On June 22, 2014 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) voted to recognize Botswana’s Okavango Delta as its 1,000th World Heritage Site, and only the second World Heritage Site in Botswana. The Okavango Delta now joins a list of the world’s most treasured cultural and natural sites, including the Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, Victoria Falls, and Serengeti National Park.
Lion, Okavango Delta, Botswana
In recognizing the Okavango Delta, the World Heritage Committee summarized the delta’s unique traits:
“This delta in northwest Botswana comprises permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains. It is one of the very few major interior delta systems that do not flow into a sea or ocean, with a wetland system that is almost intact. One of the unique characteristics of the site is that the annual flooding from the river Okavango occurs during the dry season, with the result that the native plants and animals have synchronized their biological cycles with these seasonal rains and floods. It is an exceptional example of the interaction between climatic, hydrological and biological processes. The Okavango delta is home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal, such as the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, African wild dog and lion.”
Hippos, Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
One of the most tireless champions of getting the Okavango Delta added to the World Heritage list is Steve Boyes, a conservation biologist, scientific director of the Wild Bird Trust, and a National Geographic Explorer with whom Bushtracks has had the pleasure to work while operating safaris for National Geographic in the Okavango Delta. "The first time I experienced the heart of the Okavango Delta, I was brought to tears," shares Steve Boyes. "I've seen no place that approaches wildlife densities like these. It's the closest I've come to pure African wilderness." In an interview with National Geographic, Boyes says he hopes for a burst of investment by government and the private sector following the World Heritage Site designation, as well as funding from the World Heritage Fund for Special Projects and possible intervention in the case of a major impact on the site.
Buffaloes, Vumbura Plains Camp, Okavango Delta Botswana
As Council Members of the African Wildlife Foundation [AWF], Bushtracks owners’ David and Carolyn Tett are ardent supporters of protecting Africa’s precious ecosystems, of which the Okavango Delta is but one. Bushtracks salutes Steve, and Dr. Karen Ross, Program Design Director at the AWF who was instrumental in finding funding to drive the process forward, for their tenacious efforts over the last 8 years in bringing the Okavango Delta its well-deserved inclusion on the list of the world’s most precious natural sites.
Something will have gone out of us as a people if
we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed...
We simply need that wild country available to us,
even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in,
for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity
as creatures, as part of the geography of hope...
- Wallace Stegner