Botswana

Chobe

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History of Chobe National Park – Part 8

History of Chobe National Park – Part 8

History of Chobe National Park – Part 8

The early 1960s was a busy time for the banks of the Chobe River, south of the then small settlement of Kasane. Pat Hepburn and his newly appointed crew of workers began the arduous task of mapping and cutting what would be the initial network of roads, designed to offer maximum game viewing along the banks of the river and up amongst the mukusi forests off the sand ridge.

I am sad to say that I did not know my late father-in-law long enough. He was a wealth of knowledge, extremely well read with an instinctive understanding of not only the flora and fauna of the area but the human being as well. Pat had a quiet but authoritative demeanor together with an amazingly practical attitude to life.

My favourite quote among his many wise observations was, “Any fool can be uncomfortable,” so I am sure his camp was very agreeable! While the first Department of Wildlife and National Parks base was being built, accommodation consisted of a couple of tents and a very rustic ablution block under the big baobab tree on the hill behind Chobe Safari Lodge. The camp was replaced by offices, workshops, the warden’s house and staff lodgings, the remains of which can still be seen on the southern side of Sedudu Island.

Rob Backus was one of the many young adventurers who had the pleasure of working with Pat Hepburn. Rob hailed from England and arrived in Francistown in September 1964 as a Voluntary Service Officer at the tender age of 18.

Backus kept a daily diary of his experiences in Botswana in those early days. The District Commissioner of Francistown at that time, Phil Steenkamp, invited Backus to accompany him to Kasane and one of his diary entries reads:-

“Wed. Sept 16th 1964. While the DC was doing his admin work I went fishing for tiger fish on the Chobe but caught nothing (too hot!). At 3.00 pm Pat Hepburn, the Game Warden, took us by Landrover into the reserve which had only been a reserve for three years and open to the public for one month so the game was still very wild.

“Game seen (all in large numbers): elephant, kudu, waterbuck, Chobe Bushbuck, impala, tsessebe, lechwe, baboons, monkeys, steenbok, duiker, warthog, zebra, sable, eland, spoor of lion, black mamba (9 ft), hippo, Egyptian geese, eagles, vultures, pelicans, storks, spurwinged geese, and dozens of other birds and beasts that I can’t even remember.

“Pat Hepburn is a game expert and storybook game Warden who is fearless and knows the animals as individuals… The sights, sounds and smells, the excitement and romance and the multitude of unspoiled and exotic animals in their natural environment represented ‘the real thing’ to me. It was my holy grail and I had found it here. In one afternoon all my childhood reading and dreams had been realized and I vowed that, by hook or by crook, I would return to Chobe and work in the Game Department.”

Backus did return and his recorded memories of those days are a wonderful insight into the development of the area. He has kindly emailed us some of his diary excerpts and these memories will be shared in the next issue.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 08, March 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Chobe

Read more about the history of Chobe from the Zambezi Traveller:
History of Chobe - Part 12
History of Chobe - Part 11
History of Chobe - Part 10
History of Chobe - Part 9
History of Chobe - Part 8
History of Chobe - Part 7
History of Chobe - Part 6