The Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is one of Africa's most dangerous animals and one of the safari "Big Five" of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. They form herds of several thousands and, needing to drink every day while consuming large amounts of forage, are one of the most important species in the Delta's ecosystem.
Botswana – Been There

The perks of piloting in the Okavango Delta

Photo by David Wall

Botswana – Been There The perks of piloting in the Okavango Delta

Maun, Botswana, is a quiet town near the Okavango Delta that seems to recognize its only role in life is to act as a supply depot for travelers pushing onwards. Before I too move on, I take a flight over the Delta.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

Flying in a tiny plane up a meandering valley of the Boteti River until water shimmers to the horizon, I spot a young bull elephant crossing between two islands. He raises his trunk as we swoop nearer, no doubt to his mind successfully scaring us off as we fly on. A scatter of impala bounce daintily away, their tails bobbing high, while dozens of lechwe graze in the water or near its edge.

The channels twist and turn beneath us, opening out into lakes and ponds, and then vanishing into seemingly trackless reed beds where I spot a lone mokoro fisherman. Trees stand alone or gather into dark shadows that suddenly disgorge a fast-trotting herd of dusty zebra.

The channels twist and turn beneath us, opening out into lakes and ponds, and then vanishing into seemingly trackless reed beds where I spot a lone mokoro fisherman. Trees stand alone or gather into dark shadows that suddenly disgorge a fast-trotting herd of dusty zebra.

As the evening shadows lengthen, it is time to end this magical experience and return to earth on the still-hot tar of the airfield. Pilot Andre Pelizzon is from Boston but came here at the end of 2011 to further his flying career. He spends his day doing scenic flights and carrying passengers back and forth to the luxury lodges within the Delta.

I ask him if he has the best flying job in the world. “If it was, nobody would ever leave and there would never be any advancement for the new generation,” he says. “The pay is low – around $1,000 per month in a country with ten per cent inflation. You live in a small dusty town where everyone knows your name and your private life is minimal.”

But he is enthusiastic about the chance to build flying hours and enjoy a unique experience. “We pilots talk about how we will probably never run into another person in our flying career who has flown out here. I have seen all the clichés of waterbucks, zebra or impala jumping through low water in the morning; giraffes around an acacia thorn tree; elephants bathing in a river with the baby elephants in the middle for safety.

“If you’re having a bad day or week, it’s more than therapeutic to fly low over the Delta and to see The Jungle Book unfold before you.”

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