By Leigh Kemp
The history of the Savute Channel in Northern Botswana is well known to safari aficionados as a waterway that has a tendency to dry up for periods of time before flowing again. Explanations for this phenomenon were numerous but the accepted theory is of earth movement blocking the entrance of the channel where it flows out of the Linyanti Delta.
Botswana lies on unstable ground with numerous earth tremors measured every year but due to the depth of the Kalahari sand deposit absorbing the tremors they are seldom felt on the surface. Even the Okavango Delta flow is constantly changing due to the earth shifts that come with tremors. And so it is with the Savute.
The Savute is unique in that it flows out of another water source, the Linyanti, and disappears into the desert sands some 100 km away. The waters reach their end in the Savute Marsh in the Mababe Depression - an ancient lake - and it is here where the drama of Savute plays out.
The waters of the Savute began to dry up in the early 1980's and the story of the drying was recorded in a number of documentaries such as 'The Stolen River' and 'Journey to the Forgotten River' - and the channel has not flowed since. Until now!
With the drying up the Savute changed its whole being. From a dry season haven for wildlife the Savute began to lose its identity. It literally shrivelled. Over the following years waterholes were set up for the resident wildlife and soon Savute found a new and dramatic identity. It became a place where reality overshadowed fantasy, a place where wildlife interaction stretched the limits.
But all this has all changed again and Savute is quickly becoming the dry season haven for wildlife it once was.
2008: It is in Savute where the enmity between lions and hyenas was first recorded and where adult elephants began to fall victim to lions. There is a lion pride in Savute that specialises in killing elephants, a phenomenon recorded in a number of documentaries including the recent Planet Earth series.
Now the water is back and Savute has undergone a major transformation! The Savute of the past is no more, but in its place is a wilderness no less dramatic. The lion pride has split up and today the lions seldom hunt elephant.
Today animals gather on the banks of the swollen channel, a far cry from the dust baked time of the recent past. The coming seasons in Savute will be a time of transformation and an exciting time to visit this place of legend. 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.