Botswana's Okavango Delta is an oasis in a harsh environment, supporting wildlife and people for as long as history of the region has shown and the makoro has been in existence for as long as humans have lived in the Okavango. Today, however, the makoro is best known for its use in the safari industry of the delta.
Negotiating the water wilderness of the Okavango Delta in Botswana requires a craft that is suitable for the intricate, and often overgrown, channels as well as the open floodplains. The people who lived in the delta before the advent of tourism in the area used wooden canoe-like craft carved from the stems of trees found in the delta.
The makoro is controlled by a person standing in the back of the craft and using a long, thin wooden pole to steer the makoro. Safari guests sit one or two-up in front of the poler. In the present day tourism lingo the makoro controller is known as a poler.
Also spelt mokoro or mekoro, the craft are carved from the trunks of three species of trees occurring in the Okavango Delta. The length of the makoros meant that large trees had to be sought for the making of one craft. Three species of trees are used to make the traditional makoros, the African ebony Diospyros mespelliformes, sausage tree Kigelia africana, and the knobthorn Acacia.
The local people of the delta used the makoro for hunting, fishing and transportation of goods - and although still used for these purposes the trait is slowly giving away to the march of westernization into the area. Today most makoros are used in the tourism industry, with many of the hunters and fishermen now employed as 'polers' by the safari companies.
Due to the steep rise in tourism activity in the Okavango in recent years fears were expressed about the dangers posed to the environment by the number of trees needed to provide makoros for the tourism market. A solution was found with the production of custom-built fiber-glass versions of the original makoro. So successful has the project been that even traditional fishermen in the delta are using the new versions. All lodges in the delta use the new version of makoro today.
Statistically responsible for the most human deaths in Africa every year the hippo poses a threat to any unsuspecting makoro in the waterways of the Okavango and many polers can attest to the dangers posed by hippos. I have personally witnessed a number of makoros that have been literally bitten in half by hippos. These incidents are fortunately few in ratio to the number of people who safari in makoros and of the few incidents most are the result of human stupidity.
Okavango Delta Makoro Safaris range in length from short morning and afternoon activities out of the safari lodges and overnight safaris to the longer seven day makoro safaris spanning the length of the delta - from the Panhandle to the final reach of the floodwaters.