We realize it's been some time since our last activity update in August 2020! Rest assured we have been very active on the ground throughout the intervening time. September to December 2020 was a challenging time out at the wildlife boreholes in NG3 when an accelerating influx of large numbers of elephants required modification / reinforcement of the borehole infrastructure to ensure its protection from elephant damage and a constant clean water supply for all wildlife. We also had to implement night-time pumping using a generator at the Eastern (Morama) borehole to cope with the 24H water demand of thirsty visiting elephant bachelor and breeding herds.
Employment of local game guards to maintain a presence at the boreholes and gather data on wildlife has also been continuous (even throughout the peak rainy season), and we have maintained our monthly field trips to supply food, pay salaries, rotate staff members, collect data and attend to repairs. Wildlife populations continue to slowly recover in NG3 as a result of this conservation management, but there are now a number of new emerging threats that we are very concerned about (see below). After an exceptionally good rainy season (December 2020 to March 2021), conditions are drying out once again and the critical role of these boreholes - in helping to reduce human-elephant conflict in populated areas, and in terms of providing safe refuge and water access for all wildlife - is again becoming manifest. Thanks to Lion Recovery Fund (Wildlife Conservation Network), for support over those crucial months, and for the additional support from Elephants Without Borders, Future for Elephants, Morama Trust and Mike and Karen McCune. A special thanks also to Frank Gasefele and Rentsi Obuseng of Bush Diamond Safaris for their hard work since December 2020 in assisting with the monthly resupply trips out to the NG3 boreholes and the communities involved in our projects.
Keeping the communities employed in this way has been very much part of our Covid relief strategy, as has been education, health and medical support (e.g. provision of food and vitamin supplementation). With the opening up of Botswana once again to international tourism we look forward to again being able resume securing tourism bookings for the Kagusi Wilderness Campsite and to the resumption of tourism income streams for the Xaranxago (!Harin//axo) community.
In November 2020, in collaboration with Dr. Megan Biesele (a pioneering anthropologist whose working relationship with the Ju/hoansi spans 50 years) and the Fire Bird Foundation, we initiated an unique Ju/hoansi oral history recording and traditional healer training project centered around Botswana's last surviving 'master' Ju/hoansi healers: The project recognizes the urgent need for these masters to pass on their skills on to younger generations, to avert its imminent extinction, which would be a great loss for all of humanity. We have identified all the surviving practitioners of this ancient knowledge system (who are less than 10 in number) as well as apprentices (trainees, mostly younger persons) and we are assisting in creating regular opportunities for Ju/hoansi-only healing ceremonies (dances) involving the training of those apprentices. We do this by networking with the healers (who live in different scattered localities), organizing the healing dances, and providing the necessary transport and subsistence support for these gatherings, in addition to other forms of support. The approach is non-invasive (as outsiders we prefer not to intrude on these sacred ceremonies) and designed to empower the Ju/hoansi to take the lead in their knowledge conservation process, based on their own growing realization of the dangers of lack of inter-generational knowledge transfer and how the commercialization of "trance dancing" has undermined its authenticity and function as a powerful tool for Ju/hoansi spiritual growth and achievement of social harmony. As entering into the trance state in healing ceremonies is physically very taxing, it has health impacts on the more elderly healers, particularly if done on a regular basis for commercial tourism display purposes, and their preference is to be able to reserve their remaining energy for helping their own kind and ensuring the skill is strengthened within their extended family circles. Commercial exploitation of the eldest (and most knowledgeable) healers by tourism entities and members of the general public seeking magical cures to ailments, has certainly had negative health impacts and exacerbates the risk of contracting Coronavirus. In this regard we have assisted some of the healers and related family members in their endeavour to return to traditional territorial localities outside of the settlements, to improve their access to nutritional bush food supplies (for improved health), and so as to create for themselves a more independent and freer environment where they can dedicate focused time towards imparting their skills on other Ju/hoansi. In the 5 months since this project was initiated there has been a noticeable improvement in the health, energy levels and sense of well-being and purpose of these elders. Our field team also undertakes digital audio recordings of interviews related to their life stories and traditional knowledge, which are then sent to the Tsumkwe transcription group in Namibia for processing. Considering the advanced age of the master healers, this project represents possibly the last opportunity to prevent the extinction of one of humankind's oldest skills - a skill which also has great significance to the reawakening of our own long-forgotten energetic connections with the natural world. Mike and Karen McCune have also kindly lent support to this important project.
