Letter from the Delta

What seems like a lifetime ago, when I wrote my last letter from Penwith, I remember saying something to the effect that my next communication would come from the banks of the Okavango. Well, here it is, though not exactly what you might call from the banks because I'm on an island out in the Delta.

The lodge we re staying in consists of a number of small bamboo huts with en suite facilities (didn't like to ask where the drains went - well didn t need to really) and a large open thatched bar and dining area. All in all, it s a most idyllic spot, even if it is the mosquito capital of the world.

The Delta has only just started to fill up with the summer rains that have just arrived from Angola, and the water will continue to rise until about June or July. How Namibia s plans to extract water from the Okavango River will affect the future of the Delta is a matter for much debate at the moment.

Yesterday afternoon we took a motor boat ride out into the lagoons and channels that make up the Delta. The narrow channels among the papyrus, which grows to about eight feet or more, are kept clear by the many people who live on the numerous small islands growing such crops as bananas and sugar cane. These channels wind endlessly through the Delta until they suddenly emerge into large, water-lily-filled lagoons. The water is the colour of black tea and, as the boats churn it up, there is an ever-present smell of stagnant water - not a wise place to take a dip, even if it weren t for the crocodiles

Little Egret
Illustration: Sarah McCartney

Despite the fact that our boats were quite noisy, much of the bird life seemed inured to their presence. The most obvious bird, both because of its size and its numbers, was the African fish eagle. At one juncture we saw 11 perched together in one spot, and several of them continued to fish successfully as we sat and watched. Other birds which I managed to put names to were pied and malachite kingfishers, blacksmith plovers, cormorants, pelicans, little egrets, wattled cranes, sacred ibis and, with apologies to you bird enthusiasts, many more which I could not identify. On this trip we saw no "animal life", although we could hear the hippos somewhere out in the reeds.

The following morning, we set off in thick mist to meet our guides for the day who would take us deeper into the Delta in the local wooden dugout canoes called makoras. After the motor boats, the silence experienced in the canoes was wonderful. Again, there was a profusion of bird life, but today we were hoping to see some things with four legs. The hippos and crocodiles continued to evade us - probably no bad thing when you re sitting only about six inches out of the water.

On one of the yet unflooded islands, we found recent evidence of elephants, numerous lechwe (deer) and a large, recently dug burrow which we were told was the handiwork of an aardvark. But the treat of the whole trip was the sighting of a pack of wild dogs, albeit at a distance. There seemed to be about ten, although it was difficult to be precise because of the tall grasses. The dogs were also having problems seeing us clearly, and several of them kept jumping up to get a better view of us over the tops of the grass.

So we've almost reached the end of our short stay in the Delta, but hopefully it won t be my last. All we have to do now is to find our way back across the bush and locate the road back into Namibia. However, the fun isn t quite over yet, as we have to drive through the Mahango game park on the way home, and you never know what we might encounter there.
Jane Richardson

Taking a break from Penwith Branch business, Jane s VSO work has already included some hair-raising experiences. We anticipate her return - crocodiles permitting - in 1988.


The Trust's Council is considering the possibility of publishing Wild Cornwall as a newspaper rather than a magazine. If you have strong views on this (for or against), or on any aspect of your magazine, please write to me at Trust HQ.
Mark Nicholson

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