Okavango | The Changing Land

Flying over the Delta

The Okavango Delta is the most dynamic ecosystem on the planet, with the landscape in a state of constant change from the workings of particular animals that inhabit the land.

The Okavango Delta, a place of constant change, is the last resort of a once-great lake that was fed by the flow of mighty rivers such as the Zambezi. As the great Zambezi shifted course the great lake began to shrink and today the delta is all that is left of the great water body.

Signs that more often than not go unnoticed in the vast northern Botswana wilderness indicate the shrinking and constant changing of the delta over the years. Relics of floodplains of the past are sprawled across the mostly-uninhabited northern wilderness.

It is difficult to imagine any time so dry that the permanent areas of the Okavango dried up, but the presence of termite mounds in the permanent delta areas indicate a time when the delta was dry - a time of extended drought when the floodwaters failed for a number of seasons.

Constantly changing delta

The Okavango Delta does not rest. It is a place that is been reshaped every moment of the day. Hippos cut new paths, blocking others through a build-up of earth and vegetation in the old channels. Floodwaters are not forceful enough to push these blockages aside - the waters will simply flow around them, creating new channels. Over time detritus will build up against a blockage and as the seasons pass the build up may become sufficient enough to form a small island - which will expand over the years.

Termite landscapers

Termites are responsible for more physical changes to the landscape of the delta than anything else. With the first rains millions of termites will be released from the colonies. Most of these termites will be eaten by birds and other creatures but many will survive and find suitable mates - which will then unite to build new colonies across the delta.

A termite colony is protected by a hard, waterproof nest. These nests can often be seen as high mounds rising from the ground. The Okavango Delta is littered with the termite mounds. Some still living some long since disused they are used as perches, territorial posts, lookouts and places of safety by the denizens of the Okavango.

A question that is often asked is how the termites manage to build such large structures in a flooded water waterway. The answer to this lies in the seasons. When the rains arrive, and the termites are released, the delta is at its lowest levels. The floodplains are dry allowing the termites' time to construct a suitable waterproof structure before the arrival of the floodwaters.

Many of the termite nests are build on the islands but it is common to see the structures rising from the floodplains. It is also often remarked as to how large the termite mounds are in the Okavango Delta. The reason for this lies in the structure of the mounds themselves. In most parts of Africa the working part of a termite mound is underground and all that shows is the characteristic ventilation funnel, but in the Okavango Delta the structure has to be built above the water table - which is very close to the surface in the Okavango.

The delta over time

Regular visitors to the Okavango will notice changes happening over the years due to the work of the hippos and termites, but this does not detract from the experience that this pristine wilderness ensure the visitor.
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