Other activities, concerns and planned work:
Throughout this time we have also been supporting the Ju/hoansi San communities in their perpetual struggle to obtain recognition of and respect for their ancestral land rights by local Government structures in particular the Tribal Land Board, and to lobby for the protection of their territorial lands and wildlife resources from environmentally-harmful and fraudulent land allocations, as well as other development threats - an ongoing effort that takes up vast amounts of our time and remains unfunded. If we can secure the funding, we hope this year to undertake a detailed cultural inventory (by employing the participatory land mapping methodology we've developed over many years of land mapping work in the Central Kalahari) to strengthen their case for the protection of remaining undeveloped territorial lands from allocations to outsiders (who are often involved in criminal activity such as bush-meat poaching), and to promote sensible land use planning and sustainable use of the natural and cultural heritage resources of these areas for the primary benefit of the bona-fide traditional occupants.
In our capacity as ecological consultants (under Arthur Albertson Consulting), we also coordinated ground (wildlife spoor based) surveys of veterinary fences for AHEAD (Animal Health for the Environment and Development), which is closely collaborating with the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) and National Committee on Fences in identifying viable opportunities for removal, realignment and modification to fences so as to reduce impacts on migratory wildlife. Whilst doing this survey work in December 2020, we also became aware of efforts by DVS to repair the border fence (after a period of no maintenance of this fence of around 20 years) resulting in the closing of gaps (broken down sections) used by wildlife as regular crossing points: The affected communities and KWT quickly took action by engaging with DVS to explain the sensitivities and so far the response has been positive in that repair work has been halted, thus keeping these crossing points intact for now.
Another serious threat to the wildlife resources of NG3 now comes in the form of hunting: Quotas have been allocated for hunting in NG3 in spite of many communities strongly objecting to it on the basis of safety, ecological and operational concerns. The stakeholders are hopeful of persuading DWNP to reverse its decision in favour of a non-consumptive approach to using local wildlife resources, which are low in number and need to be habituated around existing and planned wildlife boreholes so they can be used on a sustainable basis by community tourism enterprises. In this regard, the Heritage Trail (See 29th July 2020 activity post) is nearing the start-up of the implementation phase, which will see the planning and set up of three community based tourism enterprises, namely at: Mahopa, Nxau-nxau and Shaikarawe.
We are also pleased to announce our partnership with Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) and Conserve Global for supporting the Xwiskurusa Natural Resources Conservation Trust in managing the GH10 Wildlife Management Area (their almost 1million hectare lease areas since 2006). As part of this engagement, we will be coordinating territorial land and resource mapping, developing an updated land use management plan, implementing wildlife monitoring (expanding on CCB's conservation performance payment activities funded by Lion Recovery Fund) and initiating tourism developments. UNDP's Kgalagadi & Ghanzi Dry Lands Ecosystem Project currently underway, aims to strengthen the natural landscape and wildlife connectivity between the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and our partnership in GH10 is very much aligned with that objective too. Both UNDP and CCB (with support from KWT), have also helped the Xwiskurusa Trust in transition from a near defunct status to a position of relative strength and that process is ongoing. Development of craft production capacity in GH10 and the adjacent GH11 (also a wildlife management area) is also a key focus, which is being coordinated by Sandi Albertson. We will share much more on all this with you in due course.
Please scroll down for a selection of images from each month since our last update (August, 2020):
(move cursor over images to see captions)
Firstly, some archival photos from July 2020, which was a particularly good month for camera trap wildlife imagery: Much of this wildlife is dependent on being able to cross over gaps in the fence along the Botswana-Namibia borderline (Western NG3) which lies close to and west of the Western borehole.
March 2021: KWT participation in workshops held at Bere and Kacgae together with the GH10 and GH11 Community Trusts in Ghanzi District (organized by our partners Cheetah Conservation Botswana) for purposes of planning 2021 conservation activities. Craft producers and their products were also identified in preparation for planned craft production capacity development.
A quick alert by satellite phone from our Morama ("Eastern") borehole staff of a poaching incident in progress at around 00:30 on Saturday morning (1st August) enabled us to alert the Department of Wildlife's Anti Poaching Unit, which swiftly responded and was able to track down and surprise, later that day, a 5 man poaching gang. Two were arrested and the three that escaped were arrested the following day. When confronted they were in the process of drying the meat of an eland antelope they had killed during the night close to Morama using a shotgun and dogs. It is rare that poachers are caught red handed, with incriminating photo evidence secured that can lead to their conviction. This is the first poaching incident we have had in the area around Morama since activating the borehole last year, and although sad to lose this eland, the arrest of these poachers is a significant achievement in the battle against organized crime and the bushmeat trade. It will also help a great deal to deter any future poaching attempts in eastern NG3. This incident emphasizes the valuable surveillance and crime fighting role played by our community based wildlife monitoring programme in these otherwise unmonitored remote areas in Western Ngamiland. The dedication of both the community wildlife monitoring team members, and the DWNP's Anti Poaching Unit, is impressive and highly commendable and this is a great example of what happens with good team work!
