Okavango Delta Flood 2009

Apr 3rd, 2009, 07:03 AM
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Okavango Delta Flood 2009

Received this from WS the other day and I know some of you will be interested to read it. It appears that this year's flood is shaping up to be a massive one (though it is still early).

I can't post the flood chart here, but it is on my website if you want to check it out.

Map Ives, Wilderness Safaris' Chief Ecologist, sums up the flood so far... interesting stuff...
It is that time of year when the data is coming in thick and fast from hydrologists throughout southern Africa regarding the state of flows in our rivers, and the environmental and social effects of those flows.  This includes data from the water authorities in Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zambia outlining the scenarios for the Kunene, Zambezi, Kwando, Kavango and Kuito rivers (The last two combine to form the Okavango River upstream of the delta proper).

There have been a number of reports in the news media which may have created a negative impression of the “flooding”, which indeed has affected a small number of people on a localized basis, but in fact has a positive effect on the ecology of the natural areas into which they flow.

Due to a combination of higher than normal Indian Ocean temperatures, a low pressure system centred over central Botswana and a southward movement of the moist Congo Air Boundary, the late summer rains have been well above average.  This has been particularly so over the 16 Degrees South latitude in a band across the African Continent and which, fortuitously, include the catchments of some of the great rivers of south central Africa mentioned in the first paragraph.  During the first two weeks of March, this band received about 120% above average rainfall, followed by localized but heavy falls along the Zambia/Angola border region as well as over the Okavango Delta itself.

All of this has resulted in river flows that are above average as measured over the last 70 years.  This is not unusual in the long term, as flows such as these have been recorded before, and in fact are well placed into data sets that show a pattern of wet and dry cycles over the entire catchment area.  However, in the short term, this has resulted in flows that have not been seen in the Zambezi and Okavango Rivers since 1963.

These effects of this increased runoff on downstream environments will vary tremendously between those felt by people who have moved into low lying areas during the “dry” years, and those felt by the natural environments such as the Okavango, Savute/Chobe and Zambezi environments.  Extremely high levels of water have inundated parts of the panhandle area of the Okavango, the area between the Chobe and the Zambezi, and floodplains along all these rivers.  However, it must be stressed that no lives have been lost and so called flooding has only occurred in areas that have historically been floodplains.  People have been assisted with evacuation to temporary shelter on higher ground nearby, where they will probably only stay for about 8 to 10 weeks before the waters subside.

Lower down the Okavango River and into the delta itself, the effects will be fantastic, as large grassland areas and floodplains which have not been inundated for many years and even decades, become flooded, and a complete recharge of groundwater takes place. Islands which have been dehydrated through no ground water flows, will now rejuvenate and distal lakes such as Ngami and Mababe will fill.  These two terminal sinks along with a major increase in flows down the Boteti create wide ranging habitats for many, many waterfowl and mammal species.  Linked to the Mababe Lake and fed from the Linyanti/Kwando system the Savute Channel can be expected to have a major increase in flows, which may well result in the re-establishment of the famed Savute Marsh at the terminal end of the channel. The availability of so much water over a large area will have extremely beneficial effects on the distribution of the region’s high elephant numbers.

Most, if not all of the camps in the Okavango are situated on islands and higher ground with many being on lifted walkways and stilts.  There should be little if any, effect on the camps themselves, although some camps may have to adjust the road networks somewhat since many were located during those dry years.  This is in fact a natural phenomenon which only happens very occasionally in the wet and dry cycle as mentioned, and is a grand opportunity to see the rivers and deltas of the region in all their glory.   

After nearly 30 years of low flows, interspersed with occasional average flows, we now have a near record inflow, the effects of which are too many to innumerate here, but suffice to say are hugely important to the biodiversity of the Okavango and the region in general.  

Those of us who have lived and worked here for many years have waited for a year so special as this, come and join us, it will happen only once in a lifetime.  

