National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project launches two expeditions simultaneously for its annual crossing of the Okavango Delta – National Geographic Society Newsroom

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This year’s expedition will follow two distinct routes, focusing on procedural science and bringing together 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 that NGOWP will simultaneously launch two expedition routes: 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 2015.

In addition to the main objective of the expedition – to collect baseline data to compare the health of the ecosystem year after year – the NGOWP expedition team will also document traditional place and island names, in the purpose of creating maps of traditional languages ​​and place names. This effort will be led by local Batswana storytellers.

The Okavango Delta, home to a million people and one of the most biodiverse places in Africa, has been designated the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each year, NGOWP conducts annual transects to build a better scientific picture of the delta and its spring waters in Angola, which are not officially protected.

The NGOWP team will collect data on biodiversity, human impacts, hydrology and ecological health by repeating previous surveys, as well as introducing new state-of-the-art monitoring methodologies. Each year, the team supplements the data already collected; having this baseline allows the team to compare results and detect disturbances in the ecosystem that might otherwise go unnoticed. Besides routine water quality monitoring, other scientific activities include environmental DNA sampling; geotag all bird, livestock and wildlife sightings; and record habitat soundscapes at night.

“The crossings of the Okavango Delta are our annual check-ups on the health of this remote and wild landscape. We must continually monitor and respond to changes in the ecosystem 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 respect for our elders and their knowledge, on this expedition we will listen as much as possible to learn the names of the islands, the history and the traditions, because this must become what everyone knows about the delta of the Okavango.”

This year’s western route will place particular emphasis on engaging with local communities to gather traditional knowledge and place names, which are part of an oral tradition of geographic knowledge passed down from generation to generation. 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 indigenous peoples and local communities of the delta, along with their cultural diversity and traditional knowledge, are what make this ecosystem special. Documenting their knowledge is an important part of honoring the conservation practices they have practiced for centuries,said Thalefang Charles, a renowned journalist from Botswana who will lead storytelling efforts for the expedition’s route west. “Merging traditional knowledge with modern scientific research gives us the best chance of safeguarding the life-giving waters of the great Okavango Basin, its abundance of wildlife, and some of the oldest cultures on our planet.

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