This year’s expedition to follow two separate routes, focusing on procedural science and gathering traditional knowledge and island names
BOTSWANA – The National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP) today launched its annual crossing of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which will run until early September. This is the first time NGOWP will be launching two expedition routes simultaneously: an eastern route, from Seronga to Daonara, and a western route, from Mopiri to Maun. The NGOWP expedition team has been crossing the Delta since 2010.
In addition to the expedition’s core goal – collecting baseline data to compare ecosystem health year after year – the NGOWP expedition team will also document traditional place and island names, with the aim of creating traditional language and place name maps. This effort will be led by local Batswana storytellers.
The Okavango Delta, is one of the most biodiverse places in Africa and was designated the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage site. Every year, the NGOWP completes annual transects to build a better scientific picture of the Delta and its source waters in Angola, which are not formally protected.
The NGOWP team will be collecting data on biodiversity, human impacts, hydrology, and ecological health by repeating previous surveys, as well as introducing new cutting-edge monitoring methodologies. Every year, the team adds to the data already collected; having this baseline allows the team to compare results, and detect ecosystem disturbances that otherwise might go unnoticed. In addition to routine monitoring of water quality, other scientific activities include sampling environmental DNA; geo-tagging all bird, livestock, and wildlife sightings; and recording habitat soundscapes at night.
“The Okavango Delta crossings are our annual check-ups on the health of this remote and wild landscape. We must continually monitor and react to ecosystem changes, because the water security of a million people and the world’s largest-remaining elephant population depends on it,” said Dr. Steve Boyes, National Geographic Explorer and director of the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project. “Guided by respecting our elders and their knowledge, on this expedition we will be listening as much as we can to learn the names of the islands, the history, and the traditions, because this must become what everyone knows of the Okavango Delta.”
This year’s western route will have a specific focus on engaging with local communities to gather traditional knowledge and place names, which are part of an oral tradition of geographic knowledge that has been passed down for generations. These efforts will inform a local language map that reflects these culturally significant and sacred sites and aims to preserve these oral traditions for future generations.
“The Delta’s Indigenous People and local communities, along with their cultural diversity and traditional knowledge, are what makes this ecosystem special. Documenting their knowledge is an important part of honoring the conservation practices they’ve been doing for centuries,” said Thalefang Charles, renowned journalist from Botswana who will be leading storytelling efforts for the Western expedition route. “Merging traditional knowledge with modern scientific research gives us the best chance in safeguarding the greater Okavango Basin’s life-giving waters, its abundance of wildlife, and some of the most ancient cultures on our planet.”
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