As can be expected with the incredible dynamics of the Okavango, this
years flood has shown itself to be very different to recent years,
in both timing and direction.
The wonderful combination of early rains in the catchments of the
Cubango and Cuito rivers in Angola and rainfall that fell throughout
our season over the Okavango, has resulted in large areas of the system
to be flooded. Many distal floodplains that have not flooded for 20
years are now dressed in shallow water. It is amazing to see, what
looks like a floodplain, filled with dry grass, but on closer inspection,
has 20cm of water.
The Duba, Vumbura, Little Vumbura and Vundumtiki areas feature huge
areas of this newly flooded grassland. Get out of your vehicle and
wade a short distance into the water. Stop, and let things settle around
you. Then you will see the life that these waters bring. A myriad of
tiny fish, including the fry of several species are everywhere. Tiny
green flushes on new emergent grasses, and aquatic insects abound.
It is going to be a wonderful year for the ground nesting fish species,
as these shallow floodplains are extremely rich in food and especially
cover from the long grasses. The water is also warmer than in the deeper
distributor channels, which will suit them.
Mombo is now a complete island, water on all sides. In a southerly
direction, along the tree line of Chiefs Island there is water to the
very edge of the floodplains, a phenomenon I have not seen since 1984.
Red lechwe antelope love these conditions, and can be seen in large
numbers throughout the Okavango. The lechwe is another species, which
will benefit from the widespread floodwaters. They will have increased
areas to live away from many of the dry land based predators. It can
be expected that their numbers will increase dramatically this year,
back to the numbers of years gone by.
Of interest has been the distribution of the
flood waters. Although, the entire Okavango has increased amounts
of water, a large percentage
increase has travelled down the “west” of the fan.
One needs to look at a map of the Okavango to see this clearly.
that the Okavango is dynamic and there are periodic shifts in the
direction of water flow, is well known. This phenomena is one of
that drive the Okavango and make for the unique make up and distribution
of habitats and species.
By the “west”, I mean the Jao flats
(Home of Jao, Jacana, Kwetsani and Tubu camps), down the fan via
Xigera, thence through
Pom Pom and into the Xudum and Matsebe rivers. These two rivers travel
south after gathering the remnant waters of the vast areas described
above. After joining on an extension of the Kunyere fault they
swing south west towards Lake Ngami.
Lake Ngami is an ephemeral sump, which has a
long history of filling and drying. It was described by Livingstone
in 1879 as being a “shimmering
lake, some 80 miles long and 20 wide”. At that time it was
the headquarters of the Batawana tribe and subsequently became
for explorers, adventurers and ivory hunters. The Okavango waters
flowed into Lake Ngami via the Thaoge river at that time.
However, over the next thirty odd years, the Thaoge became blocked
by papyrus and the waters flowed elsewhere in the delta. The lake started
to dry, forcing the tribe to re-locate to Maun, today the gateway to
During the last century, Lake Ngami filled several
times and subsequently dried. Older residents of Ngamiland remember
a full Lake in the
but it has remained largely dry since then, with only minor amounts
reaching the lake.
This year should see a large puddle within the lake bed, but not a
full lake. My guestimation is possibly 10 kilometres by 5 kilometres.
Just one indicator of the amount of water within the Okavango this
On the other side of the Okavngo, in the so called “east side”,
there are reports of the Gomoti river flowing strongly. This is
an indicator of much water to come in the Chitabe area. The combination
of wet and dry habitats which will emerge make Chitabe an exciting
As mentioned in my earlier reports, and now confirmed,
the Okavango is absolutely dressed in her finery. It is a hugely
in a wet year, at the beginning of what may be a wet decade. Almost
impossible to describe in words, the diversity and beauty are just
that – indescribable.