Okavango Delta Wildlife
A True Wildlife Paradise
A protected swathe of wetlands and woodlands, the Okavango Delta rightly deserves its title of wildlife paradise. Permanent fresh water and year-round greenery means this UNESCO world heritage site is home to tens of thousands of large animals – elephant and buffalo, lion and leopard – as well as huge numbers of smaller animals and birds.
Different areas of the delta offer different wildlife experiences and safari accommodation reflects this by broadly dividing into two types: land-based and water-based camps. Land camps offer morning and afternoon game drives as their main activity while water-based camps emphasise the boating and walking experience, offering motor boat and mokoro (canoe) safaris plus nature walks with local guides. Some lodges are able to offer a mix of all activities (usually seasonally dictated) while others may only offer non-motorised adventures.
Known primarily as a wetland environment, the Okavango Delta comprises land habitats too. Some of it disappears when the delta floods in the middle of the year but there are many areas of permanent dry land. The delta is studded with thousands of islands, ranging in size from marooned termite mounds to Chief’s Island – 70 kilometres (43 miles) long and home to forests and grasslands. The result is a spectacular mix of savannah animals – zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and warthog – with aquatic ones: hippo, crocodile and otters. Elephants and buffalo are common residents here, grazing on lush floodplains with large numbers of impala and red lechwe antelope. Chief’s Island is also home to some of the last remaining white rhino in Botswana as well as a wide range of predators.
With its mix of permanent rivers, deep lagoons and shallow floodplains, the Okavango Delta provides suitable habitat for Africa’s most iconic water-loving wildlife. Hippos are the most obvious, and can often be seen grazing on the lawns of the delta’s safari camps. Crocodiles occur in large numbers too, seen sunning themselves on sandbanks surrounded by egrets and herons. Boat safaris enable you to access remote lagoons where there are teeming bird colonies while a mokoro safari (a traditional dugout canoe) allows you to take in the smaller details – dragonflies, kingfishers and painted reed frogs.
OKAVANGO DELTA PREDATORS
With this much bio-diversity it’s easy to see why the Okavango Delta is a paradise for predators both large and small. Lions dominate the pecking order along with large packs of spotted hyena but the delta’s floodplains are patrolled by cheetahs while its woodlands are the hunting grounds of leopards. The most commonly-seen predator in the Okavango Delta is the black-backed jackal but this is a destination known for sightings of rarer carnivores such as serval cat, African wild cat, and the wildlife showpiece: roving packs of African wild dogs. You may encounter predators on walks or boat safaris in the Okavango Delta but the best way to see them is from game drives on Chief’s Island and the delta’s drier fringes such as the Khwai area.
OKAVANGO DELTA BIRDLIFE
With well over 400 species recorded, the Okavango Delta has long featured on a bird watching itinerary but such is the breadth and scale of the birdlife that it will delight the casual birder as much as the professional ornithologist. There are many large birds such as ostrich, ground hornbill, eagles and vultures plus amazing water birds – waders, wildfowl and flocks of storks and cranes. Bee-eaters, rollers and kingfishers provide the colour; bulbuls, fish-eagles and doves provide the melodic soundtrack. Rewarding all year round, birding is at its best in the Green Season – November to April – and can be enjoyed by vehicle, on foot and by boat. Most lodges have a specialist bird guide on hand – a good idea if you are after the delta specials like Pel’s fishing-owl and slaty egret.