A Tale of Two Swamps – The appeal of a swamp

The most intriguing environment in Africa to me is the swamp.  In this enormous continent there is such a variety of landscapes, but as I have mentioned elsewhere those landscapes are huge and much is monotonous – miles and miles of Bloody Africa or MMBA.  Whether it be the long expanses of desert across the Sahara, the Sahelian, East African or Southern African Savannahs, the thick humid forests that stretch from Guinea in the west down to Congo, Angola and Uganda; it can all look a bit samey.

There are, though,  oases of alternative landscapes in Africa – the volcanic areas with its deep rifts and conical mountains, the highland plateaus with their cooler air and temperate vegetation.  Of course the Finbos in the southern tip is remarkable, the Atlas mountains and Mediterranean coast varied.  My favourite without a doubt, where Africa livens up,  is when there is clean fresh water all year round in a semi-arid zone.  The Great Lakes are superb inland seas, the great rivers like the Zambezi and the Nile bring life to parched ground.

Less well known and hidden away are the swamp lands.  The most famous of these is the Okavango Delta, where a great river from the highlands of Angola spreads over a near flat plain before disappearing on a geological fault as the desert finally wins back the water to the sky.  But there are hundreds of smaller swamplands dotted all over sub Saharan Africa.  The word swamp conjures up a lot of negative imagery; African Queen with Humphrey Bogart hauling his boat through reeds and becoming covered in leeches.  Deep muddy holes, crocodiles and hippos at every turn and of course infestation by biting, malarial mosquitoes.

Apart from Humphrey Bogart and the African Queen, yes these elements do exist here, but these watery landscapes are also hugely biodiverse and productive.  The legions of invertebrates swimming, crawling and flying around the swamp are bountiful food sources for animals higher up the food chain, as well as the ever present vegetation providing limitless grazing for the herbivores.  So the bird life here is as incredible as anywhere in the world, a range of antelope specialise in plodding through sodden grasslands, others wallow in the water.  And in its turn, the rivers, lakes and flooded reed beds provide the perfect habitat for an immense amount  of fish.


There is something about a swamp