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African Guide Travel Blog

Jewel of Africa Safaris’ travel team offers up-to-date advice, news, inspiration and tips from the road to help you plan your next safari.
  /  2020   /  Where Water is Life: The Return of Floodwaters in the Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta Flood Plains 2020

Where Water is Life: The Return of Floodwaters in the Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is situated in northern Botswana and forms part of the Kalahari Desert. This ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’ unlike other famous deltas, never reaches the sea. This vast, inland river delta’s yearly ebb and flow is mostly dependent on rain falling 1 600 kilometres upstream in the wet highlands of Angola.


The True Source of The Okavango

In Angola, streams and smaller rivers in the catchment of the Okavango’s two major tributaries – the Cubango and Cuito – are fed by summer rains falling between October and April, peaking between December and March when no less than 700 mm of rain typically saturates the ground and swells the rivers. From here the Cubango flows south through Namibia away from the sea. It forms part of the border between Angola and Namibia (as the Kavango River), and then flows into Botswana, where the river becomes known as the Okavango River.


Yearly Arrival of The Floodwaters

Due to the shallow gradient of the land and the swamp vegetation slowing the water down, the flood travels very slowly at only one kilometre a day and it takes months for the flow of water to reach the actual Okavango Delta.

From March the flood usually arrives into the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta making its way steadily down reaching many camps only sometime in May, June, or possibly early July, depending on their precise location, reaching its peak sometime in August.

When the floodwaters arrive in the Okavango, the main channels of the delta weave their way around small and large islands of lush grasslands, reed beds, palm groves and mopane forests, creating a green oasis for all creatures that call this place their home. The largest of these islands, Chief’s Island (70 kilometres/44 miles long), is whereto much of the delta’s wildlife retreats as water levels rise. As such, the island is home to what could be the richest concentration of wildlife in Botswana.


What to Expect in 2020

The excellent rains that have fallen in Angola these past months has resulted in the water levels in the Okavango River rapidly rising with a lot more still to come. This year’s flood levels are at their highest at this time of year for at least the past 5 years. Coupled with late rains, the arrival of the 2020 inundation brings some very welcome relief to northern Botswana, which has been struggling in 2019 due to low rainfall and drought.

The flood reached its peak at Rundu in Namibia at the beginning of March 2020 and the waters have already begun to subside. In Shakawe in northern Botswana the river has burst its banks and inundated vast areas of floodplain. As the river widens the amplitude of the flood decreases from a rise in ~4m at Rundu down to a rise of only ~1m at Guma Lagoon where it enters the alluvial fan of the Okavango Delta.


Level of the Okavango River as measured in Rundu. Source: Okavango Research Institute

Figure 1: Level of the Okavango River as measured in Rundu. Source: Okavango Research Institute

Over the past few weeks, the waters have begun to rise in numerous protected areas in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Water has been steadily flowing in, filling up dry riverbeds and floodplains around many of the lodges found here. This unique natural spectacle will not be seen in person by many of our guests during the peak season this year, but the Okavango Delta wilderness will surely be rejuvenated and revived when travel restrictions are lifted, and guests can return to this beautiful wilderness area.


The Magic of the Okavango Delta

You may wonder, what is so special about the Okavango Delta?

The Okavango Delta is world renowned for its wonderful winding waterways and its vast wilderness filled with some of Africa’s enigmatic wildlife and most elusive bird life. At its widest point the delta’s fan is 170km wide and between July and September over 200,000 animals migrate from the desert to this natural oasis.

Lion, cheetah, leopard and African wild dog share the floodplains with large herds of elephant and buffalo. Adapted for a life in and out of water, the elegant red lechwe and shy sitatunga antelope are found in this watery wilderness. Your experienced guides will accompany you on daily game drives to see all these animals and much more.

More than 400 bird species have been recorded in the delta making this a birdwatcher’s paradise. With a constant water presence, this is a prime birding destination, especially for waders and other water-loving species. Silently gliding through the narrow channels in a mokoro (dugout canoe) is a great way to get close to many bird species, such as the Malachite Kingfisher, African Jacana and African Fish Eagle. One of the rare bird species to look out for in the Delta is the Pel’s Fishing Owl and another is the critically endangered Wattled Crane.

Situated in the Eastern Delta, the Moremi Game Reserve is another excellent safari destination. The Reserve is one of the most spectacular wildlife conservancies in Botswana, where an abundance of wildlife moves around freely. The unique landscape features a unique mix of dry ecosystems as well as wetlands.


Source: Getaway – The Okavango River rages


Make Your Okavango Delta Safari a Reality

If you want to see and experience the magic of the (flood)waters of the Okavango Delta yourself, contact the experts at Jewel of Africa Safaris today and we will assist you in planning your personalized Okavango Delta safari. This can easily be combined with other Botswana safari destinations for an all-in-one luxury African safari.

Elize Loubser is the Sales Administrator at Jewel of Africa Safaris. She holds a master’s degree in Zoology from the University of Pretoria, with her postgraduate research career focused on African wildlife ecology and behavior. She has travelled extensively in Southern Africa and her strong love for Africa, its wilderness and wildlife were developed from a young age during yearly family camping trips to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique. Her favorite place in Africa is Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.

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