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Location Botswana, Ngamiland
Central coordinates 22o 45.00' East  19o 25.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4ii, A4iii
Area 1,900,000 ha
Altitude 900 - 1,000m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

BirdLife Botswana (Partner Designate)



Site description The Okavango Delta, lying between 18°20’S and 20°00’S, and 21°50’E and 23°55’E, is undoubtedly the most important wetland in southern Africa. An extensive wetland system in northern Botswana, in the semi-arid Kalahari sandveld region, it is the largest wetland (and largest Ramsar Site) in southern Africa and has a greater range of habitats than any other wetland in the region. The Okavango river enters Botswana from Namibia as a single meandering channel, following a minor north-west to south-east rift that forms the ‘Panhandle’ of the delta. The delta is formed where a low gradient (1:3,500) and dense vegetation cause the water in the river to fan out, filling an extensive flood-plain and saturating the sandy soils. One fault (Gumare), running north-east to south-west, limits the northern end of the wetland, and two parallel faults (Kunyere and Thamalakane) the southern end. Where the river crosses the Gumare fault, it splits into four channels: the Selinda or Mogwegana, flowing north-east into the Linyanti river, the Ngoqa/Mwanachira (east), the Jao/Boro (south-east) and, in the west, the Thaoge (south). At the northern tip of Chief’s Island, in Moremi Game Reserve, the Ngoqa–Mwanachira splits again into the Kwai system (east) and the Mboroga–Gomoti–Santantadibe system (south-east).The flow patterns of the delta are highly dynamic, due to the build-up of silt in river channels. Currently, due to a series of years with lower-than-average rainfall, flow levels in the delta are very low, but the main flow is in the Ngoqa–Mwanachira–Mogogelo system. When flows are high, water from the delta reaches the Thamalakane river, which flows through Maun and then into the Boteti river, and the Nhabe and Kunyere rivers, which flow south-west into Lake Ngami. (Lake Ngami, whilst an integral part of the Okavango Delta, is treated as a separate IBA, BW004.)The main habitats in the delta are open clear water (rich in aquatic plants), permanent swamp dominated by papyrus Cyperus and Miscanthus, seasonal swamps dominated by reed Phragmites, and river flood-plain dominated by grasses, which grades into areas of dry land with trees, including higher sandveld areas such as the sandveld tongue of Moremi Game Reserve which is dominated by mopane woodland. There is a complex mosaic, within these main habitats, of lagoons, swamp vegetation, channels, islands, seasonally flooded depressions or pans, riparian woodland and drier woodland and grasslands. The delta has a diversity of trees, from semi-aquatic figs Ficus and wild date palms Phoenix, to knobthorn Acacia and fan palms Hyphaene on the marginal flood-plains, to the drier mopane and mixed Acacia woodlands.The main land-uses are tourism, sport- and subsistence hunting, recreational and artisanal fishing, cutting of grass, sedges and reeds and gathering of veld products (plants and insects) for food, arrow poison and basketry; human settlements (some inside the buffalo fence), cattle-grazing outside the buffalo fence and some arable production occur in the north-west and south-west. Under a newly introduced land-use plan, the majority of revenues generated from tourism and hunting are channelled to local authorities and communities.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 2 for key species. The delta is poor in nutrients and, in general, bird densities are not high, but its great size, overall richness of bird species and high numbers of individual birds make it of international significance. A total of 450 species of bird have been recorded in the delta—the avifauna is similar to Kafue Flats in Zambia.Of particular note are breeding and visiting Grus carunculatus and breeding Egretta vinaceigula. The delta is the most important breeding site in the world for the latter, very restricted species: a breeding colony of hundreds has been reported, and there was a colony of 50–60 pairs mixed with Ardeola rufiventris in reedbeds Phragmites north of Xaxaba on the Boro river during the early 1990s.A wide variety of other wetland birds occur in the delta, notably Pelecanus onocrotanus and P. rufescens, 18 species of heron (Ardeidae) and, in the ‘Panhandle’, breeding Rynchops flavirostris. There are significant mixed breeding colonies of commoner species of heron, together with Leptoptilos crumeniferus and Mycteria ibis, at Gcodikwe, Xakanaxa (Cacanika) and Gcobega. Large mixed roosts of herons, egrets, storks and ibis are known at Xakanaxa and Gcodikwe in Ficus trees (up to 1,000 birds) and of herons and egrets at Xaxaba in reeds Phragmites (up to 2,000 birds). Many species occur in numbers exceeding 0.5% of the relevant population. There are good numbers overall, but not exceptionally high densities, of many species of Anatidae, including Anas erythrorhyncha, Dendrocygna viduata, Plectropterus gambensis and Thalassornis leuconotus, but only Nettapus auritus has a major stronghold for southern Africa in the delta. Falco chicquera has an important resident population, whilst F. vespertinus and F. amurensis occur as Palearctic visitors in good numbers. Other notable species include Vanellus crassirostris, Centropus cupreicaudus, Scotopelia peli, more than 3 million summering and roosting Hirundo rustica, Turdoides leucopygius, Phyllastrephus terrestris, Macronyx ameliae and Acrocephalus rubescens (these last two species at their southernmost limit in Africa), Laniarius bicolor and Ploceus xanthopterus.

