The primary goal of the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP) is to preserve the greater Okavango Basin in its current near-pristine state by establishing a network of new protected areas.
Increasing access to this near-pristine wilderness and mounting pressure to develop in the region has made securing legal protection more urgent than ever to preserve Angola’s biodiversity treasures and the freshwater resources of the entire Okavango system for future generations.
The NGOWP has identified a region where the headwaters of the Okavango, Cuando, Zambezi, and Kwanza Rivers originate as the key to the long-term conservation of the water tower. The team’s multiyear data sets will serve as the scientific foundation to establish one of the largest transboundary-protected areas in sub-Saharan Africa spanning the four nations that share the Okavango River Basin: Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Angola.
Supporting Local Action
Photograph by Kostadin Luchansky
The NGOWP is working to support the Angolan government and its Ministries of Tourism and Environment in protecting these remote watersheds and developing and implementing a conservation plan for the Okavango system.
In addition to the Angolan government, NGOWP has partnered with regional secretariats, NGOs, and local communities to help establish community-based alternative livelihood cooperatives for sustainable agriculture and forestry, watershed management, infrastructure development, education outreach, healthcare, energy and information technology, and protected areas management to support a conservation-based local economy.
Led by National Geographic Fellow Steve Boyes, the NGOWP’s expeditions bring together an interdisciplinary team including Angolan, Namibian, and South African scientists as well as other experts from the region and around the world. Since 2015, they have completed 11 ambitious multiyear expeditions covering more than 6,000 kilometers on foot, in dug-out mekoro (canoes), on fat-tire bikes, in armored vehicles, and on motorcycles from the highlands of Angola—where the source waters of the Okavango Delta originate—to the salt flats of the Makgadikgadi Pan, where the waters reach their terminus.
Year after year, they document the Okavango ecosystem like never before, accumulating vast amounts of data to make it available for scientists, policymakers, educators, and anyone else to explore and use. Their work provides an important baseline for this little-known area—and is essential for securing its permanent protection.
Map by NGS Staff
2019 Annual Okavango Delta Crossing
The team is currently undertaking its 10th annual crossing of the Okavango Delta amid the worst drought conditions in decades. They are traveling along a new transect course exploring the northern channels of the delta.
Meet the Team
South African conservation biologist and National Geographic Fellow Steve Boyes is the founder of the Botswana-based nonprofit The Wild Bird Trust and project leader of the Okavango Wilderness Project. With a passion for wilderness and restoration, he works to safeguard the Okavango Delta by leading expeditions to learn more about the ecosystem and working with local community and government leaders to protect and sustainably manage the area.Back
Kerllen Costa is an Angolan scientist, and the Angola Assistant Country Director who works as a research assistant with the project’s science team while on expedition. In 2015 he graduated with a bachelor of science in environmental sciences and biology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and has worked in the fields of zoology and botany.Back
John Hilton has dedicated his life to spending time in the African wilderness and sharing his experiences with others. Hilton oversees the administration, human resources, finance, and logistics of the project. He also leads outreach efforts with government officials from the three countries in the Okavango River’s watershed to encourage protection of this fragile ecosystem.Back
Gobonamang “GB” Kgetho
Gobonamang “GB” Kgetho is the Okavango Wilderness Project’s lead poler and a member of the Seronga Polers Trust. Kgetho has crossed the Okavango Delta eight times with expedition leader Steve Boyes and is an exemplary ambassador of the Okavango Delta and the ba’Yei community. He has a keen interest in the culture and history of indigenous communities.Back
Leilamang “Schnapps” Kgetho
Leilamang “Schnapps” Kgetho is a member of the Okavango Polers Trust and can pilot his mokoro through the most treacherous terrain, always seeming to know which direction to take. He is also the team’s chief hippopotamus spotter and a keen birder.Back
A Botswana-born tourism practitioner, conservation educator, and community mentor, Koketso Mookodi is the Botswana country director for the Botswana-based nonprofit The Wild Bird Trust. Since she received her degree in tourism management, Mookodi, a Mandela Washington Fellow, works closely with communities in the Okavango Delta to educate and empower them on issues of conservation and sustainability.Back
Namibian-born Götz Neef coordinates all the research data and sample collections for the project. During expeditions he works with the various specialists and research assistants undertaking sampling, trapping, and recording.Back
Tumeletso “Water” Setlabosha
