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2010 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey: Wilderness Worth Saving…

In September 2010, we departed from Seronga Village in two “mokoros” or dug-out canoes on an adventure of a lifetime…. No one we knew had ever done this before and the raw energy of that “first-time” was inspirational. We filmed what we could and took some amazing photographs, but remained focussed on the research and...

In September 2010, we departed from Seronga Village in two “mokoros” or dug-out canoes on an adventure of a lifetime…. No one we knew had ever done this before and the raw energy of that “first-time” was inspirational. We filmed what we could and took some amazing photographs, but remained focussed on the research and survey work. This short amateur video provides a rare window into our world on expedition. The calm, plodding raw human experience in the wilderness… This video was made by an ornithologist and an amateur filmmaker, attempting to share this electrifying experience with the world… We need to take a hi-tech production crew into the Okavango wilderness to do the magnificent Okavango Delta justice. Please share this link for the Okavango Film Project with anyone you think can help us make a full-length feature film on the 2013 expedition down the Okavango River into a remote wilderness in the Okavango Delta that has not been visited for at least 60 years…


Jerome Hillaire/Wild Bird Trust
Steve Boyes and Jerome Hillaire (in front) on the first trans-Okavango survey of wetland birds in 2010. We got lost, we found ourselves again, and the we found paradise… (Jerome Hillaire/Wild Bird Trust)


The objective of this exploratory research expedition was to see how over 70 common wetland bird species react to the largest floods in recorded history. The 2010 mokoro expedition was timed to coincide with the receding flood and the establishment of rich feeding and nesting grounds in the far north of the delta. Myself and Jerome Hillaire were joined by two baYei men, Gobonamang (“GB”) and Chaps, who were to pole us all the way to Maun on the other side of the Okavango Delta. None of us had crossed the delta before, so we were all in for an adventure. No GPS track, no idea which way would be open… I had owned a mokoro for over 7 years and was determined to “pole” Jerome to Maun over 15 days. I managed to pole the first five days before my balance, and maybe my nerves, got the best of me and I handed over to GB. We logged over 10,000 wetland birds during the 2010 survey and finished the expedition with one word in mind: “Epic!” In 2011, we completed the over 280 kilometer transect in August, and in 2012 we repeated it in June/July. In doing this we have been able to survey the distribution, abundance and breeding activity of wetlands birds at the flood’s peak and low. We are currently preparing academic manuscripts to publish the results from these first three expeditions. Over nine years we hope to “benchmark the wilderness” and record how the most abundant wetland birds utilize the floodplains, channels and lagoons of the Okavango Delta. What do they depend upon? Do they synchronize their feeding and breeding activity with the flood regime? What would happen if the hydrology and functioning of this fragile wetland ecosystem were to change?…


Mario Moreno /
Sunset stalker. “This lioness was stalking a group of lechwe on the other side of a flooded area in the Okavango Delta in Moremi National Park, Botswana.” (Mario Moreno /
Kirsten Wimberger
Chris Boyes resting as we wait for the support mokoros to arrive with Giles and Pete. It is an amazing feeling gliding across an open floodplain in big sky country. No sore feet or cramped hands could ever beat the feeling of being free in the Okavango Delta. The wilderness will keep you going forever… (Kirsten Wimberger)
Steve Boyes
African wild dogs are among the most beautiful canids on earth. On this expedition the guests saw these amazing dogs twice in the Okavango Delta, watching them playing together next to the vehicle. A privilege only made possible through habituation. (Steve Boyes)
LandSat 1979
Satellite image from 1979 using LandSat. The flood levels were very similar on the 2012 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey. It is exciting to think what kind of delta existed when this satellite image was taken. A vast, untouched wilderness unlike today when have to use mokoros to find inaccessible wilderness. (LandSat 1979)


Here is a short video on our campaign to save the Okavango Delta:


Please support the Okavango Film Project…

This year we are following the entire length of the Okavango River from the source in the Angolan highlands all the way down to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia and across Botswana’s Okavango Delta. This over 1,000 mile journey will take us 8 weeks and take us through some of the remotest parts of Africa into the heart of the Okavango Delta to find a lost wilderness untouched by man. Dr Karen Ross has spearheaded the push to get the Okavango Delta declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She will be joining us on the 2013 mega-transect down the Okavango as part of the Okavango Film Project (See: Please watch this “trailer” made in 2012. We need your help to promote the idea of declaring this enigmatic wilderness as a World Heritage Site. The scientific research and survey work along the Okavango River is almost fully funded, but we still need substantial funding and support for the film, Okavango. Making this film has become our sole focus for the last 18 months and absolutely NEEDS to happen. Okavango Delta needs a powerful, thought-provoking feature film that changes people’s perceptions and establishes a new way of looking at “wilderness” in this day-and-age. Films like this cost money. Neil Gelinas, a Senior Producer at National Geographic Missions Media, is the visionary filmmaker who made the trailer on a recent visit to the Okavango Delta. Neil was captivated by the wilderness of the Okavango and made a commitment to help save this untouched place for future generations. He will be taking the latest camera technology into the remote African wilderness to produce a groundbreaking feature film about the human experience in the wilderness and the importance of these places to humanity and our blue planet. This is also a story about local communities, development, civil war, ivory, water, food, and livelihoods. A pilgrimage down the Okavango River will take you back in time to a place that shows you a planet before man, and then teaches you who you really are. People have been having wilderness experiences since the dawn of humanity and discovered fire, food and religion in these wild places. We need to make sure we have these places to go to in the future…   


Neil Gelinas
Dr Steve Boyes poling across a shallow, grassy floodplain in the Okavango Delta… (Neil Gelinas)
Steve Boyes
This is the Nqoga Channel in the north of the Okavango Delta as it passes like a snake (or “nqoga”) through the green of “papyrus desert”. You will often find massive python swimming under the papyrus… (Steve Boyes)
Google Earth 2012
Okavango Delta and the entire Okavango River up to Huambo, the source of the Okavango River. Note the two sub-catchments in what is one of the remotest regions of southern Africa, inaccessible by road, aircraft or boat. It is going to take a multi-national effort to conserve one of the world’s last functioning wilderness areas. (Google Earth 2012)
Amy Attenborough
Okavango giant amongst the lilies, photographed by guide Amy Attenborough of AndBeyond. Image taken at Sandibe in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. (Amy Attenborough)
Amy Attenborough
Wild dog tactics, photographed by guide Amy Attenborough at And Beyond Sandibe in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. (Amy Attenborough)


Please LIKE and SHARE this link with your friends and become involved in the campaign to get the Okavango Delta declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We need to do everything we can to celebrate and protect Africa’s last-remaining wetland wilderness… 

Any ideas, advice, contacts or donations via the Wild Bird Trust (Go to: would be much appreciated…

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Steve Boyes
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.