Savuti is situated in the south western part of the Chobe National Park and covers approximately 5 000 km².
Savuti is something of an enigma, apart from the mystery over the different spellings used for ‘Savuti’, is the mysterious Savuti Channel. Sometimes the channel flows from the Linyanti’s waterways and into the heart of Chobe National Park, flooding the Savuti Marsh. The channel’s flow is unpredictable.
When David Livingstone visited Savuti in 1851 it was flowing. By 1879 the channel had stopped and the Savuti Marsh had started to dry out. It began again in the late 1950s, continuing until 1980 when it again dried up. This occurrence (including the fate of the animals which lived in and depended on the channels waters) is chronicled in Derek and Beverly Joubert’s documentary film, “The Stolen River”. The Channel became an unusual and productive ribbon of grassland that served as a corridor and feeding ground in the surrounding woodland for a wide variety of herbivores.
The Savuti Channel has a fascinating history of flooding and drying up independently of good rainy seasons and flood levels elsewhere – a mystery that has intrigued geologists and other researchers for many years. It is generally believed that tectonic activity deep below the Kalahari’s sand bed, is responsible. Others argue that its flow is primarily dependent upon the rainfall in the Angolan highlands which feeds the Okavango and Chobe river basins and the channel.
In 2008, the Savuti Channel once more became a deep, clear waterway harbouring hippo and aquatic life with myriad varieties of waterbirds. Wildlife, from plains game to predators, has had to adapt to a new source of water and all the opportunities and menaces it has brought with it. And how long will it be before the water dries up again? Judging from historical records it could be more than a hundred years or less than ten. Nature has the say in such matters.
The dead Camelthorn trees on the Savuti Marsh have became one of the most prominent features of the landscape – skeletons of dead trees, drowned in the waters at least 40 years ago. The shallow basin of the Mababe Depression is now the waterless bed of an ancient lake and the marsh itself is grassland that is the home to large numbers of different animals.
The western edge of Savuti comprises the Magwikhwe sand ridge, which is approximately 100 km long and 20 m high. This is the shoreline of a super-lake that once covered most of Northern Botswana. It is hard to imagine that this harsh dry landscape was once submerged under an enormous inland sea. Another part of the Savuti is characterized by the Gubatsa Hills which were formed millions of years ago during volcanic movement. These hills rise to about 90 meters high out of a completely flat landscape.
Much game passes through Savuti on annual migrations between Botswana’s dry interior and the rivers of the north and west. Zebra visit in large herds, accompanied by impala, wildebeest giraffe, tsessebe, buffalo and elephant. Most animals head for open plains to the south and east of the Chobe National Park during the green months (December to March). Gradually, from April to November, as the land dries out and the heat builds, they migrate back to rivers in the north and west.
Some animals maintain permanent territories in Savuti. Leopards are seen around the granite kopjes and packs of spotted hyena and prides of lion are notoriously large. Old bull elephants are always found in the Savuti area. Activity often happens around Savuti’s three waterholes, and in the last few years the lion here have made a specialty of killing sub-adult elephants.
The Savuti area offers great game viewing at certain times of the year. The annual zebra migration is followed by large concentrations of lion. Good sightings of cheetah and leopard are possible and the endangered wild dog also occurs here. Savuti is famous for its large concentrations of elephants that congregate around the waterholes. This makes game-viewing exceptional and hides at waterholes is also a special feature of this area.
Birdlife is also amazing with large secretary birds and kori bustards often seen around the Savuti Marsh. Summer migrants and water birds include Abdim’s Storks, Carmine bee eaters, fish eagles, quelea finches. A spectacular sight is the redbilled queleas that gather in their thousands.
The rainy season falls between November and April, which is during the summer months. The wildlife moves towards grassy areas during this time. During November/December, thousands of Zebra migrate from the Linyanti in the north to the south of Savuti in order to graze in the grasslands of the Mobabe Depression. During the summer months, the humidity and heat is very high.
The dry season is during the winter months, May to October. The water pans that filled up during the rainy season are now dry and the animals venture towards the man-made waterholes. During the months of September and October, the temperatures can be extremely hot. This makes for excellent game viewing as the predators are concentrated around the watering holes.
Access into the Savuti is by road or by aircraft. If driving, guests will most definitely need a 4×4 vehicle, as the roads can be very sandy in parts. The park is open throughout the year, however, should there be a good rainy season, the park may be closed to visitors who are self driving. Access by air is via charter aircraft from Kasane (served by daily road transfers from Victoria Falls and Livingstone) and Maun to the Savuti airstrip. The registered gravel airstrip is 1000 metres long and in good condition