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June 2004

This Month:
• Continuing our updates on the 2004 Okavango Delta flood - turning out to be a very unique flood.

Botswana Camps
Okavango Flood Update - June 2004
While the Okavango has being steadily filling up these past few weeks, the arrival of the second "spike" of new flood waters (caused by the rains that fall in Angola from Januray through March) have not materialized as yet. This been great for the camps in the north of the Okavango and has given a reprieve while the early flood waters have had a chance to spread out and disperse. The water levels at Duba Plains for instance have dropped by about 10cm these past weeks - but have just started rising fractionally again these past few days.

It appears as though the biggest effects of the first and early flood waters have been more felt in the west of the Delta and large areas around Mombo are still largely dry. The main flood from that first and early pulse is now just past the "Buffalo fence" just outside of Maun and should be reaching Maun shortly. Some of the flood waters in the East of the Delta have already gone way down the Gomoti River and the floodplains are starting to fill up there - although Chitabe is still dry except for those lagoons that always carry water.

In the Linyanti, the Zibadianja Lagoon is reasonably full from the localised rainfall - but not from the flood waters from Angola. We are still waiting for the flood waters to get to the Linyanti area. The waters have pushed about 300 meters down the Savuti Channel but has stopped flowing and it has receded a bit..... till the arrival of the floods.

So the overall effect so far of the anticipated high floods have been great - but nothing unmanageable - although just about everything has to now be flown into the camps

Herewith the latest report from Map Ives...
As mentioned in my earlier dispatches, the early and dramatic flood of 2004 is now really spreading out into the Okavango fan proper. In fact, it has actually passed the Kunyere and Thamalakane faults, via the Boro, Matsebe and Xudum distribution river systems.

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. The fact that the Okavango is dynamic and there are periodic shifts in the direction of water flow, is well known. This phenomena is one of the dynamics 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 the focus 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 the Okavango.

During the last century, Lake Ngami filled several times and subsequently dried. Older residents of Ngamiland remember a full Lake in the 1970’s, 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 year.

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 destination.

As mentioned in my earlier reports, and now confirmed, the Okavango is absolutely dressed in her finery. It is a hugely important wetland, 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.

Article by Map Ives
Environmental Manager
Okavango Wilderness Safaris

The flood graph below is for 20-May, and stands at 442 cusecs.

Okavango Delta Flood Chart for 20-May 2004


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