Tumeletso “Water” Setlabosha has been a wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta for 14 years. Born in Jao in the middle of the Okavango Delta, Setlabosha has a deep understanding of the intricacies of this complex ecosystem.Back
Rainer von Brandis
Rainer von Brandis completed his honors and master’s degrees in nature conservation while working intermittently as a freelance guide in South Africa. In 2002, he moved to the Seychelles where he worked to establish security protocols, trained marine rangers, wrote conservation management plans, eradicated invasive species, implemented long-term monitoring programs, and mentored scientific researchers. In 2012, von Brandis completed his doctorate degree in nature conservation, and has been working with the project for the last two years.Back
LOGISTICS AND RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
After obtaining a master of science in conservation ecology from Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2016, Becker joined the project’s logistical support team. His duties have since shifted into research support, and he has begun to pursue a doctoral degree. As a Namibian, Becker is particularly interested in the Okavango Wilderness Project’s contributions toward the region’s long-term future.Back
Ilda Menezes Cangolo
Ilda Menezes Cangolo is an Angolan who did a completed their undergraduate degree in Earth Science at the University of Stellenbosch. After working for four years in the oil and gas Industry, she has joined the Okavango Wilderness project to help manage the Luanda office part time.Back
Keamogetse “Castro” Molathegi
Keamogetse “Castro” Molathegi is a Motswana from the north west part of the Botswana along the Okavango delta. Castro has worked in the hospitality industry around the delta for 16 years and is currently working as a logistic manager with the Wild Bird Trust. His passion lies in conservation and cultural initiatives.Back
Professor Marion Bamford is the director of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. She has published over 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and is a National Research Foundation B2-rated scientist. Her research projects in Africa fall into three time frames: Her research projects on the flora of Africa fall into three time frames: the Permian and Triassic, the Cretaceous, and the Cenozoic.Back
Professor Nigel Barker is head of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Pretoria. He is interested in plant and animal biodiversity, systematics, phylogeography, biogeography, and conservation.Back
Ninda Baptista has a master of science in conservation biology from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. Her primary interest is effective conservation, particularly of priority unprotected areas in Angola. Baptista works at the Institute of Higher Educational Sciences of Huíla in Angola conducting herpetological surveys, monitoring herpetofauna, and participating in a project to help conserve the escarpment forest of Kumbira, Kwanza Sul. She also has experience in research, environmental education, and conducting environmental impact assessments. Baptista joined the project as an assistant herpetologist and has been involved in several surveys.Back
Helen Barber-James is a freshwater biologist in the Department of Freshwater Invertebrates at the Albany Museum in South Africa, which houses a collection of more than 1.5 million specimens, including limited material from other African countries. She has over 25 years of research experience, which has focused on the biodiversity, systematics, and biogeography of freshwater invertebrates, especially the mayfly (Ephemeroptera).Back
Werner Conradie is the curator of herpetology at the Port Elizabeth Museum (Bayworld), South Africa. He holds a master’s in environmental science and has 10 years of experience studying southern African herpetofauna, with his main research interests focusing on the taxonomy, conservation, and ecology of amphibians and reptiles. He has published numerous scientific papers, and has served on a number of conservation and scientific panels.Back
David Goyder has catalogued the entire Okavango Wilderness Project plant collection, which is currently housed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London. Goyder is director and research leader for Africa and Madagascar at Kew, which has been working in Angola to document the flora and fill the large gap in botanical knowledge of the area.Back
Francisco Maiato Pedro Gonçalves
Francisco Maiato Pedro Gonçalves is a biologist associated with the Herbarium of Lubango at ISCED-Huíla, Angola. His previous experience includes working with renowned botanists in the field and assessing the impact of forest fragmentation on the endemic birds of the Angolan escarpment. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in plant ecology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His interests include plant diversity, tree population dynamics of the Angolan miombo woodlands, and biodiversity conservation, all of which prepared him well for the Okavango Wilderness Project.Back
