Into The Okavango: Unique View Into 2013 Okavango Expedition

Fitz 50 logo ROUND no circleIn September 2013, we embarked on our most challenging crossing of the Okavango Delta… The research data set we achieved over 15 days and 338km using a bespoke Android App was the most comprehensive ever and was shared in real-time via an open API and up-to-date satellite image. This 10-minute video documents an impossible expedition across dry, abandoned floodplains and crocodile- and hippopotamus-infested channels flanked by the abundance of life. Astonishingly, red lechwe, an aquatic antelope only found in the Okavango Delta, were the second most frequently sighted after squacco herons and African jacanas, the most abundant wetland birds in the region. Thousands of buffalo, giraffe, zebra, tsetsebe, kudu, elephant, baboon, lion, hyena, wild dog and much else gathered on the islands nearby the last flowing channels in the central wilderness of Africa’s last-remaining wetland wilderness. A sight to behold and experience of a lifetime with wildlife interactions all day everyday. Zach Vincent joined us on the 2013 Okavango Expedition and captured this unique insiders view into one of the hardest expeditions I have ever undertaken…   

By the end of September, the floodwaters had disappeared from much of the alluvial fan and the abundant wildlife was concentrated on the remaining channels in the middle and on the edges of the Okavango Delta. This put hippopotamus, crocodile, buffalo, elephant, lechwe, giraffe and much else in front of us all day everyday. We were pushed beyond our physical and mental limits as we completed the most comprehensive wetland bird survey ever undertaken. Now in Year 5, we aim to make our final preparations this year for the 2015 “Source to Sand” Expedition over 1,700km down the length of the Kavango River and across the delta from source to sand. The 2014 Okavango Expedition will kick off the Okavango Wilderness Project and a 5-year effort to protect the Kavango Basin through the establishment of new protected areas and a new multi-national UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the Okavango Delta and its entire catchment in Namibia and Angola – the world’s last-remaining undeveloped river basin of its size. For more information, please go to:  

National Geographic Magazine January 2013

What is a “global community” capable of? For over two hundred years thousands of daily papers have delivered news, ideas, information and opinions to their local readerships. Publications like the National Geographic Magazine inspire millions of people around the world to change their lives and commit themselves to a better future through open access to ideas and information about our planet. Every passing decade saw news networks became more and more global with telegraph, phone, fax, mobile, email, blogs, posts, tweets, pins and bit coins making the world a smaller and smaller place. Today, satellite television and social media share ideas between Honolulu and Bombay faster than word-of-mouth in your own neighbourhood. We are now all together in this experience as we share more than ever – one world. Ever-expanding and interconnected social networks on platforms like email groups, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and LinkedIn enable the passage globally of ideas, news and information at light speed. There is a generation growing up right now that sees the world very differently from us and are not going to be fooled by anything. They have literally seen it all on YouTube… We have entered an age of immediacy with more “sharing and caring” than ever before. TED is having their 30th Anniversary and have no doubt changed the world for the better with “ideas worth spreading”. The world needs more people working independently as part of a collective for a better future. We need to nurture a culture of collaboration, partnership and responsibility that transcends borders, religions, cultures, ideologies and languages. We are now one global community capable of anything, including the preservation of our natural world and the biological diversity it supports. – our open access future

To follow our actual footsteps and access all research data, expedition metrics (heart beats and calories burnt), personal comments, photographs and sound recordings from the 2013 Okavango Expedition, please go to: Our primary aim in this partnership between the Wild Bird Trust and Office for Creative Research is to re-invent the way we map and survey remote wilderness areas directly sharing with and involving experts and interested people, inspiring change through participation, interaction, personal investment and innovation. Remote sensing technologies, open APIs, Apps that enable digital data collection and real-time sharing, increased access to mobile connectivity, and the rapid growth of online citizen science web portals like eBird are the first signs of the tidal wave of development and investment in a global open access biodiversity and ecosystems monitoring network geared at prioritising conservation action.

Just in the last ten years we have established massive, inter-connected global networks via rapid growth in social media and access to mobile connectivity. Uniting local communities around the world to better manage and protect ecosystems on this living blue-and-green planet is the best possible application of social and professional networks. We need more privately-owned, remotely-operated vehicles like drones, octocopters, and OpenROVs sharing imagery and data from monitoring missions in their area of operation. Thousands of university labs, hobbyists and professionals gathering valuable data on local landscapes and ecosystems will provide us with the tools and expertise to support sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. A unifying objective is to better protect remote wilderness areas through undertaking in-depth, real-time, independently-funded biodiversity surveys completed by adventurers, explores and scientists. These spatial and temporal data sets will, over time, enable us to use birds, amphibians and other wildlife as indicators of ecosystem health and vitality in these threatened landscapes, while helping us expand and establish protected areas.

Zach, Pieter and Giles Trevethick filming wetland birds in the Mombo area. Paradise on earth... (Paul Steyn)
Zach, Pieter and Giles Trevethick filming wetland birds in the Mombo area. Paradise on earth… (Paul Steyn)

A central theme is “if we are doing it or recording it, it can be shared in real-time via an open API”. We are just as serious about backing up our research data, as we are about making sure everything we do is shared LIVE via all interested people around the world. We aim to get and our future research expeditions into classrooms, clubs and youth centres across the globe. In this “new age of exploration”, immediacy, involvement and technology are key. We need to push back the boundaries of what is possible on expedition in our planet’s last-remaining untouched, remote wilderness areas. We need to inspire people around the world to prioritise the protection of our last wilderness areas for future generations in the knowledge that once altered and managed these landscapes can never be restored or rehabilitated to their former glory. We need to spark the global imaginations in amongst all the noise and chaos of our modern lives. We need to make billions of people around the world care about remote, inaccessible places that they will never visit. We must all dread the eventual loss of the last wild places from our dreams, the deep, dark forest, the wild African bush, the Australian unforgiving outback, and the deep blue sea. The human experience in the wilderness is integral to the long-term future of our species on this living planet. The wilderness is the birthplace of all religions and realisations in quiet meditation and prayer in the wild have guided us for millennia.

Everything you see in this 10-minute video by Zach Vincent was shared in real-time via – go and see for yourself…

A view from the live representation of the 2013 Okavango Expedition that was updated every 20 minutes and shared all research data every day. (Wild Bird Trust / Office for Creative Research)
A view from the live representation of the 2013 Okavango Expedition that was updated every 10-20 minutes and shared all research data every day. (Wild Bird Trust / Office for Creative Research)



Meet the Author
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.