Okavango that still offer their guests the opportunity to experience the genuine, traditional wooden dug-out canoe – the archetypal mokoro of the Okavango, the means by which the Delta was settled by people coming off the Zambezi river system, into the Selinda and thence into the Okavango proper, in ancient times. The motivation for operators using fiberglass replicas of mekoro are that the replicas are easily bought, replaced and owned, carry consistent loads, and unlike wooden mekoro are completely impervious to moisture. The current mania for ‘saving’ trees creates a rich seam of environmental concern to be tapped for marketing purposes. We are often asked why we don’t follow
Wood is a natural and renewable resource. Trees grow. Whichever god you give the nod to put trees on earth for us to use – to climb for the view, to burn for warmth, to cut for protection, to club our prey with, to hollow out for vessels of every description….for every purpose we can find. There are plenty of
large trees left in the Okavango. When there aren’t, if that situation ever eventuates, the ancient art of mokoro-making, which we are helping to preserve, will die out. Once the trees have grown again to a suitable size, which they will of course do in a blink of cosmic time, a traditional craft will have been
In 1986 we commissioned the first (and only) ever report on the impact of tree-felling for mekoro on the trees of the Okavango – Ecosurv, a prominent and respected ecological consultancy, conducted the study. Their conclusion was that at the current rate of off-take at that time (and at that time we alone were
putting 60-70 mekoro on the water every day, in contrast to a maximum of 30 now when we are alone), the off-take was sustainable. This was at a time when replicas were unavailable. The report also made the interesting point that for a tree to be suitable it needs to be relatively straight; trees usually only grow
straight when they have to compete with surrounding vegetation for light. Ergo trees are generally only felled for the purpose of making a mokoro when they are in thickly wooded areas – those standing alone are seldom suitable. Size is not the only determinant of suitability – shape plays a big part in the selection
process. The report also highlighted the fact that proper maintenance greatly extends the life of a natural mokoro, and we therefore have a program in place to assist our guides, who own their own mekoro, in maintaining them, patching leaks and fighting fungal attack.
In conclusion, we accept that given the tremendous increase in demand for the ‘mokoro experience’, it is a good thing that all other operators in the Okavango use a replica. And we think it is a good thing that we don’t. They get to polish their haloes while enjoying the expedient of a) not being beholden to the
owner/manufacturer of the genuine article, and b) being able to guarantee their clientele a dry bottom (the real thing always has a minimal amount of water in it from seepage), while we get to sooth our souls through the nourishment of an ancient craft and life-style, and by feeling and touching real wood.
It has also to be recognized that the fiberglass replicas carry their own environmental baggage. What is the carbon footprint of a fiberglass mokoro? What is released into the atmosphere in the manufacture and use of fibreglass resin? What is in that paint in which they’re coated? What is involved in the manufacture of glass fibre? Of transporting them from the factory? These processes do have environmental consequences.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL, because….
What happens to a dead (excuse the oxymoron) fiberglass mokoro? The real things is wood, and only wood; its useful life does not cease when it loses its ability to float – it transforms itself, as so many natural products do, into something else - a natural and aesthetically-pleasing ornament (saving the
import of some other ornament) perhaps; an architectural feature; a shelf; or, most famously, a bar counter. And the unusable bits remain biodegrade. Not so our fiberglass replica, which will lie for several hundred years or more, defacing the Okavango and slowly leaking its toxic constituents into the