Savuti


The sage bush (or bitter bush) released its herbal aroma as it was crushed by the vehicle. The Quelea finches gathered in flocks of tens of thousands as you sit for hours watching elephants at waterholes whilst thousands of zebras move slowly across the plains in their twice yearly migration as hyenas and wild dogs thrive on them in this harsh yet completely different environment from Chobe or Linyanti.

Recognized as a prime game viewing area, the Savuti (also spelt Savute), covers almost 1,930 sq. miles (5,000 square km) in the south west of Chobe National Park. The western edge of Savuti is encircled by the Magwikhwe sand ridge, 156 miles (100km) long and 65 feet (20 metres) high, which is the ancient shoreline of a super-lake that covered much of northern Botswana. It is difficult to imagine that this harsh dry landscape was once submerged beneath an enormous inland sea. A channel from the Linyanti River once fed the now dry Savuti Marsh, which is the deepest part of the Mababe Depression and is the only part to have filled with water in recent history.

This marsh has something of a mystical renown as it can dry up or flood regardless of local rains. David Livingstone, on his way to ‘discover’ the Victoria Falls in 1851, commented, that it was a “dismal swamp,” but sometime around 1888 it started to dry up and remained completely parched until 1957. Camelthorn acacia trees established themselves in the channel and along the banks and grew to full size. During unexpected floods these trees were drowned but as the channel and marsh dried out again, the dead trees became one of the most prominent features of the landscape.

Today, parts of Savuti are almost desert-like with a scorching sun and hot sand, while at the other extreme are vast grass plains full of game, reminiscent of Tanzania’s Serengeti. These rich grasslands are boosted into fecundity by summer rains, at which time huge herds of zebras migrate south from the Linyanti to gorge on the abundant grazing. Savuti also contains a number of pans that hold water for months after the rains, enabling animals to remain long into the dry season.

Another strikingly different terrain found in Savuti, are the Gubatsa Hills. Formed some 980 million years ago during volcanic movement, these dolomite rock outcrops create a series of extraordinary hills. They rise to an astonishing 290 feet (90 metres) high, out of a completely flat landscape.

Wild dogs and large concentrations of lion follow the annual zebra migration intently, and leopard and cheetah are also seen. Savuti is also famous for its elephants that roam great distances for the best fodder. Little quelea finches are quite a spectacle as they gather in thousands. They reach a frenzy of numbers in about April when a single flock could contain tens of thousands of these small twittering birds.

Rains arrive from November to April, at which time the animals make their way to pastures rich in new grass. Sometime in November or December thousands of zebras migrate from the Linyanti in the north and move south through Savuti to the grasslands of the Mababe Depression. In February they start heading northwards again. Humidity and heat is high. From May to October the water pans dry up and the animals are attracted to three artificial waterholes. Elephants dominate these while other animals have to wait their turn. September and October can be extremely hot but game viewing is very rewarding as predators are concentrated around the waterholes.

 

Facts

  • Savuti is in Chobe National Park so off-road and night driving are not permitted
  • This is a malarial area.
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