National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project
The founding objective of the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP), a partnership between the Wild Bird Trust and the National Geographic Society, was to explore and survey the least-known, most inaccessible parts of the Okavango River Basin. The NGOWP works in close collaboration with the governments of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana and addresses key targets of the National Action Plan for the Sustainable Management of the Cubango/Okavango River Basin.
About the project
In 2014, the NGOWP launched with a commitment to help conserve the iconic Okavango Delta by protecting the head waters upon which it depends. The first task was to complete an urgently needed survey of biodiversity and wildlife populations as well as to gather important baseline data on water quality and flow rates in order to develop models using biological indicators such as wetland birds and aquatic vegetation combined with hydrological data. This survey took place in 2015 and 2016 across the Cubango-Cuito-Okavango and Cuando river basins primarily in Angola where little to nothing is known of the biodiversity. In 2015 we completed an unbroken transect from the source of the Cuito River in Angola to the sands of the Kalahari in Lake Xau, Botswana – 2560km in 121 days. In 2016 a transect was completed on the Cuanavale River from its source to the confluence of the Cuito River. In 2017 work is underway to once again conduct an unbroken transect of the Cubango River from its source in Angola to the confluence of the Cuito River on the border of Namibia and Angola. 2018 will see the team apply its tested methods for river expeditions on the Cuando River, and thereby completing full-length surveys of all of the major rivers which form the Okavango River Basin.
In order to perform these surveys the NGOWP works in coordination with the governments of all 3 countries which share the waters of the Okavango watershed; Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. A key focus is the sustainable management of the catchment system for the benefit of both biodiversity and the local communities that depend on these pristine watersheds. Our discoveries have been amazing and the work continues on the project timeline until the end of 2018.
There are growing threats to the delta’s source waters, including the extraction of natural resources and new development projects throughout the basin that have been spurred mostly by population growth along the rivers. Annual burns by local communities returning to the catchment are already causing desertification along the forest edges adjacent to riparian areas. In addition, slash-and-burn farming and increasing charcoal production along vehicle tracks are opening more forest gaps.
Animals are also at risk. The use of non-traditional fishing methods such as gill nets is decimating fish populations, the bushmeat trade is diminishing wildlife populations, and unregulated logging is destroying large tracts of Miombo forest and woodland that is home to many species. As seen during the NGOWP’s regular visits to Angola over the last two years, these threats continue to grow. If these threats are unregulated and unmitigated in the long term, they may result in irreversible environmental breakdown and the consequent loss of their benefits to Angola and the world.
The objective of NGOWP is to ensure that the world understands the importance of the ecological services provided by the Okavango wetland ecosystem.
Okavango Wilderness Project
20 Loch Ave
The core team members that work on most expeditions to support the biodiversity and survey teams, film crews, and the participation of government officials are listed below.
Steve Boyes: Founder and scientific director of the Wild Bird Trust. Fellow at the National Geographic Society. Steve is the NGOWP project director and leader.
John Hilton: Commercial director of the Wild Bird Trust. John oversees the finances and logistics of the NGOWP and networks among the partners and patrons in the three countries.
Paul Skelton: Science director for NGOWP and head of ichthyology.
Adjany Costa: Assistant project director for the NGOWP. Adjany is a local Angolan scientist who has a master’s degree in environmental science and specializes in ichthyology.
Jer Thorp: Software artist, writer, founder of the Office for Creative Research, and a National Geographic Society Fellow.
Shah Selbe: Conservation technologist, National Geographic Society Fellow, and expert working to implement innovative approaches to environmental problems.
Chris Boyes: Expeditions director overseeing all teams and scientists on expeditions.
Water Setlabosha, Gobonamang “GB” Kgeto, Thopho “Tom” Retiyo, Kgalalelo “KG” Mpetsang, Khunowa “Chaps” Mathare, Leilamang “Schnapps” Kgetho: All local Ba’yei polers from Botswana whose guidance and skills are invaluable for all water-based expeditions.
Neil Gelinas: Senior producer, cameraman, and editor for National Geographic Studios.
Goetz Neef: Research and collections manager for the project, with scientific expertise in entomology and ichthyology.
Kyle Gordon: Expeditions manager on site, ensuring all camp logistics are in place.