Photos taken on 1st of August, 2020 of two of the five poaching gang members caught (far right photo), the vehicle they used, and the meat from the poached eland.
Our last news update (see 8th April entry below) coincided with the start of a strict two month nationwide lockdown in response to Covid-19, and not being in direct contact with our field teams, we used the time constructively to complete the WWF-Namibia sponsored Khaudum-Ngamiland Wildlife Dispersal Area Heritage Trail: Feasibility Study (Final Report), in May 2020. We hope to make parts of this study accessible soon, but for now the map below highlights some of the study's main proposals. In a nutshell: a new 750km adventure 4X4 route linking up with a number of proposed new wildlife / wilderness and cultural tourism activity nodes (see red and green markers in map), will provide nature-orientated visitors with access into a largely unknown and unutilized wilderness area of around 4 million hectares in extent!
This community based initiative has been planned in close consultation with local communities: their traditional knowledge systems are central to its planning and to the planned showcasing - in the envisaged tourism activities along the trail - of the traditional culture and ways of life of local San (Bugakhwe; Ju/hoansi), Herero and other ethnic groups. It will comprise a collective of tourism activity areas exclusively owned by these communities, but marketed and operated in partnership with the private sector, which will offer a level of wilderness and cultural immersion and authenticity that is increasingly hard to find, and as a result increasingly sought after by travellers. Above all, the Heritage Trail project will empower communities to diversify their livelihood base, and to own and sustainably manage their natural resource base.
Faced with the current pandemic-era related challenges, we have formulated a holistic approach to tourism implementation that will target the more resilient local and international (self-drive and mobile safari) tourist markets, whilst also facilitating opportunities for human-wildlife conflict mitigation and the sustainable consumptive use of natural resources. Use of wildlife boreholes (more are planned to the ones we already operate), early winter rotational burning (to reduce hot unseasonal fires and promote vegetation recovery), reduced livestock stocking levels, and facilitation of community access to areas rich in edible, nutritious wild plant food resources, are just some of the integrated aspects relating to the identified focal areas.
Careful cognizance has been taken of the need to avoid negative impact on the wilderness and cultural sensitivities and where feasible these attributes will be strengthened, as ultimately they are - in combination with one another - the critical "USPs" (unique selling points) that will enable sustainable tourism to succeed in this remote area. The project mission statement is to "address the inter-dependent conservation and poverty eradication challenges through the development of a viable and attractive tourism product, linking the Khaudum Ngamiland Wildlife Dispersal Area's natural and cultural attributes." Financial support is needed to implement the next phases in partnership with local communities, starting off with three of the identified 12 focal priority areas (nodes). For more information on how you can support this initiative, please contact us at email@example.com.
Below are some selected photos from our field work activities in June and July, centered around the /Gui!han (western) and Morama (eastern) wildlife boreholes equipped by KWT last year (see previous blog updates). Currently about 20 community members from five community localities are employed on a part-time or full time basis to maintain and monitor these boreholes and surrounding wildlife habitats. This income is vital to them and their families, especially now that Covid has resulted in cancelled tourism bookings.
You can help to mitigate the Covid economic impact by donating towards our community wildlife monitoring program, and in so doing - aside from generating livelihood income - you will be helping to ensure the continued rehabilitation of a globally significant migratory wildlife corridor linking Botswana's Okavango Delta to Namibia's conservation areas (Khaudum National Park and Nyae-nyae Conservancy). Our plan is to adequately fund and equip the community field teams and to expand the program even further so as to employ more people, from more communitites, and increase the total extent of wildlife habitat (including 100km of the international borderline) under monitoring surveillance and community protection. Please contact us for more details on how to assist (firstname.lastname@example.org): all donations go directly towards supporting activities on the ground, where it matters the most!
We wish to also thank Morama Trustee Mr Peter Stevens for his recent fundraising effort and donations via Dambari Wildlife Trust (UK), which contributed towards the operating costs of the Eastern (Morama) wildlife borehole.
We are also open to bookings for 2021 for the Hunter Gatherer Experience centred around Kagusi wilderness campsite: this is a unique, low-volume (low impact) cultural and wilderness immersion experience led by the most independent and subsistence-based Ju/hoansi San remaining in Botswana, which directly contributes to household incomes for families from four nearby localities and helps to generate funds for KWT's community livelihood and conservation programs. As with the community wildlife monitoring, this tourism enterprise is thus integral to encouraging preservation of wildlife habitat, the transfer of traditional skills to younger generations, and to preventing the influx of cattle owned by outsiders (not from these communities).