Non-bird biodiversity: Over 1,000 plant species occur in the delta, one of which, an orchid Habenaria pasmithii, was believed to be endemic to the area, but it has now been found at another site, in Zambia. There is much concern about the decline of many of the delta’s large mammals, although populations of Loxodonta africana (EN) are increasing.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Fulvous Whistling-duck Dendrocygna bicolor winter  4,500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus resident  200 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus winter  350 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Pygmy-goose Nettapus auritus resident  6,200-15,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
African Pygmy-goose Nettapus auritus winter  40,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Ciconia episcopus resident  500 breeding pairs  A4i  Not Recognised 
African Openbill Anastomus lamelligerus winter  1,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Saddlebill Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis resident  100 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Saddlebill Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis winter  1,500-2,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Marabou Leptoptilos crumenifer resident  300-400 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Marabou Leptoptilos crumenifer winter  5,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Spoonbill Platalea alba breeding  500 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Egretta garzetta resident  4,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Not Recognised 
Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula resident  100-1,000 breeding pairs  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula winter  2,000 individuals  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
White-backed Night-heron Calherodius leuconotus resident  85 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax breeding  1,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides resident  10,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Rufous-bellied Heron Ardeola rufiventris resident  200 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Rufous-bellied Heron Ardeola rufiventris winter  500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Goliath Heron Ardea goliath resident  700 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea resident  170 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Great White Egret Ardea alba resident  2,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca resident  500 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus winter  2,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Darter Anhinga rufa resident  100 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
African Darter Anhinga rufa winter  300 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni winter  200-2,000 individuals  A1, A4ii  Least Concern 
Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus winter  1,000 individuals  A4ii  Near Threatened 
Dickinson's Kestrel Falco dickinsoni resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Amur Falcon Falco amurensis winter  1,000 individuals  A4ii  Least Concern 
Corncrake Crex crex winter  present  A1  Least Concern 
Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata resident  1,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata winter  5,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus resident  100-500 breeding pairs  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus winter  1,000-2,000 individuals  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis resident  200 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis winter  500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola resident  500 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola winter  1,000-1,600 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni winter  2,000 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris resident  100 breeding pairs  medium  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris winter  200 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
Burchell's Sandgrouse Pterocles burchelli resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Coppery-tailed Coucal Centropus cupreicaudus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Racquet-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Bradfield's Hornbill Lophoceros bradfieldi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica winter  3,000,000 individuals  A4ii  Least Concern 
Chirping Cisticola Cisticola pipiens resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Barred Wren-warbler Camaroptera fasciolata resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black-lored Babbler Turdoides melanops resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Angola Babbler Turdoides hartlaubii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Sharp-tailed Glossy-starling Lamprotornis acuticaudus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Burchell's Glossy-starling Lamprotornis australis resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Meves's Glossy-starling Lamprotornis mevesii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyanus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Kalahari Scrub-robin Erythropygia paena resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-headed Black-chat Myrmecocichla arnoti resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia talatala resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Brown Firefinch Lagonosticta nitidula resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds breeding  50,000-99,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  100,000-499,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2012 high unfavourable high
Population
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Agricultural expansion and intensification annual & perennial non-timber crops - shifting agriculture happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Agricultural expansion and intensification annual & perennial non-timber crops - small-holder farming likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Agricultural expansion and intensification livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - agro-industry grazing, ranching or farmin happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Climate change and severe weather storms and floods happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Energy production and mining mining and quarrying likely in long term (beyond 4 years) small area/few individuals (<10%) very rapid to severe deterioration low
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance work and other activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Invasive and other problematic species and genes invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Over-exploitation, persecution and control of species hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - intentional use (species being assessed is the target) happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Over-exploitation, persecution and control of species hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - persecution/control happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Residential and commercial development tourism and recreation areas happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis Saddlebill 23000 22563 unknown 99 favourable
Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis Saddlebill 10000 7643 unknown 77 near favourable
Platalea alba African Spoonbill 5678 5234 mature individuals 93 favourable
Ardeola ralloides Squacco Heron 23970 22563 mature individuals 95 favourable
Ardea goliath Goliath Heron 34900 23760 individuals 69 unfavourable
Ardea alba Great White Egret 23456 20562 unknown 88 near favourable
Pelecanus onocrotalus Great White Pelican 30000 26754 mature individuals 90 near favourable

