Friday, July 19, 2013 – Okavango Delta, Botswana

After a chilly breakfast around the campfire, we set off on another game drive. It is COLD! It is astonishing to me how it can be so cold in the mornings, evenings, and nights and so blisteringly hot during the days. We start out in full clothes, a jacket, and an insulated poncho, and end up peeling off layers as the sun comes out.

We saw elephants, guinea fowl, and a beautiful spotted hyena. Then we went hunting for wild dogs (now called painted dogs). We saw an old den, a newer den, and finally the newest den with an alpha female, two other adults, and 5 cubs. Eight dogs in all. We saw a Jacana (Jesus bird) under “the bridge over the river Kwai”. We also saw a Cape Glossy Starling — a black bird with a patch of iridescent blue.
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driving across the log bridge

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elephant in the morning sun


bumping across the log bridge

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guinea fowl up in a dead tree

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Moremi Wildlife Reserve in the Okavango Delta

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elephant damaged tree

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African painted dog pups

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African painted dog pups

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African painted dog

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African painted dogs

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African painted dog pups

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African painted dog pups

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our dining and meeting room

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Jacana (Jesus bird)

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Arthur in front of our cabin

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our beds in the "honeymoon cabin" under the mosquito nets

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elephant near our cabin

Back to camp where we saw many more elephants and had a talk about the Okavango Delta from Chops. About 7 million years ago the Okavango, Chobe, Kwando, and Zambezi rivers flowed together to join the Limpopo River and flow to the Indian Ocean. About 2 million years ago the Kalahari-Zimbabwe rift was formed through tectonic action to create a vast lake named Lake Makgadikgadi. About 20,000 years ago Lake Makgadikgadi overflowed, which caused the middle and lower Zambezi rivers to connect, resulting in the formation of Victoria Falls. With the water now able to flow out of the basin, Lake Makgadikgadi was able to drain partially and its average level decreased.

A drier climatic period followed which caused an increase in evaporation and a decrease in the flow of the rivers that fed it. By about 10,000 years ago the drying of Lake Makgadikgadi was in an advanced stage. Sediment and debris from the Okavango River and windblown sand were gradually filling the lake.

The formation of the Gumare fault lowered the land. As a result, the water of the Okavango River spread out over a much larger area of land than it previously did, forming the now characteristic fan-shaped inland delta of the Okavango, which further reduced the water that flowed into Lake Makgadikgadi and hastened its demise. Today the lake has dried to salt pans and the seasonally filled Lake Ngami.

The Okavango Delta is a very bad place for tsetse flies. In 1992 they sprayed the entire delta with DDT, which solved the tsetse fly problem, at least temporarily, but killed a lot of species in the delta.

Within the delta there are 3 major rivers: the Jaoboro brings a lot of water to the delta for about 4 months every year, and then dries up; the Monachira River goes through the Kwai township (where we are) and becomes the Kwai River; the Savuti River had no water at all for 27 years, because a fault line cut off the rivers, but now it gets a bit of water during the wet season. The Okavango gets all of its water from rains in Angola. Some of the islands in the delta are caused by termite action, but it takes thousands of years. 60% of the delta is covered by termite caused islands. One of the islands, Long Meandering Island, is caused by elephants who come when the water level is low and leave their scat. The seeds in the poorly digested elephant scat germinate and cause islands over time. Chiefs Island is one caused by tectonic movements. It is the biggest island region in the delta.

Chops grew up in the Loezi tribe at the northwest end of the delta in the township of Tutu. People in Tutu cut reeds and papyrus and weave them into mats and baskets and sell them.

Current problems facing the delta are:
    Afterwards we set out on a late evening game drive. We saw some elephants, steenboks, impalas, and waterbucks, and then concentrated on termite mounds. Termite mounds are incredibly important to the delta. For one, much of the land was formed by termite action. For another, the termite mounds are used as abode or cement. You use a pick to chop up a dead mound, soak it in water until soft, and use as cement. Like adobe, it is softened by water, so it has to be protected from rains. It forms most of the permanent floors and walls in the traditional villages. But Chops likes the third use: to make a spicy paste delicacy. You check the mounds for any softening which would indicate that the worker termites were preparing an opening for the annual mating flight of the nymphs (usually at the start of the rainy season). You go to the mound before dawn and dig a shallow hole at the base of the mound in which to catch the nymphs, and you shine a bright light to attract them to the hole. You cook them in a big pot so they discard their wings, which you can blow off, then you grind them in a mortar and pestle to a paste (like peanut butter). The nymphs have a lot of oil in them. You can sell the paste and it can be stored for about 6 months.
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    Arthur in front of our cabin

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    Arthur Luehrmann checks out a termite mound near our cabin

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    Arthur in front of our cabin

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    Kokoma (Mr. T) talks to us about termites

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    close detail of outside of termite mound

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    Ken Westray tests the temperature of the termite mound

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    Mr. T poles a Mokoro

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    sun is setting

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    Mr. T poles a Mokoro for Janet Shi

    Mr. T poles Janet Shi in a Mokoro

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    Arthur Luehrmann with a fish eagle feather

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    Janet Shi, Marian Moran, June Kay, Mr. T, _, and Arthur Luehrmann at evening cocktails in the bush

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    dusk and the moon

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    Marilyn Herel, Laura Westray, Judith Blecha, and _ at evening cocktails in the bush

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    Monica Shephard admires the night sky

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    farewell traditional dinner and play, Moremi Wildlife Reserve

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    farewell traditional dinner and play, Moremi Wildlife Reserve

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    farewell traditional dinner and play, Moremi Wildlife Reserve

    That night we had a lovely traditional dinner and song and dance show around the campfire. That night a lion was spotted in camp near cabin 8, so extra care was taken to escort people to cabins 1-4, and people in cabins 5-9 had to wait in the main lodge until the coast was clear. That night we heard many hippo calls. An elephant slept near cabin #2 where Janet Shi was. Arthur and I were in cabin #1, Marian was in cabin #3, and Judith and Marilyn were in cabin #4.