The area known as the ‘waterfront’ in the north-eastern corner of Chobe National Park is one of my favourite places. On many of the safaris that I lead we routinely spend time on a midday boat ride viewing the numerous crocodiles, hippo, impala, waterbuck, kudu, warthog and elephants that are abundant here. There is an abundance of waterbirds that may be seen as well, including storks, fish-eagles, egrets and herons.
These midday boat rides are excellent for seeing some of the larger animals out in the open, as they come to the water’s edge as the day gets hotter. Most of the regular boat cruises that the riverside lodges run are timed for the late mornings and midday, to maximise of the chance of seeing elephants drinking *or* bathing.
However, as this is not always ideal for photography because of the harsh contrasts and shadows that the midday sun creates, Helena and I decided to visit the Chobe on our own and get onto the river at first light. We chose a suitable weekend, hired a boat and a guide and arranged very early starts with him.
The Chobe River is one of the most visited of all of Botswana’s wildlife hotspots, but most of the ‘tourist boats’ only start operating at around 09h30 each day. Having the river to ourselves was wonderful. We revelled in the solitude, and spent time watching and photographing skimmers and pratincoles. The best was yet to come though. It was just starting to get warm when we noticed a pack of African wild dogs resting alongside a tree. This was exciting enough in itself, but a herd of impala was making its way along the river’s edge, between the water, which is full of very alert crocodiles, and the dogs, which were wide awake and watching.
The dogs were motionless as the impala herd split up, some moving right in front of the dogs and others moving out onto a grassy point. We already had our boat positioned, and we waited. The next moment the dogs began stalking – and the impalas noticed them immediately. A chaotic chase ensued, with some dogs pursuing impalas along the water’s edge, while others ran at the buck that were out in the open grassland. On this day, though, luck was with the impalas and they managed to evade their hunters. The dogs gave up quickly and walked away from the river, out of sight. The whole event was over in seconds, but the sight of it remained with us throughout the day.
Our early morning outing had paid off with that surprise sighting. We took a few more photographs of birds and then, as it was heating up, slowly made our way out of the park and back towards the boat jetty. We were almost there when we passed the first of the big ‘party’ boats, just setting out on their cruise. A passenger yelled out to us, ‘Seen any elephants?’ With broad smiles on our faces, we shook our heads.