By the boreholes operating in these remote localities, they serve a vital role in helping to alleviate human-wildlife conflicts, especially with regards to elephants, by attracting wildlife away from unsafe human populated areas. Last year, by opening up these new water points, we helped to reduce drought-related wildlife die-off when most of the Okavango Delta floodplains were bone dry: this action saved possibly hundreds of wild animals in the process, and enabled the surviving populations to bounce back strongly this year, in terms of their physical condition, behaviour and population recruitment (young being born and surviving). They also serve an increasingly vital function as relatively safe refuge for elephants, zebra, eland, gemsbok, roan, hyena, leopard and other free-ranging species in an ecosystem that - although still vast and wild - is becoming increasingly impacted, on its peripheries, by human population expansion, which is undermining migratory wildlife access to traditional dry season home range areas. In a sense we now need carefully considered artificial intervention, in order to conserve an increasingly human-impacted ecosystem. This is the reality affecting most of Earth's remaining wild places.
Furthermore, by promoting non lethal methods of human-wildlife conflict mitigation, and sustainable community based tourism and non-commercial resource use (wild plant foods being a major unused food resource for example), we aim to create replicable models that can be supported by local communities and which can demonstrate that safari (trophy) hunting and costly lodge-type tourism developments (which are at any rate impractical in remote semi-arid areas), are unnecessary to the effective conservation this fragile, semi-arid wilderness.
Other work engagements in remote community areas (also requiring further funding support), includes: oral history recording, territorial land mapping, Covid related education, prevention and support (sanitizing stations for visitors, distribution of masks, medicines and food support to reduce unnecessary contact with large settlement populations and the health risks when such contacts are made). Countering attempted land grabs of Ju/hoansi traditional lands is also an ongoing challenge requiring sustained focus, and support.
Border fence-line separating Botswana (right hand side) from Namibia: cross border wildlife movement is becoming increasingly regular thanks to elephants breaking through these unmaintained fences, in the process restoring the natural wildlife movment dynamics which existed prior to 1958 when the first border-line fence was constructed under a colonial era directive, effectively bisecting Ju/hoansi lands in two.
Red-billed Queleas at the Eastern borehole. July 2020
Western Ngamiland update:
In March we undertook a routine visit to our NG3 wildlife borehole project areas and the communities in NG3 and NG2 engaged in maintaining and monitoring those areas - but this time with the additional urgent imperative of alerting the communities to the dangers posed by the coronavirus (Covid-19) and how to prepare for its potentially devastating impacts.
Awareness of Covid-19 is relatively poor in remote areas. In engaging them on this topic we covered the basic preventative measures and emphasized the critical need to avoid contact with settlement areas during the national lockdown period. By implementing localised livelihood support projects (e.g. wildlife monitoring, tourism, craft purchases) we are helping to make it feasible for the remote communities to remain relatively isolated, deep within their traditional territorial lands - and to avoid the need for regular contact with large settlements to seek employment and essential supplies / services. Our protocol has always been to bring supplies and services to where the remote communities prefer to live, which is ideally suited to the current Covid-19 isolation / lockdown strategy, and we will endeavour to continue doing so regardless of the future outcome with this virus. More follow-up work is planned to ensure they will have adequate medical and supplementary food supplies during the months to come.
During our routine visits to the NG3 borehole areas, our work usually involves: rotating assigned staff (who work in shifts of up to 8 weeks at a time), resupplying them with consumables and facilitating wage payments (partly in cash and partly in ordered goods); acquiring and assessing wildlife monitoring data; overseeing the maintenance of the sites and borehole equipment. In the case of the Eastern borehole, additional pumping is done using a generator in the dry season to cope with increased water demand from elephants. The community managed boreholes are proving to be extremely useful in terms of:
1. Generating livelihood income for local communities in a remote, undeveloped region where unemployment is rife.
2. Fostering a sense of pride in local custodianship over natural resources and the development of positive attitudes towards wildlife.
3. Reducing human-wildlife conflict through alternative water provision for wildlife in remote areas and building up prey base populations for predators (thus reducing the need for them to venture into livestock areas).
4. Facilitating wildlife dispersal across the western Ngamiland landscape and across the border between Botswana and Namibia: this helps to alleviate wildlife pressure on habitats in increasingly constrained conservation areas in Namibia whilst at the same time rehabilitating wildlife numbers in the vast under-populated natural habitats located inside Botswana, through the influx of wildife into Botswana from Namibia.
5. Mitigating the loss of access to dry season ranges along the Western fringes of the Okavango delta due to expanding human populations there - by providing remote and safe alternative areas where migratory wildlife can access drinking water in the dry season (April to December). Zebra and roan in particular have benefited from this, as have predator populations (wild dog, hyena, leopard etc).
