Exploring Ecotourism In The Okavango Delta
Ecotourism is thriving in the Okavango Delta. Gillian McLaren explores two camps in Botswana, Africa that offer active travelers unique sustainable eco-friendly travel experiences. Uplifting local communities and environments for travel on the good.
Xigera Camp in the Okavango Delta in the Moremi Game Reserve
We sweep low over Xigera Camp in the Mack Air Caravan, yet can only just see the nine tents, so well hidden under the leafy canopy. We are deep in the Okavango Delta, far from the nearest local village, in Moremi Game Reserve. Established in 1986 by Wilderness Safaris, Xigera Camp practices the principles advocated by Fair Trade Tourism and Botswana Tourism’s EcoTourism Certification programme.
The camp on Paradise Island is surrounded by channels of water and lush vegetation. You can explore the delta by water or on land. Moreover, the bridge to the dining and lounge areas is built on stilts with wooden platforms- which lowers the camp’s impact on the bush and blends with the surroundings.
A group of impala drink from the clear, rooibos-tea coloured water. Elephants browse nearby and monkeys watch
us from one of the giant African ebony trees. It is paradise, being so close to nature. Sometimes a leopard walks on the wooden decks of the camp. We’re escorted back to our tent each evening, after our delectable meal. From my tent, I spot an abundance of birds (including the much sought-after Pel’s fishing owl, which nests nearby). A troop of baboons that saunter past and ignore me, as well as kudu on the open flood plain.
The Tented Camps Use Eco-Friendly Features
A delightful feature of the tent is its outdoor shower, where eco-friendly amenities are provided so as not to pollute the precious water of the area.
The drinking water is purified from the channels, using reverse osmosis. Each guest receives a personal steel water
bottle, with their name on it. As well as minimising plastic waste and cutting transport costs, the bottle is a delightful souvenir. Electricity is provided by solar panels and a back-up generator for Xigera Camp. It’s also environmentally clean and does not make the noise of a generator. So it is always pleasantly tranquil in camp.
A trip through the channels in a mokoro is the highlight of your visit to the Okavango Delta. You may spot letchwe and if you’re lucky, the sitatunga. Our Okavango-born guide skilfully opens our eyes to the wonder of animals, from water skimmers and tiny reed frogs to nesting fish eagles and towering giraffes. Mokoro are made of fibre glass instead of wood, which preserves the ancient trees.
Sending Waste Packing
This is a delicate ecosystem, so the camp does everything it can to tread lightly on this sensitive space. They separate the waste into organic, glass, plastic, tin and paper. Then they bury and cover the organic material, so animals won’t dig it up. Lastly, they send the waste for packing and flying for Maun, where it is recycled.
The camp sources local products for food and items to maintain the lodge infrastructure. This minimises the carbon footprint of the camp and supports Botswana trade. The camp imports wine and fresh products from South Africa. I’m impressed by their sustainable effort to facilitate staff members’ desire to improve Wilderness Safaris, through ongoing education and training.
Obonye Baitseng is a vibrant, dynamic woman who was recruited from her village in the Delta. “I can fulfill my ambition to become a camp manager here,” she tells me confidently. “I began as a room cleaner, worked diligently and hard, and then was promoted to head of housekeeping.” She now studies via the company’s online training site, and receives instructions from professional trainers that work with staff onsite.
Obonye and all staff members understand the eco-friendly polices at Xigera Camp, and strive to educate their families and friends when they return to their communities. “My family is good at separating rubbish and we are careful with water. Our village avoids littering and tries to take care of our fragile ecosystem,” says Obonye, who also tells me that all staff members at the camp support not only their own children. But, also members of their extended family.
How Does The Selinda Reserve support eco- tourism?
To my surprise it gets very dry during some months of the year, at the Selinda Reserve. Just before the water moves in from the wet highlands of Angola. This reminds us that we need to ensure water is used wisely here, and in Africa in general. Facing the Selinda Spillway, part of the eastern Okavango system where the Kwando, Savuti and Linyanti Rivers meet. Great Plains Conservation’s Selinda Camp has nine luxury tented villas, each with a private wooden viewing deck.
Flood plains that surround the camp have a variety of game and over 300 bird species. So you don’t even have to leave camp to see elephant herds, big cats and numerous species of antelope. This includes, letchwe because they drink from the permanent water. The Borassus palms look like silhouettes against the vibrant colours in the sky. Moreover, each tent has solar panels, to heat the water for a shower or bath, with biodegradable amenities.
The camp almost completely solar-powered, like its sister camps Selinda Explorers Camp and Zarafa. The villas have thatch covers made from locally produced grass. In addition, the walkways at Selinda have no paving and are bare with soil, which doesn’t affect the environment. Their impact on the environment is eco-friendly and will have no imprint. The tracks also show you which animals have walked through the camp area, every morning. Even better, outside my tent is the favourite resting spot of an old bull elephant.
Powerful Advocates For Sustainable Travel
There is now a wide variety of game and birds, with a base for conservationists and scientists. This base works to protect many species, especially elephants and big cats. The Great Plains Conservation founders – award-winning filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers in Residence, Dereck and Beverly Joubert – have been powerful advocates internationally for the dire need to conserve these precious flagship species. Superb photos taken by Beverley can be seen in the tents and communal areas of the camp.
Visiting camps like these, consistently observe recognised sustainable tourism practices. Therefore, they provide a life-changing safari experience in remote, fragile areas.
If you want to experience unique travel on the good destinations then don’t miss James Cannon Boyce’s walk in Kenya: http://www.longevitylive.com/live-mindfully/walking-maison-story-maasai/