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Makgadikgadi National Park

Located in the centre of  Botswana, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is a 3,900 square kilometre expanse and one of the largest salt pans in the world. The area where the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park stands today was part of a larger area that was once occupied by Lake Makgadikgadi. After the lake dried up, Makgadikgadi Pans came into existence.

In 1970, a part of the Pans was turned into the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve. A few years later, in 1992,  the area of the game reserve was expanded, converting the game reserve into a national park.

An interesting fact about Lake Makgadikgadi; in October 2019, Geneticist Vanessa Hayes claimed Lake Makgadikgadi as the homeland of modern humans (Homo sapiens) based on her believe that it’s where modern humans first evolved. She based her claim on the 1,217 mitochondrial DNA samples from the area.

Formation of the Lake Makgadikgadi

Around 2 million years ago, an epeirogenic flexure resulted in the formation of Lake Makgadikgadi. The lake was a result of a blocked outflow, as the water flowing from the Okavango, Chobe, Upper Zambezi, and Limpopo Rivers failed to drain into the Indian Ocean.

Thousands of years later, filled to its limits, the water from the lake overflowed and this caused the lower and middle Zambezi River to connect, which led to the formation of Victoria Falls. Furthermore, Lake Makgadikgadi was able to flow out of the basin, which partially drained the lake, reducing its water level.

Following these events, the region experienced a long period of dry climate, increasing the evaporation and reducing the flow of river water that reached Lake Makgadikgadi. With little to no source of water, the lake ultimately dried up. Before the gradual demise of lake Makgadigadi, it was said to have covered an area between 80,000 and 275,000 square kilometres.

Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

The Makgadikgadi Salt Pan consists of several smaller salt pans, the mains ones being Nwetwe Salt Pan, Nxai Salt Pan and Sua Pan. Nwetwe Salt Pan is considered an archaeological treasure trove as various stone age tools used by humans were found in this area while Nxai Salt Pan is covered with acacia thickets is well-known for its resemblance to the Serengeti Plains, and the Sua Pan provides an annual production of 300,000 tonnes of sodium carbonate and 450,000 tonnes of salt.

Wildlife In Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

  • Animals

The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park annually hosts large herds of zebras and wildebeest, which migrate from the Boteti River across the Nwetwe Pan. While the national park doesn’t have a huge diversity of wildlife, there is still plenty to spot on a safari. Cape baboon, bushbuck, elephant, giraffe, meerkats, springbok, vervet monkey, water-buck, zebra and wildebeest are a few or the mammals who call Makgadikgadi Pans National Park their home.

The Makgadikgadi Pan’s predatory residents include cheetahs, brown and spotted hyenas, lions, and leopards. There are also several nocturnal species including striped polecat, African wildcat, honey badger, black-backed jackal, porcupine, small-spotted genet, aardvark and aardwolf.

  • Nile Crocodile

The banks of Boteti river are the natural habitat of Nile crocodiles, who can survive without food for several months. They are a specialist opportunistic hunters lying in wait for their prey. Hippos are also found in the river.

  • Birds

The Nata Sanctuary in the Sua Pan has plentiful birds. The Makgadikgadi Pan has around 255 bird species such as Meyer’s parrot, black-winged stilt, Burchell’s coucal, African fish eagle, white-browed robin, Kalahari scrub robin, the secretary bird, and several well-known species of predatory birds. Great white pelican, greater flamingo and lesser flamingo are migratory bird species that visit the park.

When To Visit Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

The best thing about Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is that the park is never crowded, not even during the high season from July to October, which is considered the best time for wildlife viewing. It is during this dry season that the animals gather around the Boteti River, where the majority of camps, lodges and other accommodations exist.

Makgadikgadi Pan is considered a seasonal park that sees it’s share of migratory animal species. The salt pan itself attracts wildlife in the wet season from December to May. This wet summer season is an ideal time to witness thousands of flamingos arriving at the Pan.

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