WASHINGTON (Oct. 18, 2016)—The National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project today launched the 2016 Sources Expedition to document and survey the sources of the Cuando River in the remote highlands of southeastern Angola as part of a larger effort to help protect this critical ecosystem and the myriad species living there. This will be the team’s first major expedition since the National Geographic Society announced a $10 million, multiyear commitment to the project at last month’s International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The expedition, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment of Angola, includes scientists from a range of disciplines and countries, including Angola and Namibia. The scientists will be surveying the area’s biodiversity, focusing on finding new species of fish, reptiles, plants and mammals during the early spring when plants are flowering and faunal activity is particularly high. The material they collect will be added to the significant database of information gathered by team members over the past several expeditions, including more than 20 species potentially new to science that are currently under assessment.
According to Okavango Wilderness Project team leader Steve Boyes, a conservation biologist and National Geographic Fellow: “The 2016 Sources Expedition is perhaps our most important survey to date. The information gathered from our assemblage of leading experts will further support the pressing need to protect this amazing yet relatively unknown ecosystem.”
This part of Angola is one of the last wild places on Earth. While the Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the vital headwaters of the Okavango and Cuando Rivers are not protected — and they are severely threatened by human encroachment, increased deforestation and development.
The Okavango Wilderness Project team is an interdisciplinary collaboration between local African researchers and experts and international colleagues and scientists. Together, they are surveying the area to record its extraordinary biodiversity and collect information on the health of the waters, joining with National Geographic filmmakers, photographers and writers to document the sights, sounds and progress along the way.
With the knowledge and imagery they gather — the Okavango Wilderness Project and the National Geographic Society aim to inform decision makers of the value of greater protection for the vital Okavango watershed and surrounding areas. For without it, the Delta and the amazing species living there are under threat.
Said National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary E. Knell: “The Okavango Wilderness Project exemplifies the mission, commitment and core of the National Geographic Society, weaving together the best of science, technology, exploration and storytelling to help preserve of one our last wild places and the species that call it home.”
To ensure the widest distribution of the scientific information and imagery gathered, the Okavango Wilderness Project team offers a live-data experience, sharing sights, sounds, scientific findings and movement via social media and updating the project’s open-access website in real time.
The 2016 Sources Expedition will include new scientific projects: the analysis of preserved pollen in rare peat deposits and algae sampling in the upper catchments to identify new species. The team will also deploy environmental sensor platforms to measure climatic conditions, water quality and flow rates and collect water quality point samples along the rivers. “The Okavango Wilderness Project may be one of the most significant conservation undertakings in Africa today,” said National Geographic Society Chief Exploration and Impact Officer Brooke Runnette.
Interested individuals are encouraged to follow the team during the 2016 Sources Expedition by visiting natgeo.org/okavango.