Bwabwata National Park

Bwabwata National Park                             
The Bwabwata National Park was proclaimed in year 2007. The size of the park is approximately 6 100 km2.  Found between Angola and Botswana, extends about 180 km from the Okavango River in the west to the Kwando River in the east. Significant to it are the woodlands dominated by trees e.g. wild seringa, copalwood, Zambezi teak, wild teak, sanctuary to 35 small game species, elephant, roan, kudu, buffalo and 339 bird species. Visitors with small vehicles might not see many of these animals, as the terrain is extremely sandy, however there are 4X4 tourist tracks along the western bank of the Kwando River. The park is located within a high-risk malaria area. Precautions are essential.

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Discover the Bwabwata National Park
Welcome to the future. Pitch a tent in one of the neat, well-organised community campsites in and around the Bwabwata National Park and watch the hippo-frequented rivers flow gently by, knowing that you are in an area where both local people and wildlife are benefiting from sharing in the future of this spectacular area. A lush contrast to the rest of the country, the Caprivi panhandles, rivers, flood plains, wetlands and forests are part of a five-nation conservation area that is home to the largest population of elephants in the world. With red lechwe, sitatunga and reedbuck on the plains and hippos and crocodiles patrolling the waters, almost everything you could expect to see in the famed Okavango Delta you can see here. Soak your feet in the spray at Popa Falls, Namibia’s gem on the Okavango River. Take unaccompanied or guided game drives across dramatic flood plains, through mature Kalahari woodland and along the shores of the temporary pans (omurambas). Fill your Big Five tick list by visiting the Buffalo Core Conservation Area. With close to 1 000 animals, this is the best place in Namibia to see buffalo. Seasonal rains, often accompanied by dramatic displays of thunder and lighting, create temporary pans on the floodplains, and a greater chance of getting stuck in the mud! They also provide a lush environment for the area’s abundant bird life, so grab your binoculars! Over 400 bird species have been recorded here with the greatest concentration seen in the Mahango Core Area. Experience dramatically close encounters of the elephant kind, and meet the very hospitable local people. They run the camps, protect the wildlife and craft some of the most exquisite basketry and woodcarvings in Namibia.

A people’s park
The Bwabwata National Park is very special in that it supports a large wildlife population and a large human population. The lion does not lie down with the lamb, and there is inevitably conflict between people and animals (particularly elephants). Nevertheless, the major accomplishment of the Bwabwata National Park is that human and wildlife are now living in a status quo that offers tremendous benefits to both conservation and rural community development. Described by Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba as ‘one of a new generation of parks’, the Bwabwata National Park is pioneering ‘a live and let live’ conservation ethic. In Bwabwata National Park co-management between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, resident community and conservancies is key to long-term conservation initiatives and the quality of life for local people. It is a winwin situation. With community game guards and resource monitors in place, the local people have new opportunities in ecotourism and conservation, while wildlife benefits from protection and an increase in numbers. With conservation ethics growing in the region, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been relocating and restocking rare species such as sitatunga and red lechwe in the area. Bwabwata National Park now enjoys stability and stands as a remarkable success story of community and Ministry of Environment and Tourism co-operation for local development and conservation. And remember, your visit will not just be personally rewarding but will also bring tangible financial benefits to the local community, fostering a harmonious co-existence between inhabitants and neighbours of the Bwabwata National Park.

How to get there
Access to the Bwabwata National Park is easy. The park is located 200 km east of Rundu on the B8 Trans-Caprivi Highway, which runs the length of the park (180 km) to the Kwando River.

Most tourist infrastructure – lodges, camp sites, boating/driving safari concessions are on the periphery
of the park, but three community-run campsites lie within the boundaries of the park: Bumhill and Nambwa are on the Kwando River in Bwabwata East and the community campsite at N//goabacha is located in Bwabwata West on the Kavango River. Namibia Wildlife Resorts operates a lodge at Popa Falls with ten river cabins, camping, a restaurant and bar.

Dry Season: April–October
Rainy Season: November–March
Rainfall: 550–600 mm per year
Average monthly temperature: 30ºC

People and wildlife species co-existing
Many overseas visitors to Namibia share back gardens with squirrels, birds, and so on, but in the Bwabwata National Park, garden visitors and neighbours come in large and sometimes threatening forms! That people and wildlife can get along so well and in such close proximity is one of triumphs of the Bwabwata National Park.

