explore THE rhinos’ new home
Clockwise from top: Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert have a profound connection with the land. The piercing cry of the African fish eagle is often heard in the Delta. The Chobe River supports up to 50,000 elephants during the dry season. Below, meerkats scan for danger in Makgadikgadi Pan in the dry savannah of north-eastern Botswana
Botswana is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife destinations. Defined by the desert of the Kalahari and the delta of the Okavango, it is home to abundant wildlife, including the world’s largest concentration of African elephants.
Home to just over two million people, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world – allowing space for thriving populations of large game. But until recently, one animal was missing – the rhino.
Due to escalating poaching, black rhinos were declared extinct here in 1992, and only a handful of white rhinos remained. These were captured and moved to sanctuaries. But the government tackled the poaching problem head-on and Wilderness Safaris came up with a proposal to reintroduce black and white rhino to the Okavango Delta. The Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project was born.
In 2001, the first white rhino were released into the Okavango Delta and a monitoring and protection programme began.
In 2013, the President of Botswana declared, uniquely in Africa, that the protection of the country’s natural resources would be a core priority of its military, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). As a result, Botswana currently operates a robust defence of its wildlife and boasts one of the lowest poaching rates in Africa.
Botswana is a stable country with ample space, steady leadership, a commitment to conservation at the highest levels and strong conservation strategies in place. It’s the perfect place to give black and white rhinos a safe haven.
The Okavango Delta is a near-unique phenomenon: a vast delta in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. Each January, rains in the Angolan Highlands send deluges surging 1,250km down the Okavango River into Botswana.
Here, the water does not flow into any sea or ocean. Instead, when it reaches a flat, depressed area of around 15,000 sq km, it simply spreads across a vast, flat floodplain. Contained by two faultlines, it backs up and creates a magnificent swamp, known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
The floodwaters reach their peak between June and August, when the delta expands to cover an area up to three times its summer extent. Reed-fringed channels, riverine forests and rich grasslands attract animals from vast distances, resulting in some of Africa’s densest and most diverse concentrations of wildlife.
Rhinos were once abundant in the region and the Delta is prime rhino habitat. Surrounded by water, and with the protection of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ Anti Poaching Unit and the Botswana Defence Force, it is the perfect safe haven into which to reintroduce rhinos.
Annual floods in Angola send 10 trillion litres of water surging into the Okavango Delta each May.
Clockwise from top: Hippos are the grumpy guardians of Moremi's waterways. Water-loving red lechwe give an early warning of danger. Malachite kingfishers stud river banks like jewels.
MOREMI GAME RESERVE
In the heart of the Okavango Delta lies Moremi Game Reserve. With permanent water to the north, west and east, this is a fantastic game-viewing area – one of the best in Africa.
An incredible diversity of habitats, from vast floodplains to dry acacia islands, provides food for a great number of herbivores, and they in turn attract predators.
Moremi is the perfect place to reintroduce and protect rhinos. It’s remoteness makes access difficult for poachers. The waterways are wide and full of crocodiles and hippos, which gives any sensible poacher pause for thought.
There’s plenty of space and prime quality habitat for rhinos – including lush grass for white rhinos (grazers) and many choicest trees and shrubs for the black rhinos (browsers).
Moremi is also popular with tourists. Multiple aircraft fly in and out every day monitoring the skies, boats and other vessels trawl the waterways, while on the ground the skilled guides notice every footprint out of place.
There are literally eyes everywhere – on the ground, on the water and in the sky. Any poacher is going to be picked up, if not by tourist industry activities, then by the regular patrols of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ anti poaching unit and the Botswana Defence Force.