Okavango Delta

A family legacy in Botswana’s Jao Reserve

Our Collective

Cultures & Communities

Janine Avery


The Kays family

Meet David, Cathy, and Martin Kays, the long-term leaseholders of the Jao Reserve, who have been intrinsically linked with the Okavango Delta for generations. The Kays are one of Maun's oldest families, their roots stretching back to a time when the land was untamed, and the echoes of the wild were louder than the hum of human civilisation.

David's great-grandfather first set foot in Ngamiland in 1887, drawn by the allure of the untouched African landscape. The family planted their roots in Tsau in 1908, where the Batawana tribe, the predominant inhabitants of the region, had their headquarters. The Kays lived in harmony with the Batawana, their lives interweaving with the rhythm of the tribal people. When the Batawana decided to establish a new village at Maun around 1915, the Kays were a part of this historic migration, moving alongside the tribe they had grown to respect and admire.


David's father, Ronnie, played a significant role in shaping the region's future. He served as an advisor to the Batawana Tribal Authorities, guiding them in the formation of Moremi Game Reserve. His understanding of the land and its biodiversity was instrumental in demarcating the reserve's boundaries, a testament to his dedication to preserving the region's natural heritage.



Before their foray into tourism, David and Cathy operated Riley’s Garage, while also working as cattle ranchers in the Hainaveld. However, in 1998, when the opportunity arose to tender for a tourism lease in the Okavango Delta, they seized it, starting a new chapter of their lives. With their bid successful, they began to etch their legacy into the heart of the Delta.


In 1999, they built three camps – Jao, Jacana, and Kwetsani. Wilderness Jao was the first of its kind in the Okavango Delta, a premier safari lodge that put Botswana on the global map of high-end tourism. This was followed by the construction of Tubu Tree Camp in 2002 on the western side of the Jao Reserve, further expanding their presence.

Generations at Jao

Son Martin, after completing his tertiary education in 2005, joined the family business, bringing fresh ideas and youthful energy to the enterprise. The family continued to grow their portfolio, adding Little Tubu to Tubu Tree in 2012. Pelo was also built the same year, further enhancing the range of experiences they could offer.
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Today, David, Cathy, and Martin operate as a tight family unit. They cherish every opportunity to be out in the reserve, their passion for the land evident in the photographs they take and the explorations they undertake in this richly diverse area. Martin’s daughter and son have been exposed to the Okavango camp life from babyhood and enjoy a unique upbringing. They love experiencing the wilderness whenever the opportunity allows and continue the legacy of the Kays in the Okavango Delta, a legacy of love for the land, respect for its people, and a commitment to its preservation.

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When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.