the day – another amazing day in Africa!

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.