6. Buffering the risk of wildife die-off in drought periods: the boreholes were a life-saver not only for water sensitive species such as zebra, roan and kudu but also for arid-adapted species such as gemsbok which were also suffering acute dehydration stress in 2019 due to successive back to back droughts which led to their forage being extremely low in moisture content.
7. Improving and semi-habituating the wildlife resource base, which is essential to the development of viable and marketable community based tourism initiatoves across the Western Ngamiland region.
We would like to thank the Kalahari Peoples Fund, Mike McCune and Karen Smith-McCune for their recent donations towards the costs of our community support work in Western Ngamiland. Paul Sheller kindly assisted us by carrying out vital resupply trips to staff at the NG3 boreholes in December 2019 and January 2020.
Western Ngamiland March 22nd to 28th photo gallery - Click on each photo for caption:
Central Kalahari Game Reserve update:
Further to our previous post containing images from the first leg of the CKGR portable rainharvester (PRH) installation phase, here are some images from the final trip ending in late March. In all we successfully installed 10 new PRH devices - two in each of the main CKGR villages (Molapo, Metsiamanong, Mothomelo, Gope and Gugamma). The devices were extremely well received now that the communities have had first hand experience in the operation and importance of these "strange" contraptions since we installed the original 5 units in April last year. The provision the additional (new) 10 units has made it possible to allocate at least one PRH device to each of the main family groupings in each CKGR village, thereby reducing the potential for political tensions between different ethnic groups in accessing them. We also used our time in the CKGR to promote awareness of Covid-19 prevention measures and the need for the communities to avoid visiting the settlements outside the Reserve during the current high risk period.
We would like to thank De Beers for kindly covering our costs in manufacturing, supplying and installing these 10 new PRH devices in the CKGR. This is a very meaningful and practical intervention with multiple long terms benefits, including but not limited to:
1. Improved access to clean drinking water supplies, thereby reducing the time and effort normally expended by communities.
2. Improved access to areas with nutritious supplies of wild plant foods (good for self-sufficiency and healthy immune systems) - access to which is normally compromised by lack of water.
3. Reducing dependency on unreliable (temporary and generally unavailable) natural surface water and artificial water supplies (boreholes).
4. Alleviation of the burden on Government through supplementation of water supplies usually trucked to the villages each month over vast distances and at great cost.
5. Reduced environmental impact related to water provision: reduced need for bulk water transportation and/or drilling of new boreholes (and associated carbon foot print).
6. Provision of an ideal climate change coping mechanism under conditions of increasing solar evaporation and increasingly unpredictable rainfall regimes where all rainfall must be efficiently captured and safely protected from evaporation.
As everywhere else, rapid changes are taking place here in Botswana as a result of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism booking cancellations have forced most safari operators to close their camps and lay off most of their staff. Community based tourism initiatives in the remoter areas have also been affected, translating to loss of valuable livelihood income.
To mitgate this impact in our project areas in the Kalahari habitat areas, it is vital for other livelihood income sources - such as that provided through KWT's wildlife monitoring program (community patrols of remote habitats in NG3), and the NG3 wildlife boreholes maintenance program - to be maintained as alternative sources of income.
Obviously it is also vital to keep these activities going for conservation reasons too, and to counter the growing threats to Ju/hoansi San territorial lands posed by land-grabbers and poaching syndicates. In that regard we are also liaising closely with the Department of Widlife and National Parks and other agencies to monitor and report on any potential threats. Community presence and activity is in itself a deterrent and does help to keep these pristine lands and their migratory wildlife populations protected.
As the rainy season draws to an end, the NG3 boreholes will again become increasingly critical as alternative water sources for migratory wildife, as this wildlife runs an increasingly risky gaunlet in trying to find water in the populated areas long the periphery of the Western Okavango Delta.
Needless to say, the alternative water supplies in NG3 are also vital to elephants under increasing pressure in surrounding areas from poachers, licensed hunters (covid-19 providing some respite by delaying their arrival), and conflict with farmers over water sources in the populated areas. So we simply have to keep these boreholes operational with the active support and involvement of the local communities in NG3. Donor support for these activities is now in critical need, so any donations no matter how small will be welcome and we have opened a USD account to make this easy and cheap to do if you are based outside of Botswana (to donate please click here).
The San and Kgalagadi communities are amongst the most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to the elders in particular having in many instances already compromised respiratory systems. The elders also possess most of the surviving ancient hunter-gatherer knowledge. So we have to act really fast to help protect them and their communities. As part of our preparation efforts we will be assisting the more remote communities in geographically isolating themselves from the main settlements where the virus has the potential to rapidly spread.
