The one-of-the-kind Okavango Delta in far off Botswana, like every other part of the world, is threatened by climate change caused by factories in China and soccer moms’ SUVs in Minneapolis. It makes our time here now even more treasured.
I experienced it myself two years ago when the flow from Angola was so severe we were flooded out of our first camp.
This year is a near-drought. With about a quarter of the normal rainfall and record high temperatures, about a quarter of the Delta has been lost to fire.
When natural and moderate, fire is a good and necessary part of any wilderness, but this year was excessive. Fewer birds, fewer animals, more hoof and mouth disease, and many dislocated animals are the result of this massive inferno.In our camp in Xugana a poor vervet monkey leaped from tree to tree screaming. There had never been vervets on Xugana Island. He was running from the smoke and flames.
Few places in the wild world are studied as intensely as The Delta. This is because it’s so unique. No one is happy with what is happening or what is expected to come soon. If all this fire is followed by flood, it will be terrible for the natural regeneration of plants. Too much water alone will significantly change the Delta.
But what does this mean for animals and plants, for the system as a whole? I’ve often written that the ecology of Africa is marvelously adaptable. The problem is what will that adaptation be? Retreat from man? A part of the downwards spiral of increased carbon emissions?
For my clients the last two days have been magnificent.
With sufficient time to experience multiple Botswana ecosystems, we were able to dedicate two entire days to an exclusively water-based camp, located on Xugana Island.
At the edge of the Delta from Camp Moremi we saw the rarest owl in the world! The Pell’s Fishing Owl, the only owl that fishes. It was a beautiful, large, red sand colored bird. We saw hippo, of course, and hippo with newborns. On the poled mokoros many saw the unique painted frog. We saw croc and monitor lizard and many of the spectacular resident birds like the blue-cheeked bee-eater… which in fact we watched snatch a bee out of the air!
On a walk on nearby Sausage Island, clients saw red lechwe, elephant, water buck and impala. Several of us fished, successfully, for the tasty red-breasted bream.
And everyone enjoyed the spectacular sunsets and sunrises, the unique colors of the fall papyrus and late blooming water lilies picking out the deep resonance of the afternoon sun.
And we all watched the fires. From the air when we flew from camp to camp, and even from our camps. At night when the breeze stilled, the smell of smoke was everywhere. Ash was on our table cloths.
This time it was truly magnificent.