Map Ives
Wilderness Safaris Botswana
26th March, 2009.  
jweis is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 09:23 AM
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jweis, what is your website please? I'd be interested to see your chart.
mongoose is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 09:52 AM
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The Boteti is in full flow and some camps in the Delta get wet feet already ;-)
Hope it does not too much damage!

spassvogel is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 09:57 AM
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As the post is from "Wilderness" it is impossible for me to know if this is a good or a bad report for my late June safari in the Delta (Savuti, Kwetsani & Chitabe). I would not expect them to say anything negative in order to get bookings. Will you Africa experts please advise what this means for those of us who know nothing of the area? Are we really in for more of a treat than normal? Will this impact sightings of elephants, giraffes, lions and other land mammals? Should I remain at my current level of "off the charts" excitement or should I get absolutely rabid with glee? Just talking about this is fun for me. Thanks for your responses.
Lrob is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 09:59 AM
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I am pretty sure that the Vumbura and Duba areas are in store for a LOT of water on the flood plains...

Driving there come June/July could be quite difficult.

Andy Biggs and I are heading to Bots in July with a group and I am keen to see the areas. I was in Savuti in December and there was a lot of water - way past the camp.

The WS guys were here for meetings this week and we discussed the Savute Channel a bit.. there will need to be some bridges built spanning the channel to make drives and crossing easier.

Cannot wait to see the channel in July... we caught fish from the Savuti main deck and there were crocs and hippos all the way to and further down the channel from the camp.

If you're headed to Botswana's Delta/Linyanti regions this year, you should see some remarkable stuff with all of this water... dynamics are great to witness.

jweis is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 12:34 PM
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Question for James.

Thanks for the report. When does the flood usually peak at camps like Duba and Vumbura??

KIBOKO is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 12:49 PM
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Hi CJ,

The flood typically peaks in that area late June into July from my experience, although I am sure it may hit "peak" levels a bit earlier this year.

I really think that the new "extended" bridge at Duba will have to be further extended soon. I have been told that they are going to start leaving vehicles on "the other side" of the bridge and shuttling guests out there using Go-Devils across the water. Should be cool, although those things are quite noisy. Better than taking 30+ minutes to get out there from camp.

jweis is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 02:02 PM
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I will be at Chitabe, Kwetsani, and Savuti as well as Camp Kalahari at the end of May.

Will that be a bit too soon for the positive benefits of all this water?? I hope that none of the camps are underwater.

Anyway its 51 more days till I leave!!!!

amycyma is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 02:15 PM
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Chitabe is far south, so the water will not be there yet...

Savuti is likely seeing influx now or very soon.

Kwetsani - hard to say - it will certainly be on the rise there, but not sure how much.

In terms of benefits, it will be of benefit in the long run to the entire ecosystem, but as I have mentioned, it could be detrimental to game drives in terms of road closures, water crossings, getting stuck, animal dispersal, etc.

Just remember that you are visiting a very dynamic ecosystem and will be witness to that dynamism in action... the camps will provide you with a great experience, do not worry!
jweis is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 03:12 PM
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I've been wondering about the floods. Thank you.
atravelynn is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 10:45 PM
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Hi James,

Was reading the WS game reports from Savuti. It appears like the last of the 3 cheetah boys is still around? Can you confirm this? Reason I ask...... a few months ago, one of their reports sounded like he didn't make it through.

HariS is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 11:25 PM
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I was at Nxamaseri last week and the water was the highest that I have seen it at this time of year. The water was rising 14 cms a day, and the jetty was submerged. When I left the water was not far short of the campfire area. They were bringing sand bags in which were clearly not going to be enough. The generator was close to being flooded. I left there on 26 March and do not have any further news. The airstrip was flooded.
I can't stay any longer, I'm off to Bath to watch rugby,
but will be back late tomorrow afternoon.

Botsfan is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2009, 11:50 PM
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The Chobe area is currently experiencing very high water levels. For anyone who has been to Chobe Game Lodge... the water is up to the pool and covering the boma area and that bank where you board the boats from. Considering the last highest flood was in 1983 and most lodges were built post that... it should be interesting to see who really did build above the 100 year flood line as most lodges are on pretty low lying ground.

