An untouched Delta, a spectacle of wild Africa that offers a heart stopping, exhilarating game viewing and extraordinary natural beauty just sums up the Okavango Delta.
This rare characteristics of the ‘jewel’ of the Kalahari is no wonder pitted amongst the greatest wonders of the world and a proposed World Heritage site, a feat that Botswana might realize if its nomination is successful at the ongoing UNESCO World Heritage Committee 38th Session in Doha, Qatar. The Okavango Delta’s listing will not only raise its tourist attraction site profile but also guarantee its protection not only by the Botswana government but the international community as well.
At the moment Tsodilo is Botswana’s only heritage site listed. In its uniqueness, The Okavango Delta presents its many facets of the ecosystem comprising islands, thick woodland, lush vegetation and rich wildlife. Situated deep in the Kalahari Basin, the delta is fed by the Okavango River, travelling from the Angolan highlands and crossing into Botswana at Mohembo in the Caprivi then later spilling over the vast, fan-shaped Delta.
The delta has three main geographical areas being the panhandle, the delta and dryland. Having submitted for listing in 2010, to be considered as a World Heritage the delta must meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. The Delta fulfils criterion vii, (contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, viii (be outstanding examples presenting major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of land forms or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
The ix criterion is to be an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals while x criterion is to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. The Delta region of the Okavango can vary in size from 15 000 square kilometres during drier periods to a staggering 22 000 square kilometres during wetter periods. Its dominant plant species are reeds, mokolwane palms, acacia, sycamore fig, sausage trees, raintrees and African mangosteen.
Major tourist attractions in the Delta and the dryland areas are game viewing, birding and boating, often in the traditional mokoro. The diversity and numbers of animals and birds can be staggering. A recent overview of the Okavango records 122 species of mammals, 71 species of fish, 444 species of birds, 64 species of reptiles and 1300 species of flowering plants. A successful rhino reintroduction programme in the Okavango now puts the population of White Rhino at approximately 35, and Black Rhino at 4. Some of the major species to be seen include elephants, buffaloes, giraffe, zebra, hippo, crocodiles, rhinos and impalas just to mention a few.