Welcoming 2020 with Renewed Hope at Jao

Our Collective

Antony Mulligan


A new year starts with resolutions and wishes, blessings for things to come and a hope that everything will be a little more prosperous than the year before.

2019 was an unusually dry year, one that painted a different picture to what we had been used to seeing. Grazers and browsers lost condition as they battled to find nutritious plants and grasses. We also saw interesting wildlife behaviour playing out, as animals not usually seen close to camp began to move in, searching for available water sources.

Buffalo herds were the hardest hit, having to walk great distances for food and water

Two vultures examining a carcass to see if it’s worth breaking open the tough skin

As 2019 drew to a close the last thing on all our minds was a New Year’s party, but rather prayers and wishes for Mother Nature to bless us with rain.

We saw out December with the first rains of the season, which only made us more worried, receiving just 4 mm of rain!

By the end of December the first few impala had dropped their calves and the zebra, tsessebe, bushbuck and even warthog were showing heavily, seemingly hanging on for the January rains.

Then 2020 rolled in – with wonderful rains starting a fresh new year for us, reflected in puddles of water, grass literally growing overnight, pans filling up and streams flowing. Trees began to show their leaves and flowers, and buffalo began to herd together again, now able to travel in large numbers without competing for grazing. The animals which had tried to delay births were able to bring their young into the world with a better chance of survival.

Our buffalo looking healthy again and enjoying the abundance of grass

Our Jao pride of lions welcomed two new cubs in the middle of January, and although they’re too young to be walking around, their mother has managed to look after them, keeping a watchful eye over the rest of the pride.

Out in the rain hunting… she may look damp and gloomy but the wildlife will no doubt be as happy as we are to welcome the rain!

January was a cooler month with more overcast than sunny days. This helped reduce evaporation and resulted in rain water flowing into the channels. The Delta waters filled up pans and streams and hippo gathered to take advantage of the arrival of abundant water at last!

Hippo gathering in pods in one of our channels – listen to their grunts of approval!

Two leopards welcomed 2020 with cubs, and another female is expecting; our antelope and even our reptiles are all looking healthy and strong. Our kudu, bushbuck, reedbuck and warthog numbers are all up, and our migrant birds have started arriving back for the summer.

It’s hard to believe that this male kudu is so well camouflaged in the thick, green bush

An African rock python after a good meal, looking strong and healthy

The pans and streams have filled and a chorus of frogs can now be heard every evening around the camps. One is amazed at how these frogs and toads hid and survived during the time of drought. Their chorus, however, brings a smile, knowing that even they are happy to see in 2020 with renewed hope.

Water birds have returned in great numbers, as have the smaller animals, like our mongoose family, gathered around these pans to enjoy the fresh water.

A flock of pelicans enjoying a large pan filled with catfish

Some members of our Jao Mafia mongoose family enjoying a fresh bath

The news filtering down from Angola, Namibia and the upper parts of the Delta sounds promising that they too have had a good start to 2020. We hope that our rainy season, along with theirs, continues, and that our seasonal winter inundation will be good as a result of this rain in the catchment areas.

A wonderful Delta sunset over a water-filled pan… the magic is returning

So as excitement grows in both us and the wildlife, we trust that the January rains will continue into February and March, and lead to a great 2020 ahead.

I hope you will enjoy this parting shot, taken at moonrise in the Okavango, of a very shy and elusive antelope, a sitatunga ram, back in its natural aquatic habitat.

Written and photographed by Antony Mulligan

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