The Okavango Delta is arguably Botswana’s most famous area, popular for its rich wildlife, water-based safaris and commitment to low-impact tourism. The delta is a fascinating region to discover. Here are just a few interesting Okavango Delta facts that you might not have known before.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site
On 22 June 2014, the Okavango Delta was proclaimed the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. This decision was based on the fact that the delta – one of the largest inland deltas in the world – is one of the few major delta systems that doesn’t flow into the ocean or a sea. Other Okavango Delta facts that played a part in this decision are that the River Okavango floods during the dry season and that the delta is home to endangered animals such as black and white rhinos, wild dogs, lions and cheetahs.
There are over 150,000 islands in the delta
The Okavango Delta is made up of over 150,000 islands, some tiny, others more than 10km long. The largest island in the delta is Chief’s Island, which is around 70km long and 14km wide. Once the private hunting reserve of a chief, it is now one of the best places to spot wildlife in the delta and home to some of the top luxury lodges.
There are restrictions on tourism to keep the delta wild
One of the best things about visiting the Okavango Delta is that it feels truly wild and remote. The Botswana government controls the amounts of tourists and camps that are allowed in this area. This means there is no risk of overtourism and animals aren’t harassed by dozens of vehicles.
The Okavango floodwaters arrive from the Angolan highlands
The water that sustains the delta travels from Angola. Rainwater from the Angolan highlands flows into the Cubango River through Namibia and into Botswana. When the river reaches Botswana, it becomes the Okavango River, which then filters into the delta. Another Okavango Delta fact: millions of years ago, the river flowed onwards into Lake Makgadikgadi, a lake the size of Switzerland. The lake has since dried up and is now the Makgadikgadi salt pans.
The delta grows to nearly three times its size when the floodwaters arrive
When the floodwaters arrive during the dry winter months, the delta increases threefold in size. During this season (usually March to August), the delta can grow to be approximately 15,000km2 large. As it dries up, it shrinks to 6,000km2.
There are over 400 species of birds in the delta
The Okavango Delta is a great place for birders with over 400 types of birds living in these wetlands. Commonly spotted birds include the African fish eagle, the lilac-breasted roller and the hamerkop. Among the rare and endangered birds are the Pel’s fishing owl and the slaty egret. Birding is best done on foot or from a mokoro (see below). Don’t forget your binoculars!
The traditional way to move around the delta is by mokoro
A mokoro is a traditional dug-out canoe, and this is what the Bushmen would have once used to move around the delta. Most safari lodges in the delta offer mokoro rides, which is a relaxing way to explore the narrow, reed-lined waterways and discover smaller creatures you wouldn’t notice from a vehicle.
Approximately 260,000 mammals can be found in the delta during the dry season
The delta is known as one of the most wildlife-rich areas in Africa, which is why it’s such a popular safari destination. Among the animals you might spot are lions, buffalos, leopards, elephants, wild dogs, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, spotted and brown hyenas and various types of antelope. Lechwe are the most populous large mammals, with around 60,000 of them living in the delta.
There are five ethnic groups who live in the Okavango Delta
The five ethnic groups who live in the Okavango Delta are the Hambukushu, Dceriku, Wayeyi, Anikhwe and Bugakhwe. The latter two are Bushmen, traditionally hunter-gatherers, while the three other groups have been farmers, fishermen and hunters.
In February 2013, the Okavango Delta was named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa
After reading these Okavango Delta facts, it’s not difficult to understand why it made the cut! The Seven Natural Wonders of Africa were officially announced on 11 February 2013 in Arusha, Tanzania. The delta was selected for the list alongside the River Nile, the Ngorongoro Crater, the great Serengeti migration, the Sahara Desert, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Red Sea coral reef.