Monday, 3 August 2009

The Boteti River!

The Boteti river last flowed properly in 1989 (although some people even say as far back as 1985). Since this time there have only been a number of small natural water seepages within the riverbed as well as a number of well points controlled by local cattle farmers. These water points were the only source of water within the Makgadikgadi during the dry season and were relied upon by wildlife and livestock.

The two safari camps along the river, Meno A Kwena and Leroo La Tau started to pump water for the wildlife and then 14 further artificial waterholes were established during 2007. All of these waterholes were vital for the survival of the wildlife, not least the zebra population, as they were not able to access much of the riverbed after the fence was completed in 2004.

During November 2008 the Boteti river flowed into the National park once more as it passed through the fence just above Meno A Kwena. This was the final push of the flood water that had originated as rain in the highlands of Angola and it didn’t flow much further.

Now, in July and August of 2009, we can say that the Boteti is a river once more. Since the flood water from Angola reached the pan handle of the Okavango Delta in early 2009 we have been eagerly waiting to see how far it would reach this year. This flood water was topped up by a significant quantity of rainwater within Botswana from a good wet season here. This was further augmented by the heavy unseasonal rainfall which fell in early June. The water level in Maun is still slowly rising to heights not seen in more than 20 years and this water then pushes on to flow down the Boteti river.

The river flowed into the park once again around the 20th of July and has since been progressing along the dry riverbed at between 1.5km and 4km a day and is now less than 2km from the fence which crosses the riverbed North of Khumaga.

Within the next few days the river will reach the hippo pools and the resident hippo population will have fresh river water for the first time in 20 years. No longer will they have to rely on the stagnant pools which have been their home.

The zebras will have access to a large body fresh water, their historical reason for migrating west, without the need to congregate around 3 or 4 of the artificial waterholes when the water dries up in the eastern Makgadikgadi. It’s a shame that there are not 5000 or more zebra here in the riverbed to meet the river as it flows once more.

The crocodiles which live in caves near to the artificial waterholes will have a fresh watercourse to patrol which will help them to hunt. Do they even remember what fish tastes like?

Outside of the fence the cattle farmers will no longer have to pump water everyday to meet the needs of their livestock. The residents of Khumaga village will be able to fish once more. Khumaga was originally established as a fishing village long before the river dried.

The river does cause a few logistical problems though. As I’m sure you’re all aware, electricity and water don’t go well together and so there will be problems maintaining the effectiveness of the fence.

Also it is going to make driving into the National park a challenge. It may be possible to find shallow crossing points but until the river has passed through it is impossible to know how deep the water will be. I may have to look for another site to camp on the national park side of the river.

This is a very exciting time though and it is amazing to watch the river returning as it flows over areas not covered with water for so long. There are shoals of small fish at the head of the water and there are bubbles everywhere as air pockets in the sand get filled by the incoming water. I am expecting the river to flow in front of Leroo la Tau later this week and I will post some pictures to the website gallery when I am next in Maun.

Its back to work for me as I rush to complete some fieldwork before the river cuts me off from the park.

Till next time.