The Okavango Delta is a unique pulsing wetland. More correctly an alluvial fan, the delta covers between 6 and 15 000 square kilometres of Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana and owes its existence to the Okavango (Kavango) River which flows from the Angolan highlands, across Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the harsh Kalahari Desert.
Each year the Okavango River discharges approximately 11 cubic kilometres (1.1 × 10¹³ litres) of water into the Okavango Delta. Most of this water is lost to transpiration by plants (60%) and by evaporation (36%) with only 2% percolating into the aquifer system with the remainder finally flowing into Lake Ngami.
The Okavango Delta is affected by seasonal flooding with flood water from Angola reaching the Delta between March and June, peaking in July. This peak coincides with Botswana’s dry season resulting in great migrations of plains game from the dry hinterland.
Generally flat, with a height variation of less than two meters across its area, dry land in the Okavango Delta is predominantly comprised of numerous small islands, formed when vegetation takes root on termite mounds, however larger islands exist with Chief’s Island, the largest, having been formed on a tectonic fault line.
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.
One of the most sought after wilderness destinations in the world, the Okavango Delta gives entrance to the spectacle of wild Africa such as dreams are made of – the heart-stopping excitement of big game viewing, the supreme tranquility and serenity of an untouched delta, and evocative scenes of extraordinary natural beauty.
A journey to the Okavango Delta – deep into Africa’s untouched interior – is like no other. Moving from wetland to dryland – traversing the meandering palm and papyrus fringed waterways, passing palm-fringed islands, and thick woodland, resplendent with lush vegetation, and rich in wildlife – reveals the many facets of this unique ecosystem, the largest intact inland delta in the world.
The Okavango Delta is situated deep within the Kalahari Basin, and is often referred to as the ‘jewel’ of the Kalahari.
That the Okavango exists at all – deep within this thirstland – seems remarkable. Shaped like a fan, the Delta is fed by the Okavango River, the third largest in southern Africa. It has been steadily developed over the millennia by millions of tonnes of sand carried down the river from Angola.
Swollen with floodwaters from the summer rains, the Okavango River travels from the Angolan highlands, crosses into Botswana at Mohembo in the Caprivi, then later spills over the vast, fan-shaped Delta. The timing of the floods is uncanny. Just as the waters from Botswana’s summer rains disappear (April, May), so the floodwaters begin their journey – 1300 kilometres of which is through Kalahari sands – revitalising a vast and remarkably diverse ecosystem of plant and animal life.
The water’s flow, distribution and drainage patterns are continually changing, principally due to tectonic activity underground. As an extension of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the Okavango is set within a geographi-cally unstable area of faults, and regularly experiences land movements, tremors and minor quakes. By the time the water reaches Maun, at the Delta’s southern fringes, its volume is a fraction of what it was. As little as two to three percent of the water reaches the Thamalakane River in Maun, over 95 percent lost to evapo-transpiration.