Whilst conducting bird surveys on the Chitabe Concession recently, and being able to explore all corners of this remarkable area, I found the wildlife diversity and density simply overwhelming.
Chitabe has been enthralling guests with incredible wildlife sightings since 1998. I was however not really prepared for the staggering amount of wildlife we would encounter, often in very close proximity to the camp itself. In the full bloom of the southern African spring, the landscape offered up a visual spectacle as we drove its grassy floodplains, tree and palm islands, and groves of flowering acacias.
Chitabe is situated in the south-eastern Okavango Delta – an exclusive wilderness area of 28 000 hectares – that borders the Moremi Game Reserve in the north. The western and eastern boundaries are the Santantadibe River and the Gomoti Channel.
On the concession, there are large variations in habitat over relatively small distances. The eastern half of the concession is characterised by floodplains which separate the Gomoti Channel from acacia thornveld and stunted mopane woodland. The western half has more permanent water and the associated papyrus and wooded island habitat mosaics.
Chitabe is probably most renowned for its pack of African wild dogs that traverse the immediate area. Over our stay we were also lucky enough to not only find this 16-strong pack, but also witness a frenetic hunt, where an unfortunate impala did not make it to the following day. Yet it is the overall mammal diversity that impressed me most. The permanent lagoon adjoining Chitabe and Chitabe Lediba had daily visits by elephant herds, zebra, giraffe, baboon and tsessebe.
The high numbers of impala in the area means that leopard are often seen. Chitabe has a resident female with cub that is currently often seen in close proximity to camp. Over our stay we saw several other leopards too – one sporting a large gash, probably from a dispute with another leopard.
A visit to the Gomoti Channel at the moment will also be a definite highlight. General game is phenomenally abundant here and we saw large aggregations of southern giraffe, warthog, Cape buffalo, Burchell’s zebra, tsessebe, chacma baboon and blue wildebeest. This area is also very good for the water-loving red lechwe as well as numerous pods of hippopotamus. We made a day trip of it, as Chitabe can also pack bedrolls (and lunch) so that one can get some rest on a secluded, shaded spot somewhere over midday. There is something to be said for just being still somewhere, only immersed by the sights and sounds of nature. By doing a longer trip to Gomoti, you will no doubt enjoy some amazing experiences and be in the perfect position for photography too, to maximise the softer late afternoon light.
With all the all game along the Gomoti Channel currently, various predator species are frequently seen too. We had two lion sightings here, one of a coalition of young sub-adult males, which move between Chitabe and adjoining Moremi Game Reserve that had killed a Cape buffalo. The lions had mostly had their fill already and the carcass had many attendant, hissing vultures and Marabou storks that had now moved in for their bit of the spoils. We just sat for a while and watched in awe as more and more vultures came into land. Another, absolutely memorable lion sighting, was that of some very young lion cubs which were left in the company of their older siblings, as the adult females no doubt had gone off to hunt. At one stage they ventured right into the open, and in the soft morning light made for some wonderful photographic subjects.
Then we had what I would consider some far more unusual mammal sightings. Great views were had of a side-striped jackal, less frequently seen than its black-backed cousin (that was also encountered). A real highlight, however, was when we found two cheetah – a pair of males also frequently seen in the area. They had made an early-morning kill of an impala, and were found resting on an elevated termite mound, no doubt keeping a watchful eye out for lion. Spotted hyaena were often seen too, mostly after dark or in the early morning when most active. There is also an accessible spotted hyaena den on Chitabe currently, making for some great viewing and photography opportunities, particularly of the all-black pups. It really was not hard to take half-decent photographs at Chitabe, subjects were varied and plentiful. It was the best workout my camera has had in a while.
My recent visit and experiences affirmed again that Chitabe is the Okavango’s hidden treasure that just keeps on delivering epic wildlife sightings. Extensively rebuilt in 2018, Chitabe showcases the Delta in a very unique way, where all the staff go out of their way to make your stay memorable. It’s so memorable that many guests return year after year for more of that Chitabe magic. Chitabe should be a key component in any Botswana itinerary.
Written and Photographed by Martin Benadie
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