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Celebrating World Wetlands Day – 2 February


2 February 2021 marks the 50th year since the signing of the Convention on Wetlands at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1971.

Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded, either permanently or seasonally. Water is the primary factor controlling the environment and associated biodiversity. As noted by Ramsar, there are various types of wetlands, which include inland, marine, coastal and man-made wetlands.

World Wetlands Day has been celebrated each year since 2 February 1997. Wetlands are extremely valuable and it is thus not surprising that they are celebrated globally to raise awareness about the vital role they play in protecting water sources.  The theme for 2021, “Wetlands and Water”, highlight wetlands as a freshwater source and encourage actions to restore wetlands as such. Wetlands and water are connected in an inseparable co-existence that is vital to life, our well-being and the health of our planet.

Throughout Africa in particular, wetlands form some of the most important, productive ecosystems on the continent that often acts as the primary source of water, food and shelter for a diverse range of life.

Highlighting some of Southern Africa’s greatest wetlands to seek out whilst travelling, be sure to include these in your travel plans!

Okavango Delta – Botswana

The iconic Okavango Delta in Botswana is arguably one of our favourite Southern Africa destinations.

The Okavango Delta, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, was declared a wetland of international importance in 1996 and listed as a World Heritage Site in 2014. Covering an area of more than 55 000 km², the Okavango Delta is the largest Ramsar wetland in Southern Africa.

The Delta spans three countries, the source of which is a trickle in Angola’s remote highlands, flowing south through Namibia and finally reaching landlocked Botswana in the north. The Okavango Delta, a 1600 km long river and ecological marvel, is the largest inland delta in the world! It is one of a few major inland delta systems that do not have an outlet to the sea or ocean. It has two distinct areas, a permanent swamp, which has water all year round and a seasonal swamp, which is flooded annually.

This thriving wetland makes for spectacular wildlife sightings as it encompasses plains and papyrus-lined waterways, waterways to which wildlife adapt seasonally depending on the annual cycle of rains and flooding. Its mosaic of constantly changing waterways, floodplains and arid islands sustain an ecosystem of remarkable habitat where an abundance of life flourishes. The wildlife-rich Okavango Delta is home to large herds of elephant and buffalo, black and white rhinoceros, wildebeest that migrate seasonally, the endangered African Wild Dog and over 500 bird species.

The best time to visit: July to October.

Did you know? The Okavango Delta is clearly visible from space!

iSimangaliso Wetland Park – South Africa

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, situated in KwaZulu Natal, is South Africa’s first listed UNESCO World Heritage Site (December 1999). It was listed by UNESCO for its outstanding natural values, namely exceptional biodiversity, ecological processes and superlative scenic beauty. This Wetland Park is one of the most diverse regions in South Africa and contains four wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park includes Lake St Lucia – Africa’s largest estuary, the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, the coastal forest reserve, the Kosi Bay Natural Reserve and Mkuze Game Reserve. It encompasses an immense variety of habitats such as woodlands, grasslands, marshes, swamps, lake systems, coastline and sand dunes, along with outstanding coral reefs.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s unspoilt wilderness is home to a wealth of diversity. Animal life that can be found in the park ranges from the Big Five and more than 500 bird species, all the way to the oceans where visitors can delight in the sights of whales, dolphins and marine turtles.

The best time to visit: May to September.

Did you know? iSimangaliso Wetland Park sustains more species of animals than the Kruger National Park and has the greatest congregation of hippos and crocodiles in South Africa!

Amboseli National Park – Kenya

Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is set up against the magnificent backdrop of Africa’s highest, free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro, with vast open savannah fields and wetlands in the foreground. The National Park is home to different habitats, which include clear-water springs, wetlands, acacia woodlands and expansive savannahs.

Beyond jaw-dropping views, the most notable wetlands within the 392 km² Amboseli National Park are the Enkongo Narok and Olokenya swamps. These wetlands are fed by rainfall and Mount Kilimanjaro’s melting snowcaps and are most certainly the heart of the National Park. It essentially functions as an oasis by attracting a diverse range of wildlife during the dry season, which creates excellent game viewing opportunities.

The diverse landscapes of the National Park are synonymous with incredible wildlife sightings, as it is home to 80 different mammals – and more than 400 bird species. The wetlands are often frequented by grazing hippos and attract large herds of elephants and buffalo.

Best time to visit: Immerse yourself in Amboseli National Park’s diverse landscapes and marvel in the spectacular wildlife sightings on offer during the months of January to February and June to October!

Did you know? Amboseli is well-known for being one of Africa’s best destinations to view free-roaming, large-tusked elephants.

Walvis Bay Wetlands – Namibia

The Walvis Bay Wetlands are one of Namibia’s first Ramsar wetlands of international importance (1995). It is rightly heralded as the single most important coastal wetland of Southern Africa. Located within the Dorob National Park, it is a key wetland area in ecological terms. It encompasses the Walvis Bay lagoon, salt pans and bird sanctuary. The area is characterized by breathtaking natural scenery, a large bay and picturesque sand dunes.

The conservation of birdlife is at the forefront, as this calm oasis sustains a variety of migratory and non-migratory wetland birds. Walvis Bay has an excellent reputation for birding, with over 150 non-migratory bird species recorded in this region, such as greater and lesser flamingos, and huge flocks of great white pelicans and waders. A phenomenal 150 000 migrant bird species have been known to arrive in the area during the summer months.

Best time to visit: Catch a glimpse of the migrating birds between November to April.

Did you know? The Walvis Bay lagoon is entirely tidal and is often described as “the best place in the world to view flamingos in their natural habitat”.

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