The portable rain harvesters we are setting up in remote areas rich in wild plant foods (CKGR and Western Ngamiland in particular NG3) has the added advantage of promoting self-sufficiency and access to good nutrition (to help strengthen immune systems). Also, by disbursing payments for project activities locally where they live, and in goods they have specifically requested, the need to visit the settlements to try to find employment and/or purchase goods using cash (thus exposing them to high risk of infection), is also dramatically reduced. But we need to act fast on this and again, donations are also need to support these efforts.
Lastly, for your interest here are some photos of work currently underway inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve where we are busy installing Portable Rain Harvesters at all the San / Kgalagadi villages. These will become increasingly important in ensuring more reliable supplies of clean drinking water, as climate change and economic slow-down increasingly compromises existing water supplies from boreholes (only one currently exists in the CKGR and its yield is declining) and from the monthly water deliveries by Council water bowsers, which transport water over vast distances at huge cost.
In late August 2019, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation & Tourism announced an "open hunting season" starting from 3rd of September 2019 and ending on 30th of November 2019. This was shortly followed by the public release of the 2019 hunting quota and the commencement of licensed citizen hunting operations on the 1st of November 2019. The 2019 quota had allocated numbers for a wide range of wildlife species and for different areas around the country, including NG3 where KWT's primary community conservation project is located.
Faced with this alarming development, KWT and the affected NG3 communities (from August through to October) then engaged with the Ministry asking it not go ahead as planned. Amongst the motivations put forward were that:
- Consultation with affected community stakeholders in NG3 had not yet taken place;
- Hunting in NG3 was against the wishes of the affected community as it threatens their conservation / tourism activities & goals:
- NG3's existing, drought-stressed wildlife populations could not sustain the proposed offtake levels;
- Hunting would cause an increase in aggressive behaviour in resident elephants thereby posing a danger to people.
These efforts were unfortunately to no avail in reversing the decision. Faced with the prospect of an invasion of hunters licensed to go anywhere in NG3, KWT's efforts in late October and November were then directed towards trying to persuade the professional hunter assigned to lead 5 of the 7 elephant hunting license holders, to not hunt in the core project area. KWT and the community also undertook intensive monitoring in the field during the November 2019 hunting period and pleaded with the DWNP to not allow hunters to drive north of Dobe border gate due to the risk of hunting promoting more aggressive behaviour in elephants. Although the hunters did not attempt to hunt in the core project area, the Community's request that DWNP not allow hunters to the north of Dobe gate, were ignored and 2 elephants were shot close to the border fence north of Dobe gate (including a collared bull).
Long-lasting damage has now been done to the age structure of the resident elephant population (est. at less than 100 animals) due to the hunting of 7 of the largest and oldest elephant bulls. One of the effects has indeed been a noticeable increase in aggressive behaviour and two near fatal charges by elephant bulls on community members. The incidents took place on the 8th December 2019 and on the 20th January 2020 and involved unprovoked attacked by bulls on community members walking through the bush. These are as a direct consequence of the November 2019 hunting activities as the only known unprovoked attack prior to November 2019 was in September 2017, when a wounded bull elephant from Namibia crossing over the fenceline intercepted two community elders on their way back to their village. It is clear that as far as NG3 is concerned shooting at elephants creates problem elephants.
Much to the relief of the NG3 stakeholders however, the DWNP in December decided to set the 2020 quota for NG3 to zero for all species including elephant, meaning that there will be no legal hunting pressure on wildlife inside NG3 in the 2020 hunting season (i.e. April to September). Unfortunately only NG3 will be spared as all the surrounding areas will still be hunted in.
Our aim is to persaude Government to implement no hunting zones in critical areas in NG2 and NG8 as well, so as to create a "hunting free corridor" linking Kaudom N.P with the Okavango Delta. Crucial to this are the new wildlife boreholes in NG3, which are vital watering points for all migratory wildlife in Western Ngamiland including elephants. Furthermore, NG3 is currently the only safe refuge area available to elephants anywhere west of the Okavango Delta where they can escape disturbance from hunters. Urgent financial support is needed to enable KWT and the community members to maintain the new wildlife boreholes and protect them and the surrouding habitat areas from the growing threat posed by criminal syndicates, poachers and hunters.
This post provides an overview of what we got up to last year, and what we will be focussing on in 2020. Thanks again to our donors for helping to make our work possible. It's been challenging but we are making progress on the ground, where it matters most!
