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Okavango Expedition 2013: On the Edge of The Delta

After a frantic year of meetings, symposia and travel, we have arrived. We are now in a place called Etsha 13, a small village on the edge of the Okavango Delta. This new launch site was chosen for the next three years of research due to the establishment of a new base at Weboro Lagoon....

Okavango Expedition Team 2013. From left: GB, Chaps, KG, Giles, Steve, Paul, Tom, Pete and John. Ready for 18 days in the wilderness.

After a frantic year of meetings, symposia and travel, we have arrived. We are now in a place called Etsha 13, a small village on the edge of the Okavango Delta. This new launch site was chosen for the next three years of research due to the establishment of a new base at Weboro Lagoon. This year we are focussing on UNESCO World Heritage Status and will be exploring and surveying new parts of the central delta to promote this enigmatic wilderness. The research team has changed somewhat this year with the addition of John Hilton (a Trustee of the Wild Bird Trust), Paul Steyn (a writer and editor), and Zach Vincent (documentray filmmaker). Paul will be blogging every day in an effort to share this experience through fresh eyes. John will be running the “Digital Bushman” project, a collaboration between myself and Jer Thorpe, as 2013 Emerging Explorers at the National Geographic Society. This is an exciting project that pushes back the boundaries of sharing the expedition experience with the world. We are excited to have you all join us on this epic, 18-day expedition across one of Africa’s last-remaining wetland wilderness areas…

Paul Steyn’s Expedition Diary:

Before arriving in the rural village of Etsha 13, the prospect of water seemed like an impossibility – just a myth described by those who have done this expedition before. For the last four hours of driving, all we could see was dust and brown homogeny.

Now here we sit on the very edge of this 15 000 square kilometer natural expanse in northern Botswana, about to head out on an 18-day expedition into the Okavango Delta.

We will be venturing though the delta the way the Bayei River Bushman have been doing it for thousands of years – on tradition mokoros (dugout canoes). There are no places to resupply, so all that is needed for surviving 18 days will be taken along from the beginning. All consumables on the expedition are biodegradable or reusable. All batteries are rechargeable, and solar panels are used to do this charging. On expedition we all adhered to 3 simple rule: “Leave no trace; never forget where you are; and live curious”.

This is essentially a research expedition – with the primary objective to observe the relationship between wetland birds and the annual Okavango flood. But there is a bigger mission too. We are here to generate attention on the delta as part of a bigger campaign to make sure that the Okavango Delta is recognised as something that needs to be protected forever. Early next year, the IUCN will be meeting in Switzerland and voting on whether this place deserves World Heritage Status, and we are here to tell them that it does.

The expedition team is made up of a diverse bunch, most or whom you will meet on this live blog of the trip. We’ve named ourselves the Digital Bushman (, in an effort to inspire researchers, travellers to use technology to broadcast live stories and messages from their adventures. Every day, courtesy of and, we’ll be uploading photos, stories, data and short videos to this Nat Geo Explorers Journal.

Join us here live on this wetland survey, and if you find inspiration, please support the campaign for World Heritage Status for the Okavango Delta by sharing the coming stories with your family and friends.

Follow live tweets from the journey on and @drsteveboyes (Expedition Leader) and @paulsteyn1(Writer and photographer)

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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.