In the heart of Southern Africa, Botswana offers possibly the finest, authentic wildlife experience in the world. It is comprised largely of the Kalahari Desert, within which lies the Okavango Delta, a wonderful blue-green wetland considered by many to be Africa's most incredible wildlife and wilderness sanctuary. This dynamic waterworld contrasts with an ecosystem driven by different stimuli in the Linyanti and Selinda region in the north of the country.
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, Kalahari Desert, Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve, but the most unique and fascinating area is undoubtedly the Okavango Delta. In the north-west corner of this otherwise dry country and covering some 16,000 square kilometres, is the maze of channels, lagoons and palm-covered islands that make up the Okavango Delta. This is the largest inland Delta in the world and water levels vary on a seasonal basis with the rains in the Angolan highlands actually contributing more water that the rains falling on the Delta during the November to March period. Thus the annual flooding of the delta, waited for with baited breath, usually starts in April or May and can continue for some months. The Delta is fed by the Kavango River (renamed the Okavango in Botswana).
The waters are crystal clear and are best navigated by traditional mekoro (dug-out canoes), many of which are now made of fibre glass, to preserve the majestic trees in the Delta, that were traditionally used. The Okavango is the last surviving remnant of the great Lake Makgadikgadi whose waters once covered much of the middle Kalahari. It also is closely associated with the Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe River systems and marshes to the northeast of Botswana. It is probable that the Okavango, Chobe, Kwando and upper Zambezi waterways flowed as one massive River across the middle Kalahari, to join the Limpopo River and then into the Indian Ocean.
With minor seismic shifts, a rift was formed, which impeded this flow. As the Okavango River left the highlands of Angola and entered the arid flatness of the Kalahari, it slowed and deposited much of its sediment load. Channels became blocked and the water was forced to find alternative courses and, over time, tons of sand and debris were deposited, creating the existing fan shape of the Delta that we see today.
The Jao Concession
The Jao Concession is 60 000 hectares in extent and is in the north-western area of the Okavango Delta below the Panhandle. The Moremi Game Reserve forms the eastern boundary of the concession. The Okavango rests between shallow fault lines at the end of the Great African Rift Valley. Deserts are low on annual rainfall and the Okavango Delta is no exception. However, each year floodwater flows into the Okavango from its source in the moist African highlands over 1000 km away. These floodwaters flow from their catchment southwards and into the Kalahari Desert to create a unique wetland that supports and sustains a huge diversity of wildlife.
Lying as it does in the very heart of the Delta, the Jao Concession embodies all the magic and mystique of the Okavango. Narrow water channels cut their way through the papyrus and reed beds in the permanent delta to the north and east of the Concession, providing the perfect environment for the elusive sitatunga and the rare Pel's Fishing-Owl. Beautiful lush palm islands dot the water, begging to be explored.
In the central region of the concession, vast open floodplains provide some of the most stunning scenery of the region, interspersed by islands covered with riverine vegetation. Further west the area gets progressively dryer and Hunda Island, which is the tip of a large 'sand tongue,' is the largest area of dry land in the vicinity during the flood season. Hunda Island has sandveld vegetation supporting many species of nutritious acacia and grewia shrubs which provide excellent browsing.
It is perhaps the birds for which the true wetland areas of the Okavango are best known however. The largest concentrations of endangered Wattled Crane are found in this area and Slaty Egrets, Rosy-throated Longclaws and African Skimmer are some of the specials that can be seen. Hallowed species such as Pel's Fishing-Owl and Slaty Egret are found alongside more conspicuous and commonly seen Coppery-tailed Coucal, Pygmy Goose, while the specialised African Skimmer (from which Wilderness Safaris takes its logo) may be seen on the larger lagoons and channels.
The concession is set in the most densely populated wetland area for sitatunga antelope and red lechwe and of course hippo and crocodile are regularly sighted. In the dry season lechwe, tsessebe, elephant, wildebeest and zebra occur here and lion, cheetah and leopard are often sighted on the floodplains. The lion prides in this area have been extensively studied in recent years, thereby building up a more intimate knowledge of their behaviour.
The lush Okavango Delta wetland is a unique area containing 95% of all the surface water in Botswana and covers an area over 15 000 sq km. Surrounded by the arid Kalahari, this emerald jewel is an immense oasis fed by the flow of mighty Okavango River, which unlike every other major river in the world, never reaches the sea but instead dies in the desert sands of northern Botswana.
In the middle of the The Okavango Delta is Moremi Game Reserve and described as one of the most beautiful and varied reserves in Africa, with an unprecedented concentration of wildlife. The delta is today a sanctuary for a huge elephant population, as well as lions, cheetah, giraffe, wild dog, leopards, buffalo, crocodiles, hippo and a number of bird species and the African fish eagle has made this paradise its home.
The permanently and seasonally flooded areas within the central and southern Okavango hide within their cloak of beautiful lagoons, backwaters and forested islands, some of the finest safari camps in the world. Here you can enjoy mokoro safaris (dug-out-canoe), game drives and walks, or even night boat rides to see the large amounts of crocodiles and birds.
The Delta is a breeding ground for several hundred species of bird, including many migrants, who visit from November to March, making the area a bird-watchers dream destination. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of members of one species, in a morning.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 excellent 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.
Travel throughout the different regions of Botswana is facilitated by the wide availability of light aircraft and most properties have their own landing strips. It is therefore advisable to design an itinerary which enables you to visit two or three lodges in different regions. Accommodation in Botswana is of a very high standard, especially when one considers that many Lodges are built in remote areas.