Botswana’s Okavango Delta is often called Africa’s last Eden. A series of serene islands, rivulets and floodplains, the honorific title is well-deserved. Animals from thousands of miles around flock to this wilderness, making their home among the isolated islets. Meanwhile, human inhabitation is almost non-existent, the primary residents being environmental officials and responsible tourism operators. Opening in June 2020, Red Carnation Hotels’ Xigera Safari Lodge will become part of the local sustainable tourism community. Here, we outline our responsibility towards these untouched wilds while profiling the lengthy timeline of the Okavango Delta’s conservation.
In the beginning…
The Okavango Delta has been a home to humans since before the dawn of history. Its fertile soils and abundant wildlife have always been an enticing prospect for migrating tribes. In particular, five ethnic groups have traditionally resided in this area, living off the land through fishing, hunting and sporadic pastoralism. While the cohabitation of man and animal in the Delta was, for the most part, sustainable, concerns about the survival of the area’s wildlife began to circle in the mid-20th century. Finally, in the early 1960s, the government began an initiative to move tribespeople out of the Delta in an effort to preserve the sanctuary.
The Moremi Game Reserve
It was in this context that the Moremi Game Reserve, home to Xigera, was created. Originally a labour of love, the reserve was founded in 1963 by the grieving widow of the BaTawana tribe’s Chief Moremi III. In the designated area, she banned hunting, farming and livestock breeding, while further relocating tribespeople to the borders of the protected zones.
Over the years, Moremi has grown to become Botswana’s largest reserve, incorporating as much as one third of the Okavango floodplains. In the 1970s, the royal hunting grounds of the BaTawana kings were formally incorporated into the protected area, including the Delta’s largest islet, Chief’s Island. To this day, it retains some of the highest wildlife density on the continent.
These measures have ensured a sustainable home for the Okavango’s abundant animal life. Now, spanning 5,000 square kilometres, Moremi is home to Africa’s most endangered species, the southern white rhino, which is being transported in number from high-threat poaching zones in South Africa. Over 500 species of bird, 150 types of mammal and 1,000 kinds of plant now thrive in this inland oasis.
Modern conservation in the Okavango Delta
Contemporary Botswana is committed to saving its wildlife, considered a national asset. The country takes a hard line with poachers, with conservation officials supported by an anti-poaching unit and a zero-tolerance policy. Ecotourism largely drives Botswana’s ethos, with several lodges helping to fund government initiatives and promote tourism in the country.
Xigera itself sits on its own private government concession in the Moremi Game Reserve, actively assisting in the conservation of the Okavango Delta, both through its zero-impact design and active partnerships. Most emphatically, our partner, the TreadRight Foundation, launched its Protecting our Wildlife campaign this year. The campaign brings together leaders in the hospitality and conservation sectors to actively stabilise the world’s big cat population (including Botswana’s leopards and lions) and assist in the preservation of the southern white rhino.
The future of the Okavango Delta’s conservation lies not in Botswana’s hands, but in the territories along its tributary rivers, the Cuito and the Cubango. These rivers flow from the Angolan highlands to the northwest and run through two countries before reaching the Okavango Delta. Unfortunately, increasing land use, mining and pollution are posing risks to these rivers and the Delta that they feed into. However, help is on the way.
In 2015, National Geographic launched an expedition to chart the water flow, water cleanliness and water usage of areas leading from Angola to the Delta. Its team has charted over 4,000 miles of riverbank so far, their finds helping to promote actionable policies in the areas at risk.
Stay at Red Carnation Hotels’ Xigera Safari Lodge to experience the Okavango Delta and be a part of its conservation story.