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The mighty beasts of the Okavango

Nick Easton, director

One of nature’s most intriguing creatures … something I will never forget
Nick Easton

Some animals leave a very big impression; not just on those who encounter them but also on the landscape that they inhabit. Elephants, lions, termites…Wait, what?! Yes, termites.

These tiny social insects are much maligned in many parts of the world, where their taste for timber destroys homes. But in the Okavango delta, the story is quite the opposite. This desert plain would be almost entirely flat… if it weren’t for termite mounds. These famed, climate-controlled, architectural marvels do more than just protect their inhabitants. When the annual flood arrives, the mounds become islands, and homes for many other species. As the years pass, soil is washed from the mound, plants take hold and the islands grow; the only dry land adrift in many thousands of square kilometres of croc-ridden water.

Our scientific advisors had warned us that termites are rather reluctant subjects. Indeed, after locating our perfect mound, it took many hours of hard and careful graft to make a tiny hole and a window into another world. The dutiful soldier termites appeared immediately to stand guard. We had just minutes to film before the industrious workers had sealed the door with 'gobbets' (our term) of wet mud and locked us out again. But the privileged glimpse we were afforded inside the mounds of one of nature’s most intriguing creatures is something I will never forget.