Flora and fauna
The ecosystems of Moremi Reserve are amongst the richest and most diverse in Africa. Thanks to generally effective protection over the years, they have also been relatively undisturbed by man. Now with wildlife tourism thriving around the park as well as in the private concessions, we can be really optimistic about its future. The regime of conservation supported by money from benign tourism is gaining ground. As I write this, rhino have been reintroduced into Moremi; the first to be sent back into the wild areas of northern Botswana since poaching wiped them out.
There are over 1,000 species of plants recognised in Moremi, yet large tracts of the reserve are dominated by just one: mopane, Colophospermum mopane
. This covers the aptly named Mopane Tongue and parts of Chief's Island. Because the park has had effective protection for years, and the soils are relatively rich but badly drained, much of this forest is beautiful, tall 'cathedral' mopane – so-called for the gracefully arching branches which resemble the high arches of a Gothic cathedral. You'll often find large areas here where there are virtually no other species of trees represented.
Beside the many waterways you'll find extensive floodplains, and some lovely stretches of classic riparian forest with its characteristically wide range of tree and bush species.
Laced through the areas of mopane you'll also find open areas dotted with camelthorn trees (Acacia erioloba
) and sandveld communities following the sandy beds of ancient watercourses, dominated by silver terminalia, Terminalia sericea
, wild seringa, Burkea Africana
and Kalahari apple-leaf, Lonchocarpus nelsii
. You'll find much, much more detail on this vegetation in Veronica Roodt's essential Trees and Shrubs of the Okavango Delta.
Moremi protects as dense and diverse a population of animals and birds as you'd expect to find in one of the Africa best wildlife reserves. With the reintroduction of rhino, you can see all the big five here, and a lot more besides.
Elephant and buffalo occur here year-round in large numbers, and you're likely to see blue wildebeest, Burchell's zebra, impala, kudu, tsessebe, red lechwe, waterbuck, reedbuck, giraffe, common duiker, bushbuck, steenbok, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey throughout the park. Eland, sable and roan antelope also range across the park but are less common, as they are elsewhere in Africa. Sitatunga live deep in the swamps.
Lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena all have thriving populations here. Moremi is central to wild dog, which range widely across most of northern Botswana.
Both side-striped and black-backed jackal occur – though the latter are more common. Brown hyena probably occur, but relatively rarely and only in the drier areas with lower densities of the other large predators. Similarly, bat-eared fox are found here, though not so commonly as in Botswana's drier areas. There is a wide variety of mongooses found here, including the banded, dwarf, slender, large grey, water and Selous' mongoose. Meanwhile in the water, Cape, clawless and spotted-necked otters are often glimpsed though seldom seen clearly.
Serval, caracal, aardwolf and aardvark are found all over the park, though are only occasionally seen due to their largely nocturnal habits. Pangolin are also found here, and seem to be slightly less rare than in other areas of their range.
Although night drives aren't allowed within the reserve itself, some of the camps near North Gate will finish their afternoon drives outside the park, and hence do short night drives back to camp. Then you have a chance to see scrub hares, spring hares, lesser bushbabies, porcupines, genets (small-spotted and large-spotted), civets, African wildcats and honey badgers. Black and white striped polecats are also nocturnal, though very seldom seen.
Up until 2001 rhino had been absent due to poaching, though in November of that year the first white rhino were reintroduced into the Mombo concession, in northeast Moremi. They're now free to roam, but they are effectively constrained to Chief's Island.
Moremi boasts over 400 bird species, a great variety, which are often patchily distributed in association with particular habitats; though visiting any area, the sheer number of different species represented here will strike you as amazing.
Although there are no birds that are truly endemic to Botswana, the Okavango is a hugely important wetland for many species, amongst which are a number of rarities worth noting here. Top of the Okavango's list of 'specialities' is the slaty egret. Expect to find this in shallow, reedy back-waters and pans. Besides the Okavango, this rare egret is only resident in the quieter corners of the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, and the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia. To identify it look for its overall slate-grey colouring, except for its lower legs and feet which are yellow, as are its eyes and some of its face, while the front of its neck is a rufous red. (The less uncommon black egret lacks the yellow on the legs and face, or the rufous neck.)
Much easier to spot are magnificent wattled cranes which can be seen in the delta fairly readily, usually in pairs or small groups wandering about wet grasslands or shallow floodplains in search of fish and small amphibians and reptiles.
For keen birdwatchers, other specials here include brown firefinch, lesser jacana, coppery-tailed coucal, Bradfield's hornbill, pink-throated longclaw and the inconspicuous chirping cisticola.