Once upon a time, long, long ago, a channel flowed all the way from the Zibadianja Lagoon that was, and still is, fed by the waters of the Kwando River. This channel flowed all the way into a vast marsh area in the Linyanti of northern Botswana. It was sometime in the 1800s and this channel was, and still is, called the Savute Channel. But this unique channel has a heartbeat and course of its own. Around 1883 it started to dry up, slowly drawing its life-giving nourishment as it retraced its steps all the way back to its source at Zibadianja. But, 75 years later, the flood of 1958, which was the largest ever recorded so far, forced water back into the channel all the way back to the marsh area. This brought relief to wildlife and huge herds were drawn to the Savute Marsh, causing it to be a spectacle of natural beauty for the next 24 years.
In 1982, the channel started to withdraw, like a massive inhalation and gently returned to its source. Water droplets turned to dust and wildlife dynamics changed in response to the lack of water. In front of Savuti Camp in the Linyanti Concession, the elixir of water was teased out of the ground with a borehole and this attracted an abundance of elephant and other wildlife species. As the wheel is round, so is the circle of life and the heavier flood waters of 2009 heaved into the Zibadianja Lagoon, forcing it to exhale its precious life back into the sandbanks, until the 9th of January 2010 when it finally reached its limit back into the marsh. There was great jubilation. The log-pile hide in front of Savuti Camp went sailing past on the back of the inflow, and along with it, many stories of wonderful elephant encounters.
The tide started to turn again, four years later, and in late 2014 and during 2015, the Savute Channel started to retreat, making its way back to Zibadianja Lagoon. A new log-pile has since been installed at Savuti Camp and solar energy now pumps water into the pan. Animals are following the retreat and my first sight on this trip was as we followed the channel down from Zibadianja Lagoon all the way until it trickled out just north of Savuti Camp. Great sightings of wildlife are now to be seen along this artery. We counted three separate herds of buffalo, one of which was so large, we speculated it must be close to a thousand head in the herd. The concentration of wildlife around this channel is remarkable.
How long will it take until it hides itself back in its source? I have no idea, but what I can say is that it has been a privilege to observe this moody channel for the second time. The first time was at the marsh in 2010. We are powerless over this channel’s inclination to flow or not, we can merely stand by and tell stories of what has been. That is what a safari does, it allows us to marvel at the natural world and its many wonder-filled quirks.
Written by Marin Myers and Photographed by Mike Myers