Okavango Location Facts History Botswana Kalahari Africa

Okavango Location Facts History Botswana Kalahari Africa

In the parched heart of southern Africa lies an oasis that once a year grows larger than Wales, and brings pulsating life to the surrounding desert.

This is the Okavango Delta, a wilderness of waterways, swamps, islands and emerald reed beds that forms the largest inland delta on Earth.

Okavango Delta

From the air, the Delta – in northern Botswana – looks like some huge, skeletal hand whose fingers spread out across the sands of the northern Kalahari, Geologists call it an ‘alluvial fan’ – referring to the millions of tons of flood-borne sediment that have been laid down over the ages.

The ‘wrist’ of the hand is a floodplain 50 miles (80km) long and 10 miles (16km) wide called the Panhandle, which acts as a conduit for more than 10 billion tons of water that flows into the delta every year.

Okavango Delta

The ‘fingers’ are four large channels that stretch southwards, groping into a wilderness of ochre sand, salt pans and thorn scrub. There, after a journey of 160 miles (260km) under a blistering sun that dries up 95 per cent of their water, the waterways shrink and finally die in the sands of the Kalahari.

Okavango Delta

The pulse of life in this extraordinary delta beat to the rhythm of the Okavango River, which rises in the Angolan highlands as the powerful Cubango River.

Floods That Herald A Revival Of Life

Okavango Delta

In March, the Cubango comes down in flood, charging over rapids and waterfalls to Angola’s southern borders. Now called the Okavango, it enters the Kalahari on the border of Botswana.

Channelled by two ridges 9 miles (15km) apart, the Okavango pours into the Panhandle. The gradient here is slight and the river meanders back and forth through a green sea of reed-like papyrus, touching the banks near small thatched villages.

The village of Seronga disgorges its liquid treasure into a labyrinth of major channels which together form a broad, fan-shaped delta of papyrus-lined waterways, swampland and sandy islands.

Okavango Delta

The effect of the rising water level is spread over the entire delta as the maze of channels starts to bulge and then trickle onto the surrounding floodplain. Breaching ramparts of papyrus and reeds, streams flow over the surrounding grassland and circle palm-fringed islands in a blue mosaic of radiant pools.

In years of heavy rain, the figures of the delta bulge out over 8500sq miles (22,000sq km) of the Kalahari, transforming bone-dry wastes of sand into an oasis of shimmering water. As the water creeps across the dusty floodplains, it refills stagnant pools and disperses thousands of animals which used them as water holes during the drier months of the year.

Okavango Delta

The waterways and islands of the Okavango Delta now become a paradise for an incredible variety of plants and animals. Here, species adapted to aquatic life rub shoulders with animals from the Kalahari Desert.

More than 400 species of birds inhabit the delta – the only place in the world where slaty egrets are known to breed. Fish eagles perch proud and silent on tall trees flanking the waterways, waiting for tell-tale ripples on the glassy surface that will send them swooping down with outstretched talons to scoop up one of more than 65 species of fish found in the delta.

Okavango Delta

Tigerfish, with razor-sharp teeth, race through the lazy channels, while on the surface the leaves of waterlilies serve as stepping stones for jacana birds and frogs. On a floating bed of papyrus, a tiny crocodile basks open mounted in the strong sun, oblivious of the periscope eyes and impatient ‘harrumphs’ of submerged hippos nearby.

As dusk falls on the Okavango, the sounds of the wild drift from the islands across the waterways; the graveyard moan of a lone hyena, the deep grunting carnivores such as the clawed and Cape clawless otters.

Okavango Delta

The extraordinary cycle of life in the delta continues unabated, sustained by a pristine wilderness that has no equal on Earth. To the Swedish explorer, Charles John Anderson, the first European to see the delta in 1853, it was a place of ‘indescribable beauty. To countless others who followed him, it will remain as one of Africa’s magical places.

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