I adore elephants. I love the way they walk, the swish of their tales and the way they splash themselves with water from their trunks while having a bath and a drink.
I’ve been lucky enough to see wild ones in Africa and ridden behind on their backs behind their trusted mahouts (elephant trainers) in Asia. But I saw them in their greatest numbers in the beautiful Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Chobe National Park Botswana
Chobe National Park is Botswana’s first national park, and it is also the most biologically diverse. The park is located in the north of the country, it is Botswana’s third largest park, after Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Gemsbok National Park, it has one of the greatest concentrations of game in the whole of Africa.
Chobe Game Reserve was officially created in 1960, though smaller than initially desired. In 1967, the reserve was declared a national park.
The history of this area wouldn’t be told without mentioning the San bushmen (also known as the Basarwa people in Botswana). They were nomadic hunter-gatherers who were constantly moving from place to place to find food sources, namely fruits, water and wild animals. These were the original inhabitants of this land. Nowadays one can find San paintings inside rocky hills of the park.
The Chobe River
The Chobe River winds like a ribbon through the heart of the park and a river cruise provided a superb vantage point to see a herd of around 30 elephants. It seemed a lot of elephants to me, although Botswana has some of the highest concentrations of elephants anywhere in Africa and there are believed to be as many as 70,000 living among the swamps, floodplains and woodland of Chobe.
The river begins its existence as a small mountain spring in Angola, where it is known as the Kwando, (which is a Hambukushu name). From here, it then travels a great distance through the Kalahari sands before it reaches Botswana and becomes the Linyanti (a Subiya name).
It finally becomes the Chobe at the border post of Ngoma, from where it continues to run along Botswana’s northern border before meeting the mighty Zambezi and tumbling over the precipice at Victoria Falls.
A few more elephant facts
The African elephant is the world’s largest land mammal – with males on average measuring up to 3m high and weighing up to 6 tonnes.
Can you tell the difference between elephant species by their ears?
Yes, there are two species of elephant: African and Asian. The ears of African elephants are much larger than their cousins and are often described as being shaped like the African continent which is a detail that helps to remind us of the species. Whereas the ears of Asian elephants are shaped like the Indian subcontinent.
How much food does an elephant eat?
Elephants need to eat up to 150kg of food per day, so in human terms, that’s roughly about 375 tins of baked beans, how would you feel about that? It means they need to continuously eat for at least three quarters of the day to be able to consume enough, although half of it may leave the body undigested.
We watched as the elephants ambled along beside the river and then stopped to drink at the water’s edge. Some splashed around to cool off, the young calves copying their five-tonne parents, as we studied their actions and stayed just out of range of their water cannon trunks.
On the way back we also had a close encounter with a cantankerous hippo. After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius,) is the third-largest type of land mammal after the elephant, Male hippos weigh 1,600–3,200kg, and females 650–2,350kg.
Despite their enormous size, hippos only eat just 1–1.5 per cent of their body weight every day, they are exclusively herbivores.
Did you know that hippopotamus sink when in water and can run along the bottom of the river. They are much more agile while in the water and more dangerous due to their speed of movement in water.
Are hippos dangerous? Simple answer is yes, they are classed as the most dangerous of the large land mammals, and although their speed on land is less than their agility in water, they can match the speed of a human for short distances.
It is estimated that attacks from hippos account for around 500 deaths a year in Africa. Their sheer weight and very sharp teeth combined with aggressive behaviour should be taken very seriously.
Great memories and I hope one day to return to this beautiful corner of Africa.