Okavango -- the worlds largest Ramsar site
Botswana, which deposited its instrument of accession on 9 December 1996 (entry into force, 9 April 1997), designated as its first Wetland of International Importance the great Okavango Delta System. The Ramsar site is measured at approximately 68,640 square kilometers (6,864,000 hectares), which places it ahead of Canadas Queen Maud Gulf (6,278,200 ha) as the worlds largest Ramsar site.
The designated area includes the Okavango River, the entire Okavango Delta, Lake Ngami, and parts of the Kwando and Linyanti river systems that fall along the western boundary of the Chobe National Park. The Ramsar Information Sheet filed for the site notes that the main threats to the area come from possible water extraction from the Okavango and Kwando rivers and their tributaries by the fringe states (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia).
The Okavango Delta System is hydrologically unique, the largest inland delta in sub-saharan Africa after the inner delta of the Niger. Since it lies in a semi-arid area, 97% of the annual inflow of between 7,000 and 15,000 million cubic meters is lost to evapotranspiration and seepage. Only 3% of the water is discharged from the delta.
Socio-economically, the site supports the traditional lifestyles of many local communities and a burgeoning tourist industry.
In terms of biodiversity, the site is a treasure trove. It has a large population of sitatuga (Tragelaphus spekei) and red lechwe (Kobus leche), a significant population of wild dog (Lycayon picatus), and 72 small mammal species, as well as 95 species of reptiles and amphibians. Many terrestrial herbivores, including buffalo, zebra, elephant, blue waterbuck, and common duiker, inhabit the place, as well as lion, spotted hyena, cheetah, and leopard, which depend upon the high concentration of herbivores near permanent water bodies. There are also an estimated 68 species of fish in the delta ecosystem, with the sharp-tooth catfish being endemic, and some 1061 different plant species have been recorded there.
The management authority for the site is the National Conservation Strategy Agency, Private Bag 0068, Gaberone, Botswana (tel +267 302 050, fax +267 302 051).
-- reported by Tom Kabii, Ramsar Regional Coordinator for Africa.