Everybody’s neighbours!
While visiting the Bwabwata National Park you are sharing space with some of the biggest wildlife Africa has to offer. Large mammalian predators include leopard, cheetah, lion, hyaena and African wild dog. African wild dogs, or ‘painted dogs’, are the most endangered large carnivores in Africa, with continental populations estimated to be only 3 000 to 4 000, down from an original population of half a million, due to persecution by farmers and other competitors. Lions kill wild dogs whenever they can. Superbly adapted to hunting (80% of hunts result in a kill), they specialise in pursuing prey relentlessly over long distances. They have the strongest bite measured against body mass of any carnivorous mammal. Interestingly, males often act as babysitters. Wild-dog numbers are increasing in the Bwabwata National Park. Lion populations are low. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the local resident’s association hope to improve numbers by adding value through an increase in tourism and trophy hunting value so that local people have an incentive to not only tolerate, but also to protect lions. While not many people want more lions next door, here they do! Extremely large crocodiles patrol the rivers. More dangerous to man, however, are the hippos that live in the Okavango and Kwando rivers. Territorial and aggressive, hippos kill more people in Africa each year than any other large wild mammal species. Never come between a grazing hippo and the water. African elephants, the world’s largest land mammal, need no introduction. Extremely abundant in the Kavango and the Caprivi, which they use as a migration corridor between Angola, Botswana and Zambia, they visit the rivers of the Bwabwata National Park in large numbers during the dry season. The park also serves as a corridor for many other migrating animals moving between Botswana, Zambia and Angola.
The Bwabwata National Park is the best place in Namibia to see Cape buffalo (thereby filling your Big Five tick list!). The Buffalo Core Area conserves a large buffalo population that, with the exception of the buffalo on the Waterberg Plateau and the population near Khaudum National Park, is unique in the country. The buffalo are normally followed by an entourage of red- and yellow-billed oxpeckers and egrets that feed on the parasites and insects that are attracted to the herds. Roan and the majestically horned sable are the highestvalue antelope species in the Bwabwata National Park, due to their rarity elsewhere. Kudu and impala occur in high numbers in the conservation core areas. Riverine habitat and floodplains support red lechwe, sitatunga and reedbuck.

Waters of life
The reed-lined rivers of the Bwabwata National Park are a Namibian rarity – they are perennial! The Okavango, which is the source of the Okavango Delta in neighbouring Botswana, acts as a 400-km long border with Angola. During high waters, normally in April, river levels rise between 3–4 metres above the low watermark. This overflow feeds the floodplains and is essential to the wetlands in both Namibia and Botswana. The Kwando forms the border between east and western Caprivi. Seasonal rains (November to March), often accompanied by dramatic displays of thunder and lightning, create temporary pans known as ‘omurambas’ on the flood plains. Wetland birds thrive in the Bwabwata National Park particularly in Mahango, which, despite its modest size (24 462 ha), has had more bird species recorded than any other national park in Namibia. Endangered wattled cranes, Pel’s fishing-owl, snakebirds, jacanas, various herons and egrets, and the black coucal are just some birding highlights. African skimmers nest in holes pecked out of riverside mud banks. Over 450 bird species
have been recorded.

The baobab – big, slow growing, very long-lived and decidedly eccentric in design – is the show stopper. Baobabs can be hollowed out, leaving the tree alive, and in Namibia certain trees have served variously as a prison, a chapel, a bar, a western-style toilet and grain store. The Bwabwata National Park is also characterised by deciduous Kalahari woodlands and scrub, both of which have been identified as a conservation priority by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and which favour wind-blown sand dunes, sometimes as much as 60 metres deep. Lilies and mats of floating vegetation in the rivers, as well as the reed and papyrus beds, are nurseries for aquatic species that include the sharply fanged tiger fish. All in all 869 species of plants have been recorded in the Bwabwata National Park, 25% more than in the adjoining swamps of the Okavango Delta.

Safety in the park
Please be aware that elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, hippo and crocodiles are potentially dangerous. Always keep a safe distance from elephants, particularly mothers with calves, and remember size does count – they have right of way! Ear-flaring, screams and mock charges are warning signs and do not necessarily mean the animal is about to charge, but it does mean they are annoyed and are warning you to stay away. If you are confronted with a herd, stop your vehicle and wait for them to pass, especially when herds are on the river side of the road. Don’t swim in rivers or pans and backwaters. Hippos and crocodiles are abundant. And vervet monkeys are notorious picnic/tent raiders. Keep an eye on the little thieves! This is a malaria area and bilharzia is also present. Consult your doctor before visiting.