The Okavango Delta’s Dynamic Water Levels

Okavango Delta flood levels (2024)

Among the few real wildernesses on Earth is the Okavango Delta Although humans have not seen it for millions of years, it has passed through several cycles. Even in the comparatively short time people have had an eye on the delta, very wet and sometimes very dry phases have been seen. And every one of these stages always has highlights of its own.

In the early 2000s, the Okavango was bone dry and, in many places, resembled a savannah landscape rather than a wetland. Still, the wildlife viewing was simply amazing; not only did we see an amazing quantity of leopards and lions, but also cheetahs and wild dogs, normally not found in the wetter regions.

Looking at the meet-and-greet comments of our guests who have travelled in the last six months, we are hearing a similar trend to 20 years ago, i.e., dry but plenty of wildlife. Our guests are currently reporting cheetah sightings from camps, which were rare occurrences and exceptions in recent wetter years.

The Okavango Delta is incredibly dynamic.  For example, when water levels are low, as they are now, complete areas open up for access. Wildlife is able to access and explore areas unreachable when water was higher. This alters the wildlife make-up, so to speak, of different areas of the delta. Some areas of the delta were well-known in the last wet phase for their abundance of large lion prides, known to hunt buffalo every few days.  Leopards were very rarely seen, not even wild dogs or the odd cheetah.  However, come the drier years, and buffalo herds are able to stretch their grazing circuit.  In response, we now also find leopards and occasionally even wild dogs in these areas.

People frequently respond nervously to change, particularly if a safari has been scheduled with particular expectations; nevertheless, change is the fundamental character of this dynamic terrain in the Okavango Delta.

Of course, we in tourism have to reconsider in times like these and can no more readily provide “year-round water activities” etc. as in the last few years. This does not, however, mean our guests safari experience is harmed; at least not in terms of seeing real wilderness and outstanding safaris.

Safaris never come with any wildlife sighting guarantees. We can only rely on historical performance, consider present trends, and aim to derive the best possible conclusions for the forthcoming travel year. The tenor is generally that we have great game-watching chances when the Okavango dries out, and the delta is in a dry phase now.  Our guests who have already travelled this year are experiencing game-viewing on levels to what we would expect in October.

This is a graph from the daily flood bulletin sent by Hydrological Services Namibia.