Jao Camp – A Time of Replenishment

Our Collective


Antony Mulligan



This is a word not usually associated with the Okavango Delta at this time of year, as October is traditionally the hottest and driest month of the year, now combined with what has been one of the most severe droughts – certainly in The Jao Reserve – for decades!

Zebra in dry, long grass in an area that is normally under water

Channels and lagoons are quickly dropping and you would be forgiven for thinking that the Delta had not received its annual water inflow. When we think of the word ‘replenishment,’ we typically associate it with water, rain and refreshment, especially when referring to the Okavango. Here, however, I use it more in terms of its true definition:

“Restoration of a stock or supply to a former level or condition”.

Now this is far more accurate in terms of the Jao Reserve and the western section of the Delta. The water has not been as high and the inundation not as large as previous years. This year the waters followed deeper channels more to the east, and only some channels received water in the western section.

Wildebeest at sunset on the Jao floodplains: a scene of dust and plains game in what would usually be herds of red lechwe navigating the channels

Buffalo returning to the concession in large numbers

The western sector of the Delta, and more specifically the Jao Reserve, has always been a very wet concession, made up of lots of islands surrounded by water, enabling Jao, Jacana, Pelo and Kwetsani to offer water activities throughout the year. However, 2018 and 2019, had such low annual rainfall that camps like Tubu Tree have not been able to offer water activities this season. With our annual rainfall more than likely to start only in November, there is a strong possibility that all our camps, apart from Pelo, will only be offering nature walks and game drives.

The rare sitatunga, usually seen in deep channels

This has brought into play a whole new dynamic as far as wildlife goes. Before the drought, although the concession has always had great diversity of game, the numbers were lower, with some animals only seen occasionally. With all the islands, and the abundance of water in the past, most areas would be difficult to access by vehicle, coupled with the fact that animals had to ‘island-hop’ to forage. The water levels were thus not conducive to seeing large numbers of game, and some islands, where predators were hiding out, were simply impossible to access by vehicle.

By contrast, with the water levels so low now, grazing areas have opened up and movement has become easy; the major channels and lagoons still hold water and this has ‘replenished the stocks’. Large herds of wildebeest, zebra, tsetsebe, buffalo and elephant are all regularly seen. The Jao floodplain, usually pictured with people sitting at a table in the water, with red lechwe in the background, is now dry, and although there are still lots of lechwe, there are also wildebeest, zebra and ostrich (we’ve counted seven) among them.

Our Jao gang on the move – using me as their bodyguard

The Jao Pride has increased in number – a result of feeding that has become easier due to the increase in grazing animals on the plains. There are also new male lions coming in and challenging for the right to territory and females. The Jao wild dog pack has increased from 11 to 20 – a good sign that the pack is thriving in the current conditions.

We have also sighted leopards on the eastern side of the concession, and they have been seen regularly by Jacana, Jao and Kwetsani guests. The buffalo used to be seen in small groups, even pairs, with the occasional herd of around 80 to 100 – now we see herds in the low hundreds almost daily.

But even with the predictions of above-average local rainfall this year (which will certainly help the ground water level, and thus also help the inundation when it comes down next winter), it will take a few years for us to build back up to the water levels of the past. In time our numbers, stock, genes and bloodlines will all have had the opportunity to replenish and re-establish themselves at their former levels.

And so, we enter a period of replenishment – and we look forward to what the next few months hold.

Some have always just been here, keeping a watchful eye on things

These are exciting times in the Jao Reserve and the new Jao Camp is pleased to welcome all of it – come and see for yourself.


New males, with their darker manes, will bring fresh genetic bloodlines to the area’s lion population.

We are waiting to welcome you into our home at the beautiful and stylish Jao

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