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The people who call paradise home

Picture of ichthyologist Paul Skelton with children on riverbank, Source Lakes Science expedition, 2016

Photograph by Kyle Neil Gordon

Illustration of globe highlighting Angola

The communities near the Okavango’s headwaters are mainly of Bantu descent, with a heavy Portuguese influence on their beliefs and customs. Many villages the expedition team visited were first established in the 1940s, but abandoned during Angola’s civil war, with communities returning only after the war ended in 2002.

The villages are usually small, numbering 50 to 350 inhabitants, with few people connected to the outside world. Only one town has a phone signal. Bushmeat is the major source of income. While hunting practices were historically sustainable, increasingly available shotguns and motorbikes have made hunting more commercial. Hunters burn the forest to flush out game, creating uncontrolled fires that threaten the river ecosystem.
Picture of river and remnants of a fire in the Okavango Delta in 2015

Photograph by Cory Richards

The research team has surveyed numerous vehicle tracks and motorbike paths in partnership with the HALO Trust, a humanitarian de-mining NGO working to open up access to these remote villages and source lakes. The team conducted preliminary socioeconomic surveys in the villages visited in the core study area to understand the status of healthcare, education, livelihoods, and wildlife and to assess historical records.

What's at Stake

Photo illustration of aquatic plants
Photo illustration of aquatic grasses, Okavango Delta
Photo illustration of child, Okavango Wilderness Project

Globe by Martin Gamache, Art of the Mappable 
photographs by Kyle Neil Gordon (Children); Chris Boyes (“Water”), GÖTZ NEEF (“Biodiversity”), Kostadin Luchansky (“Community”).