The only way to comprehend the areas encompassed by Chobe, Makgadikgadi, and Okavango Delta Ramsar Site is to deal in superlatives. Chobe is home to around 50,000 elephants, probably the highest elephant concentration in all Africa, and part of the largest continuous surviving elephant population. They are also Kalahari elephants, the largest of them all.
Makgadikgadi is one of the largest saltpans in the world. Stretching out across an area the size of Portugal, this vast expanse of salt-saturated clay is an unearthly domain, where endless horizons merge with the stark land below, appearing utterly inhospitable to life. Yet when the rains come, tens to hundreds of thousands of bright pink flamingoes appear, making the scene even more surreal for a few weeks each year.
The Okavango Delta was declared the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. An immense network of inland channels and marshes, when it floods each summer the water covers an area slightly larger than Belgium, and attracts one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife, with more than 200,000 large mammals descending upon the Okavango at this time.
While the animal populations are sometimes incredibly dense, the human population is not. Across the whole of these three regions, the population around Chobe stands at 25,876, for the Okavango Delta it is 59,421, and around Makgadikgadi there are 56,209. With few population centres of any note, nature-based tourism is one of the only sectors that can provide sustainable employment.
Through focussing on high end, low impact nature-based tourism, and the many services that support it, around 60,000 jobs have been created and US$650 million contributed to Botswana’s GDP. To achieve eco-certification in the area, companies must demonstrate that they offer tangible benefits to the community through ongoing, multi-year financial and/or in kind support, and at least 2% of their gross profits must be provided directly or inkind for community-based projects.
These efforts, led by the Botswana Tourism Organisation, continue to pay off. Whether collaborating with neighbours Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe on the even larger Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (of which Chobe, Makgadikgadi, and Okavango Delta Ramsar Sites make up 30% of the area), or ensuring that all eco-certified companies sell locally produced handicrafts on site, there is no vision too large, nor any detail too small in the commitment to keeping Botswana as a rare beacon of hope for Africa’s wildlife and people.