Okavango puts Botswana on heritage map

The Okavango Delta in Botswana, described as one of the world’s most iconic natural areas, has just been named as a World Heritage Site – the 1 000th such site proclaimed under the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

This was announced at the weekend by the World Heritage Committee during its 38th meeting in Doha, Qatar.

A total of 17 percent of the country is dedicated to national parks and in 2014 the Okavango Delta became Unesco's 1 000th World Heritage Site. Picture: Henk Kruger. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The decision follows a recommendation by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) that advises Unesco (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), the convention’s management authority.

IUCN director-general Julia Marton-Lefèvre congratulated Botswana for its “extraordinary commitment to make this historic listing a reality”.

“The Okavango Delta has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list and IUCN is proud to have been able to provide support to this nomination,” she said.

Situated in north-western Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a vast fan-shaped plain of permanent swamps and seasonally-flooded grassland. Its extraordinary annual flooding, which occurs in the dry season, supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, the IUCN noted.

“The delta sustains the populations of some of the most threatened large mammals such as the cheetah, white and black rhinos, wild dog and lion. It harbours 24 species of globally-threatened birds and is key to the survival of Botswana’s 130 000 elephants – the largest population of the species in the world.”

But there was also bad news for Africa: Tanzania’s massive 50 000km2 Selous Game Reserve has been placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because widespread poaching is decimating its wildlife populations.

One of the largest protected areas on the continent, the reserve is renowned for its populations of elephant, black rhino, cheetah, giraffe, hippo and crocodile, among many other species, says the committee.

It called on the international community, including ivory transit and destination countries, to support Tanzania in the fight against this criminal activity.

World Heritage Sites can be natural sites, cultural sites or mixed sites. With the latest approvals, there are now 1 001 sites on the list: 777 cultural sites, 194 natural sites and 30 mixed sites. Of these, 46 are in danger, and two have already been de-listed. There are 161 parties to the convention.

Other sites inscribed on the list in the past few days include:

Heritage sites facts:

South Africa has eight World Heritage Sites, with several others still in the pipeline. They are: