Summer in the Okavango is not quite like a European summer. Sure, the days are longer and the temperatures are hotter. But there’s one crucial difference – rain. This isn’t your classic European-grey drizzle either. These are dramatic, rolling thunderstorms that come barrelling through the sky every year from November to March, quenching the parched Kalahari sands and infuriating our wildlife camera operators.
Cloudy skies are a common sight between November and March in the Okavango.
The rain is a lifeline for the animals of the Okavango. They should keep on pouring until February before petering off in March. Some years, there is so much rain that it literally refills the rivers, pans, and floodplains.
A leopard navigates her new territory.
In others, their absence causes devastation and countless deaths across the food chain. Just when things start to dry out in May, the flood arrives on its long journey from the highlands of Angola. This is the other lifeline that should sustain the Okavango until the rains begin to fall again.
Everything that lives in the swamp must learn to swim - even this puff adder!
While rain may be fantastic for the animals, for the crew it’s something of an inconvenience. That being said, you won’t find anyone more passionate about those animals than the guys – so they wouldn’t have it any other way. There are two issues with the rains. First, the Okavango isn’t known as “the swamps” without good reason.
Mokoros are traditional dug out canoes used to navigate the Okavango's swamps.
While the flood tends to stick to defined river channels and ooze into the surrounding floodplains, the rain shows no such consideration. It pours everywhere and, depending on the amount, drenches it. Before long, the roads turn into treacherous bogs that have the capacity to drown even the most souped-up of Land Cruisers.
During this time of year, bridges are essential.
Brad’s wonderfully named ‘bog’ even managed to hold down his beloved tractor for two whole days before the crew could prise it from its grip. During these long days, the high-lift jacks become the crew's best friends and most utilised tool, while their water-sensitive cameras remain snug and hidden in their camera boxes.
The sticky season - a series of unfortunate events!
The other issue comes in the form of grass. Over a matter of months, the grasses grow from ankle height to eye-level. Again, this is wonderful for the animals, many of which have their young to coincide with this bountiful season of plenty. Not only is the grass a delicious snack, but it’s a great place to find if you're young and still wandering about on wobbly legs. Unfortunately, hiding from predators has the unintentional consequence of making yourself very difficult to spot for the camera operators. When you add the delight of an abundance of pollen, for the hayfever sufferers, these days are misery!
The Okavango's secret season is when all the litter critters that sustain larger life flourish.
It is, however, worth every second. This secret season is the time to spot mewling leopard and lion cubs emerging from their dens for the first time and watch last year’s offspring finally learn to fend for themselves on the abundance of fast food surrounding them. So, next time you’re complaining about the weather, please spare a thought for what our camera operators endure to bring these characters to your screens! They wouldn’t have it any other way, but a little sympathy always helps to sweeten the deal.
A pair of swamping lions.
Blog and images (other than the series of stuck crew!) by Hannah Gormley