Fun times!
mistypopper is offline  
Apr 4th, 2009, 05:35 AM
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Can anybody explain the pros and cons of high water level vs. low water-level in the Okavango ?

aby is offline  
Apr 4th, 2009, 07:22 AM
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Biggest issues with high water

1. Camp flooded - pretty big one
2. Roads inaccessible - may have a major impact on game drives. Also if you've been to a camp before, you may have great memories of a location that is now inaccessible.
3. Game dispersal.
napamatt_2 is offline  
Apr 4th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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I checked the chart and it was indeed "spikey."

Aby has the key question for people headed to the delta. And even more key for everybody and everything that lives there.

When I was concerned about higher than normal water levels due to rain and some unusual flood patterns in 2006, these were some things I recall.

More water resulted in a boom for African wildcats because their small mammal prey also experienced a boom.

It made some areas inaccessible to vehicles. I got stuck more and had more minor breakdowns due to flooded conditions. Not a big deal, though.

It meant the Mopane forests had more water sources so antelope could spend more time in the shelter of the forest. Of course the predators did not need to stray from the forests either. In that respect game viewing was down.

Same thing for the elephants that could remain more easily in the forests. I saw fewer of them as well.

But an answer from someone who has been at the same place year after year in wet and dry times and can compare the two would be best.

Prior to my departure in 2006 I was all concerned that water levels that were beneficial to the entire region would negatively affect my personal couple week stay. That made me not only concerned but feeling very selfish of hoping for maximum game viewing, which was at odds with maximum water dispersement. I was checking the chart on Eyes on Africa every couple of days for each new extension of the line and fretting about what the next extension of the line would show.

The trip turned out great because rain, floods, whatever, Africa always comes through. Whether because of the water or in spite of it, I saw things I had never seen before and came home with a smile. The pre-trip hand wringing had been wasted energy.

In a broader perspective than a fortnight spent on safari in a specific area, James has a good overview of the flooding and its effects at the top of this thread.

Here's a question that I am wondering about the delta. I was reading that high water levels in the Pantanal in Brazil can result in dispersal of wildlife, but it can also islolate animals on a limited number of islands of dry land. That makes it easier to see wildlife. Is that true to any extent in the delta? Or do the wet forests of the delta, which are not as much a factor in the swampy Pantanal, offer an entirely different environment so comparisons between the two are irrelevant?

If you are exploring the panhandle aby, the floods may not be as big of deal there. You'll have to report back to us on your findings.
atravelynn is offline  
Apr 4th, 2009, 12:45 PM
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From Ngami Times:
Bad roads close Moremi
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has closed Moremi Game Reserve to the public due to heavy rains that have left all the roads flooded. All the main roads from South Gate to Khwai, Xakanaxa, Third Bridge and other parts of the reserve are covered with water and are dangerous. The two bridges at North Gate and at Third Bridge are submerged.
While tour operators in the reserve are still flying in their clients into the reserve; this may have to change as well. Mombo is to be left operating and open to the public as it is privately maintained and the facilities are in good state. The department is assessing the Baines Baobabs area in the Nxai national park with the view of closing it down as the rains have made the place difficult to drive to.
Meanwhile, there is no road link between Khwai and Chobe as the road between the two is flooded.
mongoose is offline  
Apr 4th, 2009, 04:44 PM
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Yes in my selfish mode, I am concerned that my game viewing maybe affected, but as I have never been to Africa, I have no previous trips to compare it to. So I am sure whatever I see will amaze me.

However, I hope the camps are not closed. But whatever, I am sure I will deal with it and have a truly amazing time.

But assuming I could possibly change camps at this late date, does anyone think I should try to opt out of Savuti or Kwetsani?? and where should I try to go for end of May trip??

amycyma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2009, 08:48 PM
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Interesting - I was at Baines Baobabs last week - bone dry and the roads are very much functioning with no problems.
HariS is offline  
Apr 5th, 2009, 05:42 AM
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Due to the flooding and high amount of rainfall, when do they expect the flood waters to recede? I am asking this question as we are planning a trip in November and would like to see the Delta full of water. Normally in November all the water has gone by that point. Any chance it will still be there?
kch246 is offline  

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