Members of the Kavango Open Africa Route (KOAR), all belonging to Namibia’s tourism industry, conducted a landmark water-bird count in July.
For observations click here ….
Here is their story ….
By Mark Paxton
The Okavango River system, about 480 kms of which constitutes the border between Namibia and Angola, has previously been largely neglected in the annual Wetland Water-bird Counts program conducted throughout Namibia.
The exceptions have been the Mahango Game Park and a section of the river at Shamvura Camp where voluntary Wetland Water-bird counts have however been conducted over a consecutive period of 15 years and 11 years respectively. The remainder of the river has been left uncounted until this year.
KOAR (Kavango Open Africa Route) which is an Open Africa initiative, was formally established in May 2011 with the formation of an Association, run by an elected committee and governed by a constitution.
The group established a tourist route along the Okavango River from Katwitwi on the Angolan border to Mohembo on the Botswana border. There are now over 40 establishments as members along this route all committed to the Conservation principles of the KOAR Association.
One of these principles, and indeed a requirement for membership, is the monitoring of the five Flagship species. Two of these species are birds and one, the primary species, is a water-bird, the African Skimmer. It was therefore a natural progression for the group to get involved with the annual Wetland Water-bird Census program.
Consequently, a series of four training courses were conducted amongst the member establishments.
The course concentrated specifically on water-bird species and included a formal power-point lecture covering all the aspects of a Wetlands International Water-bird Census, together with bird identification exercises.
This was followed by a practical session on the river to identify water-birds along defined sections of the river while conducting a trial count.
After the completion of the course a total of six areas were defined, with a coordinator chosen for each.
Thirty-two guides/coordinators from ten tourism establishments completed the course, but the defined count areas incorporated a total of 13 lodges.
Once the course was completed, the various coordinators conducted their own individual counts and their data was submitted through the MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) channels to the Netherlands based organization, Wetlands International. These counts covered over 50 kms of the Okavango River previously neglected and unknown.
It should be remembered that before now the participants were totally unaware of the wetlands water-bird counting techniques.
Their water-bird identification skills were limited, and the sometimes tedious process of data collection an unknown to most.
All have benefitted from the experience and there is a growing appreciation amongst the membership for the value of water-bird counts along this dynamic river system.
Each of the members being involved in the Tourism industry had to go to a certain degree of effort to fit these counts into their respective work and guest schedules.
Nevertheless they were all committed and eager, some braving the icy cold Winter winds and a river with waves you could surf on. Others risked the newly emerging rocks hidden just under the water which severely damaged expensive boat propellers and frayed nerves.
The groups were as follows:
Ndhovu Lodge incorporating Ngepi Camp, coordinated by Johan Kesslau.
Nunda Lodge incorporating Divava Lodge, Rainbow Lodge and Shametu Campsite, coordinated by Cameron Wilson.
RiverDance Lodge incorporating Mobola Lodge, coordinated by Tino Punzul.
Shamvura Camp, coordinated by Mark Paxton.
Kaisosi River Lodge incorporating N’Kwazi Lodge and Camp Hogo, coordinated by Pieter Pypers.
Samsitu Campsite, coordinated by Andy Fudge.