Photo story: Wildlife in Botswana

The Okavango Delta is an oasis in the heart of Southern Africa, flanked by some of the most arid lands on the planet. In the dry season this area becomes a refuge, making it both a lifeline for wildlife and an incomparable destination for animal loversMonday, 8 April 2019

By Harry Skeggs
Photographs By Harry Skeggs

The delta is reliant on seasonal floods to maintain its ecosystem, 70% of which comes from upriver in Angola. Over the past decade or so, rainfall has become unpredictable — too much rain damages vegetation and local communities; while too little means insufficient water for the many animals that make the long journey from neighbouring territories.

The change in seasonal floods has an impact on local communities. Villagers living near water sources have to travel great distances to reach fresh water, and communities face challenges they’ve not had in the past. Traditional ways of life are being altered, too, including local bushmen who rely on the poison of a certain caterpillar to hunt big game. Without the right conditions, the caterpillars can’t survive, which makes hunting a difficult prospect.  

In the dry season — which runs from May to September — it’s estimated that more than 260,000 mammals and 530 species of bird congregate in the delta. The Okovango’s water is crucial to these animals’ survival, making it an enormously important ecosystem for the continent. Among the animals that flock here are healthy populations of some of the world’s most endangered large mammals such as cheetahs, white and black rhinos and wild dogs.

It’s undeniable that this is a land under siege, felt most strongly by those who call it home. But thanks to low-impact, high-quality tourism, a progressive government and excellent rangers, the Okavango is seen as an African success story. Botswana has the largest population of elephants on the continent, and has a seen the successful reintegration of both the white and black rhino —but it’s crucial we ensure this ecosystem’s survival for generations to come.

Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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