Inside Africa

The annual rebirth of the Okavango Delta

Katie Pisa and Rosie Tomkins, CNNPublished 18th September 2015
Okavanga Delta, Botswana (CNN) — Falling asleep to a symphony of animal calls and waking to see hippos swimming by are part of daily life on the Delta in Botswana, making it a bucket list destination for many travelers.
Often referred to as the "Jewel of the Kalahari" by locals, due to being an abundant wetland in the desert for part of the year, this is one of the largest inland deltas in the world.
It springs to life for several months each year, when the rains from Angola reach its neck, seeping into papyrus swamps and transforming it into a rich wetland that attracts plentiful wildlife.
It is home to zebras, hippos, impalas, lions, leopards and the world's largest population of African elephants.
Known as the "Jewel of the Kalahari", the Okavango Delta in Botswana is a kaleidoscopic maze of waterways spread over 15,000 kilometers of arid land.

No escape to the sea

"It's a unique delta in that sense that it doesn't drain off into any ocean," said Dawson Ramsden, of Botswana Tourism.
Trapped inland between faultlines, the annual flooding creates a constantly morphing network of rivers, lakes, and an estimated 150,000 islands.
It blossoms to a little over 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles): "That's half the size of Switzerland," said Map Ives, a conservationist and National Rhino Coordinator based in Maun, Botswana.
As the former savannah becomes flooded, nature responds and the Okavango springs to life, with animals flocking from the dry hinterlands.

Tourist transformation

Along with animals come the visitors, who play a big role in Botswana's economy. Tourism is second only to the country's diamond industry.
The journey starts in Maun, the gateway to the Delta and the heart of Botswana's tourism.
Conservationist Map Ives, based in Maun, has witnessed the city's rapid transformation from rural village to tourism capital.
Explore one of Africa's last remaining great wildlife habitats attracting zebras, hippos, impalas, lions, leopards and elephants.
When he arrived it had fewer than 5,000 people and one telephone line. The area has over 5,000 licensed professional guides, says Ives.
In peak season, tourists flock to camps, some accessible only by water, such as Pelo Camp, a place that prides itself on green luxury. To arrive there it takes a journey by air, land and river which is done by mokoro, a traditional Delta canoe, built from the trunks of the Okavango's trees.
Steering these boats and tourists everywhere are Botswana's skilled polers - who've made the journey around hippos and crocodiles a way of life.
As Pelo is a solar-powered camp, the mokoro boats are very important to its zero carbon footprint. "The importance is preserving not only this part of the Delta but the Delta as a whole. It's nice being a part of something bigger," said Neuman Vasco, manager of Pelo Camp.
Logistical challenges aside, the remote setting is quite magical. Amid virtual silence, guests are treated to frequent surprise visits from the local elephants walking through the camp.

World status

Last year the Okavango's unusually synchronized ecosystem gained it UNESCO World Heritage status. "It's been called the miracle cannot go wrong when you're out here. It has a feeling of its own," said Ramsden.
The majority of the estimated 200,000 large mammals in and around the delta are not year-round residents. As the floodwaters begin to recede in October and the rainy season begins, the cycle repeats itself. Unable to reach the sea, the water that doesn't sink, will evaporate.
The animals in turn will begin to disperse, life in the Delta simmers down and awaits the next year's rebirth.
To see how wildlife shapes Botswana's natural wonderland, watch the video below:
Meet those working up close with the animals that both depend upon and shape one of Africa's largest wetlands.