National Geographic : 2017 Nov
okaVango 87 Cuito and Cubango Rivers, two remote waterways, have quietly attained high interest in certain cir- cles. That’s why an international group of scien- tists, government officials, resource planners, and hardy young explorers, brought together by a fer- vent South African conservation biologist named Steve Boyes, with support from the National Geo- graphic Society, has embarked on a grand effort of exploration, data gathering, and conservation advocacy called the Okavango Wilderness Project. These collaborators recognize that the well-being and future of the Okavango Delta is at stake—and that the well-being and future of southeastern Angola, a hard landscape, a poor cousin to glori- ous Okavango, is at stake too. “ We’re on borrowed time,” Boyes told me, as we sat at a campsite along the Cubango River earlier this year after a long day of paddling our mokoros (Okavango-style canoes) downstream. Having grown up in Johannesburg, with a pas- sion for nature, Boyes worked for years at various jobs—a bartender at wineries, a naturalist and guide, a camp manager in the Okavango Delta. Along the way he finished a doctorate. By 2007 he had become acutely aware of the water-source issue and tried to raise the alert among people of Botswana but mostly met fatalism. “They were just not interested,” he said, recall- ing a typical reaction: Yeah, Angola is such a terri- ble, bad place, and it’s such a shame the river may die. That goaded him to action. He began looking north, toward the headwaters. “ We are going to do this,” he vowed. “ We’re going to try and under- stand what this system is about.” In fact he hoped not just to understand it but to help preserve it. angola in 2017 may seem an unlikely site for visionary conservation efforts, yet it could also Project leader Steve Boyes (right) takes a break with National Geographic filmmaker Neil Gelinas. Among all the challenges Boyes has faced in more than 10 years of field science aimed at safeguarding the Okavango—diplomacy, capsized boats, land mines— an attack of sweat bees is just one more thing.