The Okavango Delta is a large inland delta in Botswana where the Okavango River's waters reaches a lowland in the Kalahari. All this water is ultimately evaporated and transpired. The Moremi Game Reserve, a National Park, lies to the east of the Delta. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and a World Heritage site.
The Okavango is characterized by high and low water levels due to the nature of the Okavango River, which drains the summer rainfall in Angola to be stopped and spraed out over a large area in the Deta. Transpiration and evaporation then cause the water levels to drop until next season when it will rise again. The water level is the highest in winter between June and August. During this period the wildlife are attracted to the water rich area, resulting in very dense concentrations of wildlife.
Species include elephant, buffalo, hippopotamus, lechwe, tsessebe, sitatunga, blue wildebeest, giraffe, crocodile, lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, brown hyena, spotted hyena, springbok, kudu, sable antelope, black and white rhinoceros, zebra, warthog and baboon.
The delta also has over 400 species of birds. With such a wide diversity of species, it is no wonder the Okavango Delta is such a haven for African Safari Lodges.
After the summer rains, most of the animals like elephant and buffalo leave for greener grass and trees elsewhere, just to return when winter comes.
Climate in Okavango Delta
The best time to visit is determined by personal taste. December to February are hot months with temperatures sometimes as high as 42°C. Humidity levels between 50% and 80%. During March to May, temperatures are milder in the vicinity of 30°C and cool nights. June to August are the dry, cold winter months with the days mild and cold nights. Mostly, the climate in the Delta is experienced by visitors as very mild, except maybe the hot summer months.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The 1000th site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014, the Okavango Delta is an important wildlife area protected by both the Moremi Game Reserve, on its eastern edge, and the numerous wildlife concessions within Ngamiland.
An oasis in an otherwise dry environment the Okavango Delta is known for its superb wildlife, with large populations of mammals and excellent birding particularly in the breeding season.
Very much at the centre of Botswana’s safari industry, the Okavango Delta features some of Africa’s premier camps and lodges including Mombo Camp, operated by Wilderness Safaris and Kanana, operated by Ker & Downey Botswana.
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE IN OKAVANGO DELTA
Early human association with the Okavango Delta is shrouded in legend, much of from the oral record. Sites such as the Tsodilo Hill, adorned with over 4 000 rock paintings, are claimed by several peoples, including the Hambukushu, Bugakhwe and Xanikwe, for example.
It is clear from archaeological records that northern Botswana has been occupied for the past 100 000 years at least and most probably for much longer before that. Evidence of this early occupation has been found at many sites around the Okavango Delta and it can be assumed that all areas between these sites were occupied at various times. The Delta’s natural resources, game, fish and indeed water, would have been vital to those that lived here with people who lived further away making excursions to gather food from the wetland.
The Delta’s first inhabitants would have been hunter-gatherers, perhaps the ancestors of today’s Bushmen, San or Basarwa. These populations would have been small, moving widely and frequently in pursuit of the sustenance provided by wild animals and plants.
Flora of the Okavango Delta
Over 1,000 species of plants are recognised in the Okavango Delta, yet large tracts of the drier parts of it are dominated by one tree: Mopane. These cover many areas with rich but badly-drained soils, often in beautiful, tall 'cathedral' Mopane woodlands – named after their gracefully arching branches, which resemble a Gothic cathedral. You'll often find large areas in the Okavango River Delta where there are virtually no other species of trees represented.
Beside the area's many rivers you'll find extensive floodplains, and stretches of classic riverine (or 'riparian') forests which contain a wide range in species of bushes and trees. Open areas dotted with camelthorn trees follow the sandy beds of ancient watercourses, joined by silver terminalias, wild seringas and Kalahari apple-leaf threes.
Wildlife in the Okavango Delta
With the reintroduction of rhino, you can see all the 'big five' here on a safari to the Okavango Delta, and a lot more besides.
Elephant and buffalo occur here year-round in large numbers, and you're likely to see blue wildebeest, Burchell's zebra, impala, kudu, tsessebe, red lechwe, waterbuck, reedbuck, giraffe, common duiker, bushbuck, steenbok, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey throughout the Okavango Delta. Eland, sable and roan antelope also range across the region – but are less common, as they are elsewhere in Africa. The deep-water and papyrus areas of the Delta have thriving populations of sitatunga, which live deep in the swamps.
Lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena all have thriving populations here. The Okavango Delta is central to wild dog, which range widely across most of Northern Botswana – and they're easiest to find on the northern and eastern sides of the Delta.
Both black-backed and side-striped jackals occur – though the former are more common. Brown hyena probably occur, but relatively rarely, and probably only in drier areas where there are lower densities of the other large predators. Similarly, bat-eared fox are found here, though not so commonly as in Botswana's drier areas. There are a wide variety of mongoose found here, including the slender, banded, dwarf, large grey, water and Selous'. Meanwhile in the water, spotted-necked and Cape clawless otters are often seen, though they seldom hang around to allow visitors a good view!
Serval, aardwolf, caracal and aardvark are found throughout the Okavango Delta, though due to their largely nocturnal habits, they are only occasionally seen. Pangolins are also found here, and seem as if they might be slightly less rare than in other areas of their range!
Up until 2001, rhino had been exterminated from here by poaching. Then in October 2001 the first white rhino were reintroduced into the Mombo Reserve, within Moremi Game Reserve. They're now free to roam, and have done so widely. They're also breeding, and Botswana is well on its way to having a nucleus of successfully breeding rhinos.
Birdlife in the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta has over 400 bird species, a great variety of which are patchily distributed in association with particular habitats. Though visiting any area, the sheer number of different species represented here will strike you as amazing.
Although there are no birds that are truly endemic to Botswana, the Okavango Delta is hugely important to many species, including a number rarities worthy of noting here. First on the Okavango's list of 'specialties' is the slaty egret – which can be found in shallow, reedy back-waters and pans. Aside from the Okavango River's delta, this rare egret is only resident in quieter corners of the Chobe and Linyanti areas, and the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia.
Easier to spot are magnificent wattled cranes, which can be seen easily in the Delta. They're usually seen in pairs or small groups, wandering about shallow floodplains or wet grasslands, searching for fish, small amphibians and reptiles.
For keen birdwatchers, other Okavango Delta specials here include coppery-tailed coucal, brown firefinch, Bradfield's hornbill, the lesser jacana, pink-throated longclaw and the tiny chirping cisticola.