The drive along the riverfront in Chobe National Park during the dry season is a spectacle to be seen. The first glimpse of the bright aqua blue Chobe River winding its way through sandy terrain is always breathtaking. Driving through the western entrance at Ngoma gate in the afternoon, the first view from atop the ridge is of wide floodplains often dotted with upwards of two to four thousand Burchell’s zebra.
Adjacent to the bustling, small town of Kasane, using the more popular eastern Sedudu gate, through a deep valley to the river’s edge, in one long panoramic scene an immense diversity of wildlife can be seen, including impala, baboon, hippo, crocodile, buffalo, waterbuck, lechwe, puku, kudu, sable and warthog.
Chobe is also an excellent venue for birding safaris with tracts of hundreds of mixed waterfowl and over 460 bird species recorded in the Park. However, Chobe is still considered the ‘elephant capital of Africa,’ notable for its immense elephant population that converges along the river, numbering hundreds to thousands on any given day. But, for anyone who has had the privilege of a recent game drive, most unexpected and amazing are the large numbers of giraffe!
Morning drives are popular in hopes of sighting large predators, but can be comparatively quiet compared to the afternoon, as wildlife tend to travel towards the river when the temperatures rise and the sun heats up the landscape. Regardless of the time, often first sighted is a large head popping high above a woolly caper bush and then, another and another. Giraffe are to be seen in every direction.
This surge in giraffe on the Chobe riverfront is even more surprising knowing that, unfortunately, within the last decade throughout the African continent giraffe numbers have dropped considerably. In 1999, the total number of giraffe in Africa was estimated to exceed 140,000, however current estimates have the population at less than 80,000, including all sub-species.
Other than population estimates, very little is known on their current conservation status. To build a baseline of information, last year an exciting research initiative was started by Elephants Without Borders in collaboration with theUniversity of New South Wales and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, to undertake Botswana’s first giraffe ecology research under the umbrella of EWB’s Large Herbivore Ecology Programme. This will examine giraffe spatial ecology and use of the landscape through analysis of home range, seasonal movements, habitat use and preferences.
This immense research project is being conducted by PhD candidate, Kylie McQualter, who spends countless hours in the field observing and documenting individual giraffe, their behaviour and interactions. To date, McQualter has documented the IDs of 566 individual giraffe in Chobe, which is essential to determine information on population demographics, social dynamics and spatial analyses.
McQualter has built a massive collection of behavioural data on these individuals. This information will provide insight into their requirements and their link to intrinsic and extrinsic factors such as forage availability, temperature, giraffe density, predation and competition. All this information compiled with giraffe population dynamics will be fundamental for appropriate conservation management strategies in the region. It is a tall order to fill, but the database is already quite impressive.
Editor’s note: Read more about the graceful giraffe in the next issue of the Zambezi Traveller. Kelly Landen and her team will be sharing more about their research in Chobe National Park.
Read more about the region in our destination guide:
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Zambezi Traveller (Issue 14, Sept 2013)