Sunday, 22nd June 2014, heralded a victorious day for African wildlife conservation.
The Okavango Delta in Botswana was declared a World Heritage Site! The announcement from the World Heritage Committee in Doha was the culmination of years of groundwork, research and lobbying by various stakeholders in Botswana, ranging from community leaders, NGO’s, scientists and safari operators. A top level government delegation announced the amazing news, and ATG lauds Botswana’s brave and visionary outlook as a shining light on our continents conservation calendar.
The net result is that the Okavango Delta has now received serious protection status. Well known as Africa’s wildest and last remaining wetland wilderness, the Okavango is the jewel of Botswana’s wildlife crown. Depending on the amount of annual flooding, the delta encompasses between 15 and 20 000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness, of rivers, floodplains and waterways adorned with islands of unimaginable beauty. The ecological integrity of the Okavango is staggering, and contains highly specialised wetland habitat for numerous rare and endangered animals and birds. And as a pivotal drawcard within Botswana’s multi-million dollar community based ecotourism revenue stream, the true worth of the Okavango is actually immeasurable.
There is, however, still some way to go. Two other countries can claim sovereignty over the water in some way. The Okavango system in its entirety consists of the vast catchment zone in Angola, the meandering main channel through the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, emptying into the delta. Therefore to safeguard the complete system, and ultimately the Okavango Delta itself, these countries need to follow the lead. And within a potential political minefield, what makes Botswana’s stand so valuable is this; a statement has been made, offering a challenge, an example, sound leadership, and perhaps most importantly, hope.