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying bird species  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  high 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Moremi Game Reserve 496,830 protected area contained by site 482,999  
NG/10 Wildlife Management Area 119,628 protected area contained by site 119,628  
NG/11 Wildlife Management Area 456,231 protected area contained by site 456,231  
NG/12 Wildlife Management Area 109,193 protected area contained by site 109,193  
NG/13 Wildlife Management Area 293,800 protected area contained by site 286,683  
NG/17 Wildlife Management Area 6,200 protected area contained by site 6,488  
NG/18 Wildlife Management Area 1,744 protected area contained by site 179,536  
NG/19 Wildlife Management Area 17,000 protected area contained by site 16,389  
NG/20 Wildlife Management Area 164,700 protected area contained by site 164,459  
NG/21 Wildlife Management Area 22,900 protected area contained by site 23,006  
NG/22 Wildlife Management Area 57,100 protected area contained by site 61,011  
NG/23A Wildlife Management Area 88,870 protected area contained by site 88,870  
NG/23B Wildlife Management Area 35,084 protected area contained by site 35,084  
NG/24 Wildlife Management Area 58,600 protected area contained by site 58,412  
NG/25 Wildlife Management Area 60,200 protected area contained by site 61,701  
NG/26 Wildlife Management Area 173,600 protected area contained by site 169,320  
NG/27A Wildlife Management Area 24,500 protected area contained by site 25,064  
NG/27B Wildlife Management Area 15,800 protected area contained by site 15,341  
NG/28 Wildlife Management Area 482,999 protected area contained by site 482,999  
NG/29 Wildlife Management Area 184,700 protected area contained by site 192,347  
NG/30 Wildlife Management Area 95,000 protected area contained by site 93,720  
NG/31 Wildlife Management Area 21,700 protected area overlaps with site 10,876  
NG/32 Wildlife Management Area 122,200 protected area contained by site 122,334  
NG/33 Wildlife Management Area 6,100 protected area contained by site 5,977  
NG/34 Wildlife Management Area 85,900 protected area contained by site 85,621  
NG/35 Wildlife Management Area 395,600 protected area contained by site 395,600  
NG/36 Wildlife Management Area 8,890 protected area contained by site 8,890  
NG/37 Wildlife Management Area 131,857 protected area contained by site 131,857  
NG/41 Wildlife Management Area 217,700 protected area contained by site 220,825  
NG/6 Wildlife Management Area 18,430 protected area contained by site 18,430  
NG/7 Wildlife Management Area 291,800 protected area contained by site 291,800  
NG/8 Wildlife Management Area 483,700 protected area contained by site 483,700  
NG/9 Wildlife Management Area 838,800 protected area contained by site 838,800  
Okavango Delta Wildlife Management Area 1,388,000 protected area contained by site 1,388,000  
Okavango Delta System Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 6,864,000 protected area contains site 5,300,000  

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Shrubland   55%
Grassland   44%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
fisheries/aquaculture -
hunting -
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -
other -
Notes: Reed- and sedge-cutting; gathering veld products for food, arrow poison and basketry.

References Crowe (1996), Douthwaite (1980), Fothergill (1983), Gall (1995), Liversedge (1980), Mangabuli and Motalaote (1996), Ngamiland District Land Use Planning Unit and Kalahari Conservation Society (1989), Penry (1994), Ross (1987), Randall (1990), Randall and Herremans (1994), Reavell (1983), Smith (1976), Tawana Land Board and Department of Wildlife and National Parks (1994), Tyler (2001), Verlinden (1994), Vial (1994), Williamson (1994).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Okavango Delta. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/12/2014

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife