The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta on Earth. Instead of flowing into the sea, the annual flood of fresh water flows inland, spreading over 15,000km of the Kalahari sand in a maze of lagoons and channels. The River Okavango, which rises in the highlands of Angola, never reaches the sea; instead, its mighty waters empty over the sand of the Kalahari Desert. Here the thirst land of the south meets a blue-green wilderness of fresh water, with emerald reed beds and towering trees. Over the aeon the Okavango River has spread its rich sediment over a huge, almost flat area, in the shape of a giant panhandle.
It now forms the world’s largest inland delta, containing 95% of all Botswana’s surface water. Around its perimeter are scattered the exclusive tourist lodges and camps, unlike any others in Africa. The Okavango’s water is remarkably clean and pure and this is almost certainly due to the fact that it passes through very sparsely populated areas on its journey from Angola.
Despite this, a staggering 660,000 tons of sediment a year are delivered to its great alluvial fan. The slow drift of the annual flood into the Delta, taking weeks to push in from Shakawe on its upper reaches to Maun, on its eastern edge, causes minimal turgidity. This, combined with the very effective filtration action of the dense reed beds and papyrus groves, results in water of almost startling clarity. Part of the Delta has been incorporated into the Moremi Game Reserve, set aside in 1963, by the local community to preserve the wildlife.
The delta has a number of Lodges and Camps, many of which are in private concessions, bordering the Park, and therefore allowing for more intimate game viewing. Game drives are not possible at many lodges, therefore walks and mekoro excursions are the order of the day and there is possibly no better way to experience nature than on the tranquil waters of this magnificent place.
During the study, Bird Life Botswana was in particular interested in the slaty egret a vulnerable water bird living only in Southern Africa. The egret, which has its main breeding grounds in the wetlands of Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is by now estimated to have a total population of only about 4,000 birds. The survey team managed to collect “valuable data on the ecology” of the egret, Pete Hancock of Bird Life Botswana says. The familiar favourites are there in force too – various antelope, elephant, giraffe, hippo, lion, leopard and the like.
In most places the delta canals are shallow, so a safari generally takes place in dug-out canoes called mokoros, which can hold two people plus the poler, who stands in the back of the mokoro like a Venetian gondolier and pushes you through the marshy delta, only he doesn’t sing or try to sell you a phoney hat at the end of the ride. He just tries to keep you from getting attacked by hippos.