It is nothing short of a miracle, this Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. Both an oasis within a desert and the world’s largest freshwater inland delta, it is known also as the “Jewel of the Kalahari.” With these accolades, it is also considered Africa’s most pristine aquatic eco-system.
Think of the Okavango Delta as southern Africa’s culinary banquet whose channels, tributaries and ravine-filled waters provide a rich breeding buffet that nourishes and sustains a variety of wildlife.
Its waters originate deep within Angola’s highlands where the Okavango River is called the Cubango River. Abundant rainfall produces overflows that descend towards the southeast and traverse Namibia at that slender, arid panhandle of land known as the Caprivi Strip. These life-sustaining waters continue flowing, expanding and filling up the silt-created floodplains, streams, swamps, grasslands and waterways that define the fan–shaped Okavango Delta.
It is a rebirth process that occurs over months as nutrient-rich water slowly fills the Okavango Delta and imprints it in brilliant jewel-tones of translucent emerald and sapphire. The Okavango Delta is a visual feast. It waters thirsty acacia-tree fields, brings abundance to sparse papyrus canals and embraces wooded, wild date palm islands.
Ultimately, this lowland repast evaporates into the sands of the Great Kalahari Desert, another of Botswana’s unique geographic features.
Over 150,000 islands today reside within the Okavango Delta. Yet they shift with the variable sand/silt conditions that cause the river floor to undulate and rise unpredictably. All is excellent news for the diverse species of waterfowl – of which over 600 are recognized.
The African elephant resides within the Okavango Delta with some 130,000 estimated in northern Botswana. The endangered African wild dog roams here with its impressive pack density. Antelope, African water buffalo, baboon, crocodile, giraffe, hippopotamus, hyena, impala, kudu, leopard, lion, warthog and wildebeest call this home also. Cheetah and black and white rhino – perhaps the world’s most endangered mammals – are sighted intermittently in the Okavango Delta.
In 2014, the Okavango Delta became a UN World Heritage Site.