Review of 2019 activities undertaken:
(for details, images and maps, please click on the highlighted months under each bullet item to view the relevant original post):
Integral to the above achievements, KWT has made great strides in implementing community based conservation and related livelihood development: an area of more than 80,000 ha is already earmarked by local communities in Western NG3 as a "wildlife conservancy / heritage conservation area," where livestock is restricted and the area is managed primarily to rehabiltate natural and cultural resources including wildlife for sustainable use. Species that have in the past been low in number (mainly due to poaching orchestrated from other villages) are steadily returning, successfully breeding and becoming habituated. This conservation area has the potential to at least double in size as more community members from other localities are brought on board, which bodes well for fully reviving the western ngamiland wildlife ecosystem. A low-impact wilderness and cultural tourism enterprise set up by Arthur and Sandi Albertson for one of the communities in Western NG3 already generates substantial income for its residents and through KWT the aim is to export this tourism model to other similar semi-arid wilderness areas. A growing number of residents, especially the youth are also becoming involved in the wildlife monitoring programme and craft production (facilitated by Sandi), which are other income generating pursuits that foster a sense of pride and also help to reduce dependence on Government social welfare programmes.
Other ongoing work done in 2019 included, but was not limited to:
a) Engaging with stakeholders and authorities to promote: community consultation related to resource use; setting of sustainable hunting quotas; implementation of consumptive resource use so as not to undermine other existing and planned sustainable use activities.
b) Monitoring of fencing impacts on wildlife and promotion of habitat connectivity through removal of fences where appropriate.
c) Documentation of traditional knowledge and facilitation of inter-generational knowledge transfer.
d) Convening kgotla meetings in Maun for craft development purposes and craft producer talent scouting.
e) Facilitation of GH10 Trust (Ghanzi District) remobilization in partnership with Cheetah Conservation Botswana and support to craft development planning and community efforts to protect GH10 WMA from privatised fenced ranching developments.
2020: some of our planned activities for the year ahead:
Finally - some November 2019 camera trap images from the Western and Eastern boreholes, highlighting the species conservation value of NG3 as a viable habitat and as a corridor for cross-border wildlife movement:
Having just returned from the field, we wanted to share some of the camera trap results from one of the two remote wildlife boreholes we recently activated. These boreholes are vital to mitigating the impact of drought and habitat loss on Western Ngamiland's last free-ranging wildlife populations. Your help is needed to ensure they are adequately maintained, monitored and safeguarded during the current drought period.
Below: Video of a dilapidated section of the Botswana-Namibia border fence-line west of the western borehole. Such areas are becoming increasingly porous to free-ranging wildlife, but much greater movement between the two countries would be possible by completely removing sections of the fence in the remote areas - something we strongly advocate to reduce fence-related impacts and facilitate regional wildlife recovery.
Northwestern Botswana's wildlife ecosystem is under increasing threat from human population growth, livestock overgrazing and poaching, especially around the periphery of the world-famous Okavango Delta. With the support of Oak Foundation, we have recently activated two boreholes in a remote dryland region located west of the Okavango, for exclusive use by migratory wildlife. These new solar powered water points are intended to help stabilize wildlife populations under threat from drought and the progressive loss of wildlife access to traditional dry season grazing areas, in particular along the western fringes of the Okavango (see map).
Conserving and rehabilitating these migratory wildlife populations is vital to empowering local communities intent on participating in the tourism industry. Poverty eradication and the development of sustainable livelihoods is also essential to the effective conservation of wildlife and the protection of the greater globally significant wilderness landscape.
If implemented conservatively, boreholes in uninhabited areas west of the Okavango, can help to stabilize and rehabilitate wildlife populations. In some instances they may also have the potential to provide focal points for the creation of community-owned campsites catering to the still-untapped self-drive adventure tourism markets (based on an unfenced land-use approach which we strongly advocate for this still largely unfragmented landscape). They can also play a valuable role in providing alternative resource areas for wildlife to help reduce regional conflicts, particularly related to elephants and predators.
The Okavango Delta is but one part of a much larger regional ecosystem that must be protected, and recognition of the importance of the dryland areas to the West is finally gaining traction in conservation circles. Rehabilitating connectivity between habitats in Botswana and Namibia that were once historically linked, is key to ensuring long-term ecological resilience and unlocking the region's full tourism and sustainable wildlife use potential. Failure to conserve the ecosystem as a whole will ultimately undermine the long-term viability of the Okavango and other increasingly geographically-isolated protected areas where tourism is primarily focussed and has already reached saturation point. Growth in the tourism sector - and further employment - will not be possible without creating opportunities in these outerlying ecologically-connected areas. This requires careful and unconventional approaches to tourism development that won't undermine the more important unique selling points of the dryland areas, namely their wilderness and cultural attributes.
Over the past four months we have been engaging with local communities, government agencies, solar borehole contractors, field teams and other conservation organizations in planning, equipping and monitoring two new boreholes (see map). The hard work is already paying off - a variety of mammal and bird species (many suffering acute dehydration stress) have been quick to respond to the water points and we believe this will help to reduce wildlife mortality rates in the general area. Community members have been employed to actively monitor and guard the sites and camera traps are also being used to guage wildlife responses.
