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An oasis in the desert

The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s most magnificent anomalies. In the middle of the desert lies an 18 000 square kilometer sprawling oasis of crystal clear water supporting an abundance of wildlife.

60 000 years ago, a shifting of tectonic plates disrupted the flow of water heading eastwards and dumped 11 trillion litres of water in the middle of seeming nowhere. The result, the most miraculous wetland on the planet.

Every year water falls in the catchment area in the Angolan highlands and travels 1200km down the Cuito and Cubango Rivers, which eventually forms the Okavango River. The water flows through three countries (Angola, Namibia and lastly Botswana) where it finds itself in the 30 main channels of the Okavango Delta. The water usually arrives around April/May and fills the Delta as the autumn bush dries up. This life sustaining water is crucial for the coming winter. Then when the floodwaters have dissipated, mainly through evaporation and evapo-transpiration, the summer rains arrive, meaning that large populations of mammals, insects, birds, fish, amphibians and plants are sustained in a desert year round.

On a recent safari we explored the Delta from a fairly newly-built camp managed by Wilderness Safaris called Qorokwe, which lies in the south east of the Delta and is a large 26 000 hectare concession. The name means the place where the buffalo broke through the bush into the water. This is a local word, which refers to the density of wildlife found in the area.

Qorokwe’s diverse landscape includes scattered acacia and mopane woodlands, open seasonal and permanent floodplains and is fringed on either side by the picturesque channels and islands along the Gomoti and Santantadibe Channels.

There is something about being around wild animals that is deeply nourishing to the human spirit and in the Delta, where the density of animals is astounding, this can be felt in spadefuls. We watched mating lions as herds of elephants formed the moving backdrop and others shook towering llala palms, encouraging their fruit to the floor. In the same scene were giraffes and zebras lazily making their way across the islands interspersed with the grunts of distant buffalo and little bee eaters zipping by in a flash of yellow and green. It is the closest to the Garden of Eden we can experience on this earth.

The Delta can be explored by vehicle, on foot, in a boat or in a local dugout canoe called a mokoro. Botswana has experienced a severe drought this year and the annual floods, which travel 1000km from the catchment area of the Angolan highlands has been slow in arriving and as a result we concentrated our activities on game drives. Some may contend whether this was fortunate or not but we watched a lioness killing a young male kudu. Although not always easy to witness it’s certainly a privilege to be allowed windows like this into a wild animal’s life. We also had some amazing leopard sightings, including watching a female attempting to hunt common reedbuck.

In the course of human history, a few things have been created by mistake. From important ones such as penicillin and X-rays to the ridiculous such as the slinky. The Okavango Delta in an ineffable place. Hippos and lions call intermittently as red lechwe splash across crystal clear water channels. Elephants dust bath backlit by a setting sun that silhouettes palm trees against the horizon. A plentitude of life finds sanctuary in this unlikely oasis. The Okavango Delta may be a geological mishap but out of them all it is by far the most sublime.

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