John Mendelsohn has lived all his life in Africa, and has been residing in Namibia for the past 30 years. A passion for research has driven much of his work in zoology, education, livelihoods, geography, and river systems. He has been published in over 70 scientific papers and 28 books. Most of his recent research has been in Namibia, but he now also works extensively in Angola. Over the past 15 years, Mendelsohn has developed a keen interest in the economies of rural areas, seeking to document and understand relationships between natural resources, land uses, land rights, incomes, savings, opportunities, and constraints in different areas. Rivers in the Kalahari Basin are another special interest, particularly the Cunene, Cuvelai, Okavango, and Cuando River systems.Back
Professor Dan Parker’s research focuses on mammalian terrestrial ecology. An associate professor at the University of Mpumalanga in South Africa, Parker is also active with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Rhodes University in South Africa. For the Okavango Wilderness Project, Parker is leading the surveys of the little-known bat populations of the upper catchments in the Angola highlands.Back
Paul Skelton is emeritus professor and emeritus managing director of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity at Rhodes University in South Africa. Author of several books on the fish fauna of the southern African subregion, Skelton has chaired several International Union for Conservation of Nature committees and discovered many fish species new to science. Skelton helps coordinate the specialist survey results and publications of the Okavango Wilderness Project.Back
Professor and South African Research Chair on Biodiversity Value & Change at the University of Venda in South Africa, Peter Taylor studies small mammals, such as bats and rodents, for the Okavango Wilderness Project. He is also a core team member at the Centre for Invasion Biology in South Africa.Back
MEDIA AND FILM TEAM
Thalefang Charles is a renowned photographer and travel writer from Botswana who has traveled extensively throughout Botswana and Africa. A journalist by trade, he works for local media houses writing content. Charles has joined the team on expeditions taking him to the source waters of the Okavango and through the beautiful Delta. Inspired by his love for travel, he recently wrote and published a book titled Botswana’s Top 50 Ultimate Experiences.Back
Kaya Ensor is an associate producer and assistant editor for the National Geographic Society. She joined the team during the three-month expedition through Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, where she worked as a camera assistant, second camera person, and media manager. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in English literature and European history and minored in art history. She lives in Washington, D.C.Back
Neil Gelinas is a senior film producer, cameraman, and editor for the National Geographic Society. Gelinas produced a feature documentary about the Okavango Wilderness Project called Into the Okavango. For the past five years, he has also produced films for National Geographic Pristine Seas, a project that has helped protect over five million square kilometers of ocean through science, exploration, and media. His work has been screened for presidents of nations and environmental film festivals, and has aired on both the National Geographic channel and Nat Geo WILD.Back
Konstadin Luchansky was born in Bulgaria and has lived in Angola for 28 years. He has a biology undergraduate degree, specializing in ornithology. In 2011 he decided to dedicate himself entirely to his passion for photography, transforming his hobby into a career. Founder of the Angola Image Bank, he has traveled from Cabinda to he has traveled from Cabinda to Cunene photographing Angola and has accompanied the Okavango Wilderness Project team over the years documenting their expeditions.Back
Born in Luanda, Angola, Mauro Sergio travels across Angola documenting the life of local people and nature. While on expedition he spends most of his time taking photos of the team and villagers engaged with the project.Back
Steve Spence specializes in film pre-production and production; his experience spans six continents. From exploring remote tropical islands in the South Pacific to sledding on ice flows in northern Greenland, he has a passion for capturing the natural world on camera. Spence received his bachelor’s degree in television production from Western Kentucky University and is completing his M.F.A. in wildlife film production from Montana State University.Back
Angola Ministry of Environment
Angola Ministry of Tourism
Wild Bird Trust
Additional support provided by
The HALO Trust
Botswana Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation, and Tourism
Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism
The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservaton Area (KAZA TFCA)
The Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM)
The Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM)
HELP US PROTECT THE OKAVANGO WATERSHED
Our work to explore and protect the amazing biodiversity of the Okavango River Basin is vital to the health of the region. Your support not only helps preserve this important ecosystem, but it also funds the critical work of all of our explorers fighting to save threatened species, protect fragile habitats, and understand the world around us through rigorous research, independent science, and conservation. Your contribution to the National Geographic Society’s work is helping create a more sustainable future for our planet.