The Okavango Delta is a pristine wilderness paradise, a place where the balance of nature has hardly been disturbed, but in this oasis of life there are times of suffering for some of the species that inhabit the area.
© Crocodile and catfish in the last remaining waters of summer
Unique as the Delta is in having a life-giving flood providing an unusual spectacle of renewal in the dry season, there are creatures that are caught by the very promise of this renewal, leaving them trapped in ever-dwindling pools, and as such providing a feeding orgy for others.
The Seasons of Drying
There are two seasons of the year when the drying of the floodplains occurs: after the peak of the flood before the summer rains and after the rains when the Delta is waiting for the floodwaters to arrive.
As the waters on the floodplains recede pools are cut off from the main flow and trap countless creatures in the muddying morass. The feeding orgy that occurs in the 'fish traps' is a wonder of nature in its own right.
Although the levels of the drying differ each year, there will always be the drama somewhere on the South-western floodplains.
Dwindling Muddied Pools
As the floodplains are shrinking schools of tiny fish can be seen heading on mass to areas of permanent water to escape the coming drying. These fish head north to await the floodwaters - and then move with the water back onto the floodplains.
The drying up occurs very quickly, especially before the first rains as it is the hottest time of the year, and the predatory birds begin to gather. Pools on the floodplains are formed by Elephant and Buffalo wallows from seasons before and these become death traps for the fish and crustaceans that are caught in them.
Birds that take advantage of the feast include Herons, Egrets, Storks and Eagles, with Jackals and Hyenas joining in. In fact even Lions have been observed feeding on the trapped fish.
The Times of Grace
©Crocodile lurking in the mud amongst the catfish
The time of the first drying is put on hold by the rainy season, which may raise the water levels of the pools and even flood the plains, providing relief for the trapped fish. This period of relief lasts until the rains stop, and the drying up resumes. The orgy of feeding will begin again as the rainwater drains away - until the miracle of the flood happens.