THE KAVANGO DELTA
Few experiences can bring you this close to the plant and animal world. Your mode of transportation has something to do with this, that is, if you choose the mokoro – the traditionnal hand-carved canoe. You float, silently and imperceptibly amongst the towering reeds, thick papyrus beds and tangles of hippo grass, moving from wide river to narrow waterway to hidden lagoons covered in lily debs The wind ristles through the thick, crackling palms, the sharp smell of sage fills the air, the clarity of the water amazes you and the air feels so fresh you can almost taste it.
That the Okavango exists at all – deep within a thirstland desert – seems miraculous. The Delta is set the Kalahari Basin and is fed by the Okavango River (the third largest in Southern Africa) which swollen with floodwaters from summer rains, travels from the Angola highlands, crosses into Botswana at the Caprivi Strip, then later spills over the fan-shaped Delta, creating the largest inland delta in the world.
Equaly miraculous is the timing of the floods. Just as the water from Botswana’s summer rains disappears (April, May), so the floodwaters begin their journeys – 1300 kilometres of which is through Klahari sands – revitalizing the vast network of plant and animal life.
The water’s flow, distribution and drainage patterns are continually changing. This is caused primarily by tectonic activity. The Okavango, actually an extension of the Great Rift Valley of Est Africa, is set within a geographically unstable area of faults and regurlarly experiences land movements, tremors and quakes.
The Okavango Delta is shaped like a fan; it has been developed steadily over millions of years by millions of tonnes of sand carried down the river from Angola. There are three major geographical regions of the Okavango : the Panhandle, the Delta, and the dryland.
The Panhandle its northernmost reaches, extends down towards the “fan” like a narrow corridor ; this is contained within two parallel faults in the earth’s crust. Here the river is deep and wide and the swamps permanantly flooded. The dominant vegetation is papyrus beds and large stands of phoenix palms. It extends for about 80 kilometres, until at Seronga a fan-shaped Delta emerges, onto which the Okavango waters spill – revitalizing the landscape and creating stunning mosaics of channels, lagoons, ox-bow lakes, flooded grasslands and thousands and thousands of islands of a seemingly endless variety of shapes and sizes.
The Delta region of the Okavango can vary in size from 15 00 square kilometres during drier periods to 22 000 square kilometres during wetter periods .
At the Delta’s lower reaches, the perennial swamps give way to seasonam swamps and flooded grasslands. To the southeast the third vegetation region becomes evident, as it changes to true dryland. There are three major land masses here : the Mtsebi Ridge, Chief’s Island and the Moremi tongue.
It is the combination of wetland and dryland that creates the remarkable diversity of plant and animal species in the Okavango. Over 36 specied of larger mammals, 80 species of fish and 350 species of birds have been recorded.