Moremi Wildlife Reserve
Moremi, chief of the Tswana people, alarmed in 1963 at increasing loss of wildlife resources on tribal lands from both native and white safari hunters, convinced his people to set aside the beginnings of the spectacular Moremi Wildlife Reserve—a courageous step requiring many families to move from their traditional lands. It is one of the few instances in Africa or anywhere of a community voluntarily dispossessing itself of its territorial birthright. A debt of gratitude is owed to them and to the family of the tribal chief whose name it carries, as well as to the vision of conservationists Robert and June Kaye who helped them.
Moremi is one of the most beautiful and rich wildlife reserves on the African continent, covering the eastern corner of the great Okavango Delta along with Chief’s Island, a later addition,which is a 62-by-9-mile (100 × 15-km) roadless wilderness of forest and savannah between the Boro and Santantabe rivers. Together, these make up a combined total of 1,160 square miles(3,000 km2), the only officially protected areas of the Delta.
Moremi’s varied habitat, ranging from near desert in the east to permanent swamp on the Delta’s edge, accommodates an extraordinary variety of species.
Elephants graze in the mopane forests, snapping off branches with loud cracks that announce their presence for long distances. Hippos graze and crocodiles hunt in and alongside its rivers,and sometimes along the bottom of its clear waters. Marsh-dwelling lechwe and rare sitatunga antelopes retire into the reeds. Herds of impala, preferring drier ranges, feed on green grasses and leap lightly between small grassy islands, high-jumping 10 feet (3 m) and broad-jumping 24 feet (7+ m) if necessary.
Lions on the plains find midday shade under isolated tree “islands” (where lionesses sometimes hide newborn cubs) and prey on unwary duikers and other smaller antelopes, as doleopards, which usually hunt alone, often at dusk. Packs of wild dogs go after any likely opportunity that presents itself.
Hundreds of stately sacred and glossy ibis colonize heronries at Xakanasca and Xhobega. Sodo dozens of such long-legged waders as marabou storks, great white, rufous-bellied and purple herons, and yellow-billed egrets, which gather in cacophonous clusters in tops of fig thickets.Tiny paradise flycatchers with long bronzy tails and neon-blue eye rings weave intricate nests from October to January, and radiantly-plumaged carmine bee-eaters dig shoulder-to-shoulder nest burrows in riverbanks.
Masses of lily pads and arrowhead blooms cover whole sections of lagoons where African jacanas trip lightly and handsome pygmy geese open their own pathways.
“Veterinary” barriers—set up to protect domestic cattle from foot-and-mouth disease (though no one knows whether this is helpful, and it has harmfully disrupted traditional migratory patterns)— wind from north to south on one side of the reserve but otherwise there are no fences, and animals wander freely to and from Chobe National Park to the northeast, which Moremi adjoins. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 elephants roam the Delta and Chobe. Large numbers of these, including family groups of all ages, are commonly seen, especially during dry season, splashing through watery sections of the floodplains. Large herds, sometimes hundreds of buffalo, with graceful impalas, tsessebes, kudus, zebras, and waterbucks, can be seen on open grasslands between wetland and forest fringes.
Most of Botswana’s 164 mammal species are here as well as a remarkably diverse array of 540 bird species, 157 reptiles, and 80 fish.
Best times are May–October dry season when creatures seeking water are more visible (October can be hot, dusty, and windy) or, for birders especially interested in seeing migratory species from the north, November–April.
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