The Chobe National Park is renowned for a high population and variety of wildlife species. As a result, the Chobe National Park is an iconic tourist attraction and destination in northern Botswana. Established in 1968, the park received a total of 196 868 tourists in 2011, this figure increased to 240,031 in 2015 and to 420,542 in 2019. CNP is the most frequently visited protected areas in Botswana.
The peak months for travel to Chobe National Park are July and August with more than 50,000 tourist entrants each month in 2019. February is the only month of the year where the number of tourists drops below 20,000. Most of the tourists that visit Chobe National Park visit the CRF, hence overcrowding the riverfront. This is demonstrated by visitors who use Sedudu Gate and Ngoma gates which directly lead tourists to explore the Chobe River Front.
The CRF covers a total of 401.8 square kilometers. It serves as an ecological hotspot due to the permanent surface water provided by the Chobe River. The CRF serves as a wildlife corridor that provides undisturbed access of wildlife to water and allows migration of wildlife between the heart of CNP and the floodplains in the Zambezi region of Namibia.
The CRF is described as a high-intensity use zone and ecologically sensitive and threatened. It attracts wildlife-based tourists due to its scenic beauty and the abundance of wildlife resulting in congestion of game viewing activities. The CRF is marketed as the most attractive part of the park.
As a result, in recent years, the CRF has experienced congestion of tourism activities and studies have warned that increased numbers of wildlife-based tourists at CRF may result in environmental degradation of the area. Visitors to the CRF can be categorized into five, namely: i) private clients (self-drives), ii) mobile operators-those that enter using mobile safaris, iii) fixed lodges tourists inside and outside the park, iv) day visitors, v) government vehicles on official duties and non-fee clients (those with waivers).
Vehicles and game drives contribute to congestion at the CRF. The proximity of the CRF to Kasane on the east and to Ngoma and the Chobe Enclave on the west results in a much higher proportion of day users at the CRF. There are 4,109 vehicle days recorded entering CNP through Sedudu gate. Commercial vehicles made up 3,219 of these days at an average 104 per day. Private vehicles comprised 890 of these vehicle days at an average of 28 per day. Most commercial game drives into the CNP are 3-4 hours in duration and occur twice per day. It can therefore be assumed that approximately 52 commercial vehicles enter in the morning and 52 in the afternoon.
These 52 vehicles will join the 11 vehicles operating from Chobe Game Lodge which utilize the same roads and result in at least 63 vehicles. Off-road driving has created at least 325 km of roads to the north of the tarred road linking Sedudu and Ngoma and this is considered too much for a small area. There is also a total of 738 boats registered for use at the Chobe River.
The four most common types are Dinghies, Pontoon, Catamaran, and Houseboat. Hulls are constructed from fiberglass, aluminum, or steel. The movement of boats is causing significant impacts upon the riverbank because of erosion from wake wash. This wake wash erosion results in the exposure of tree roots and ultimately the collapse of a significant number of large mature trees, including Acacia nigrescens, due to undercutting of the riverbank. Congestion is caused by boats and game drive vehicles at the CRF. Next week, I will detail some of the impacts and explain what it means to the future of the CRF.