The Okavango Delta is one of the worlds greatest wetland ecosystems. A vast amount of water drains seasonally each year from the Angolan highlands into the flat lowlands of the Kalahari Basin, forming upto 22000 km² of floodplains, channels, islands, marshes, lagoons and woodlands. It is home to one of the largest and diverse concentrations of African wildlife. A part of it can be self driven in 4x4 vehicles, the Moremi Game Reserve.
The Moremi is named after Kgôsikgolo (Leading Chief) Moremi III of the Ba'Tawana people. He died in 1946 and was suceeded by his widow Elizabeth Pulane Moremi who ruled as Regent until 1958 when their son came of age. In 1964 she stepped down from office. She was concerned about the damage that hunting was causing to the local wildlife and played a crucial role in the creation of the Moremi Game Reserve in 1963.
In 1979 Chief's Island was incorperated. The island was formerly the private hunting grounds of the chief and is the main topographical feature in the west of the Moremi. Its exclusive lodges can only be reached by boat or plane. In 1992 the Governement established the Khama Rhino Sanctuary near Serowe to protect the rhino population. Only 19 White rhino existed and Black rhino were considered extinct. The project has been a success and both species can be seen on Chief's Island.
In the east of the reserve is the Mopane Tongue. A triangular peninsula that pokes itself into the delta and is famed for its Mopane woodlands. More land was added in 1992 and today the Reserve covers about 5000 km² or 20% of the Okavango Delta.
Our drive beginns at the Southern point of the triangle, the South Gate. It is about 100 kilometers north east of Maun. We will be driving from here to Mboma Island via First Bridge. Thence across the Third Bridge onto Motlaba Island. From here we drive back to the mainland at the Fourth Bridges ( Both the old and new fourth bridges were closed and so we had to find a way round.)and to the Campsite at Xakanaxa for the Night. The next day we drive from Xakanaxa to Khwai and from there back to the south gate and Maun.
The mopane is a remarkable tree with many names such as butterfly tree, balsam tree, turpentine tree and iron wood tree. It has very dense wood, one cubic meter weighs over a tonne. It's so tough that it's even termite resistant and is widely used for fencing, building, as fire wood and for making charcoal.
Mopane is the Shona word for butterfly, refering to the shape of its leaves. In hot and windy weather the two sides of the leaves fold together and save moisture. The seed pods have a pine wood scent and antibactereal properties.and are used to treat wounds and as a disinfectant.
Elephants love to browse in mopane groves. To protect themselves, the trees release tannins, making the leaves unpalatable and feromones to warn their neighbouring trees that Elephants are on their way. Of course the feromones only work downwind. Elephants are smart however and allways browse upwind. Not only elephants profit from the mopane as a nutrient source, A large edible caterpillar known as the mopane worm feeds on the leaves and is a valuable source of protein for the local peoples.