Thrilling Wildlife Along The Savute Channel

Without a doubt the Savute Channel is producing some of the most amazing game-viewing in years. In fact there is a beauty about its current state that is hard to describe… and we know from history that it is extremely rare to see it like this. Some of the sightings we have witnessed are beyond belief and the sheer numbers of so many species makes this one of the best spots in Botswana at the moment and we are still far away from the peak of the dry season! If the next few lines and photographs don’t do the channel some justice then you will have to come and see for yourself!

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Part of the herd of more than 1,000 buffalo have a last drink before sunset.

After more than two decades without flow, some years back in 2008 the channel started flowing again and much to the disbelief of many of the old timers in the area the channel flowed all the way into the Savute Marsh in the Chobe National Park. This wet period produced exceptional viewing at the Marsh, but sadly it was just out of our game viewing area and the days of exceptional game viewing on the dry channel had ended. Now, almost a decade later suddenly the channel dried up once again at the beginning of this year, including the almost 50 km section of this channel falling within our concession. By June (apart from the area where the channel starts flowing), there was only one body of water left and it can easily be spotted on Google Earth. This big pool close to Savuti Camp is called Sefo’s Lagoon and right now is a spectacle in itself.

By April we had noticed that the channel was not quite ready to go back into a complete dry phase and remarkably the late arriving waters that flow from the Kwando River (finding its source in south-eastern Angola) started to push east into the channel once again. On 20 February the channel was close to its driest and this Google Earth image below was captured by luck back then. On the 5th of April we noticed that suddenly the late rains had resulted in the channel flowing about 5.5 km south east. From around this period it was hard to notice any flow but for the next few months every time I dropped a piece of elephant dung in the water it showed that although very minimal, that there was indeed some sort of flow east. Then just a couple of weeks back it was time to head back into the Linyanti Concession again – and the first thing I did (after noticing from the air that the channel had pushed further east) was to drive down and record the location of the water as noted on 27 July. I checked again on 3 August and noted that in a period of a week the channel had pushed a further 400 m.

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Map showing the current state of the Savute Channel in 2016.

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The water slowly makes its way eastwards…

While it is exciting to document what the water is doing, so far the push is not that strong and as a result it has made for a set of events which has led to a narrow stretch of water pushing about 10 km east and deep into an area with almost no other surface water – unlike the last number of years where the game could drink anywhere along this 80 km channel with a focus on the Marsh, they are now naturally restricted to the 10 km of water all within the Wilderness concession. And right now the viewing is challenging the Marsh when it had water. With thousands of animals drinking every day, it is hard to describe this natural wonder!

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A herd of elephant gathers in the late afternoon kicking up a lot of dust.

In the last couple of weeks the sightings have shown why this area is regarded as one of the best in Africa. The predators have been fantastic – but for the predators to be so prolific they need food and at the moment there are all kinds of wildlife drinking daily. We are seeing buffalo and zebra like we have not seen in ages and estimates are up to 3,000 buffalo are using this channel with one herd of more than a thousand being seen every day at the moment. Zebras are seen by the hundred and move up and down along the channel feeding on a fresh flush of grass created from the moisture. There are all sorts of antelope and we are thrilled to be seeing the somewhat rare roan antelope in good numbers as well as the odd sable. Reedbuck have made their way back into the area and this is probably some of the population that thrived on the marsh when it had water until the beginning of 2015. Red lechwe and waterbuck are ever present while impala herds are scattered all along while amazingly, we even recorded a herd of 68 wildebeest, the previous total records for a whole year only numbering in the twenties. The area is an elephant hot spot. Picture a channel full up with wildlife and add hundreds if not thousands of elephants and then suddenly it becomes seriously crowded and much larger elephants can be seen chasing all sorts of wildlife around that dare to drink in their vicinity.

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A big sable bull makes his way down to Sefo’s Lagoon.

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A croc looks onto the muddy Sefo’s Lagoon wishing for more water.

The lions have started following the buffalo herds and the DumaTau pride now numbers 18 with the latest addition being three small cubs. One incident last week included some members of the pride feeding on a zebra. They were challenged by more than 20 hyaena which ended up stealing their kill and chasing the lions off…

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A lioness eyes out a herd of buffalo – she was mating with one of the new males in the area.

The leopard viewing around the source of the channel is something to behold and out of nowhere new female leopards are pitching up. We are not yet sure why but in just an area of about 1,000 ha (about 2,00 acres) we have recorded 10 different leopard – five adult female leopards, three of them which currently have cubs! With a couple of male leopards passing through the area – this puts the leopard concentration at one of the highest anywhere in Africa. To see so many leopard in one small area is incredible!

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MmaLebadi’s very relaxed young male leopard cub who is growing up fast!

We have had one or two sightings of nervous cheetah but they remain elusive and have not returned as quickly as some people had thought – and with all the other large carnivores around it is not an easy place for them at this stage.

Wild dog on the other hand have made a bit of a comeback and although the big packs have splintered they are at least making a decent showing on the channel and one afternoon while checking up on the water levels of the channel, I spotted five wild dogs in hot pursuit of a kudu. They chased it into a pod of about 30 hippos and incredibly the hippos chased it back to the dogs and it was quickly taken down along the edge of the channel!

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A hippo investigates a pack of wild dog that just brought down a kudu

The smaller creatures are showing nicely too and we have had some good sightings of both species of jackal in the area and the likes of porcupine, African wild cat, genet and even a caracal have all been spotted in the last week. Bird viewing is great too and some of the storks have moved in with the fish that are swimming with the pushing waters while at the same time all sorts of eagles and vultures are finding all they need in the area with ample meat to feed on and water to wash themselves.

The question remains – how far will the channel push this year?

For now the channel will continue to push east but my suspicion is that it won’t make it as far as Savuti Camp but I do hope I am wrong! Either way we will keep you posted. One thing is for sure though – if you get the opportunity in the next few months, come and see this wonder of nature.

Written and Photographed by Nic Proust. This blog has been reposed in partnership with Wilderness Safaris.

Visit the Savute Channel and marvel at its lively wildlife. Reach out to our team and let us help you plan your next trip!

2016-11-16T22:19:30+00:00