We would like to thank the equipment and installation contractors (Sunray Solar, Water Africa) and Ben Heermans (Habu Elephant Development Trust) and the Trustees of Morama Trust (Chris Kruger and Peter Stevens) for their project support. A special thanks is also due to Dan Kelly, Luisa Hemling, Kashe Nxauwe, Dahm Xixae and the assigned Ju/hoansi San community team members, who have all gone the extra mile, and under extremely challenging conditions, to help prepare, oversee and monitor the sites and liaise with the communities.
Although much progress has been made to date, we rely on donations to continue our work. Urgent additional funding assistance (8,500 USD) is needed to help cover the ongoing costs of maintaining and monitoring these sites for at least the next 3 months. This will primarily be used cover wages, food, transportation, monitoring and resupply costs for the support crews and community team members stationed at these remote locations. Protection of the sites from poachers is also particularly important at this time. The observed climatic trend has been of increasingly erratic and late rainfall, and we do not expect local habitat conditions to improve before late January or February 2020.
Above: The new Western community-owned borehole now being regularly visited by elephants, zebra, roan, gemsbok, kudu, leopard, hyena and other wildlife. The wildlife populations of this remote area are highly valued by the local Ju/haonsi San community as a tourism and culturla heritage resource, but have been in danger of decline this year due to the extreme drought conditions and resultant dehydration stress and loss of condition. Wildlife further afield and closer to human habitation are even more vulnerable due to lack of protection. Only very limited supplies of borehole water have been available in neighbouring Namibia (Nyae-nyae consrevancy) and the border fence, although broken down in places, may still be difficult for willdife to cross over. The general lack of dry season water availability for wildlife is clearly evident in the above map.
Historically, this wildlife would normally move southwards in the dry season, towards the fossil river valley where the Qangwa, Mahopa and Dobe villages are situated. Today however, those areas are heavily disturbed and severely degraded by cattle overgrazing, rendering the natural springs there severely depleted and no longer accessible to wildlife - except to some degree, elephants.
This new remote water point, together with the Eastern (Morama) borehole, thus now provides relatively safe refuge and is valuable mitigation for the loss of wildlife access to southerly ancestral dry season ranges and to ranges along the Western Okavamgo delta. Zebra from as far afield as the western Okavango, 120km to the East, have also recently arrived. More elephants are expected to arrive soon from the conflict areas, on account of increasing incidents of poaching, shooting by farmers, and the recent issuing of citizen hunting licences (after an absence of hunting pressure of 10 years) - all of which are increasing stress levels in herds located there.
Below: Eastern (Morama) borehole owned by Morama Trust which was last operated as a diesel-pump wildlife borehole more than 5 years ago and has now been reactivated as a solar borehole under this project. The assigned staff are tasked with regular monitoring and patrols into the surrounding area to assess wildife movements and responses to the water point. One of our objectives is to provide water to the largest remaining subpopulation of zebra still linked to the western delta (Ikoga lagoon area), which has been hard hit by the extremely low flood levels in the Delta this year and intrusion of new cattle posts in some important summer breeding ranges.
Following our earlier post in February 2019 on the training of Ju/hoansi San wildlife monitoring team members, we implemented a trial monitoring programme over a period of three months (March to May). The patrols were carried out on foot by two patrol teams, who repeatedly surveyed sections of the Namibian border-fenceline as well as adjacent habitats (See Maps below).
Under challenging conditions, the team covered more than 700km of mostly remote and uninhabited terrain, in the process obtaining valuable data on wildlife distributions and movement patterns, sex-ratios, direction of movement and movements across the decaying border fence-line. Data for all large mammals was collected, for example: elephant, eland, gemsbok, kudu, roan, wild dog, hyaena, leopard and others.
The results indicate, inter-alia, that there is a high frequency of cross-border widlife movement (despite the fence still mostly being upright) and that vast areas on the Botswana side are still intact ecologically, but need improved connectivity with Namibian habitats in order for further rehabilitation of wildlife population numbers to take place via in-migration from Namibia. Predators were however found to be surprisingly low in number, and this is most likely due to a combination of wildlife poisonings over the years by farmers on the Botswna side and over-selection of males in trophy hunting oprations on the Namibian side (in the case of leopard).
This is a very special initiative that the community is proud to be involved in, as they identify strongly with its purpose. They see their work here as being integral to their long-term efforts to preserve their land, cultural identity and natural resources, all of which are vital to their current and future well-being.
The project has a number of valuable outputs, in that it:
The programme urgently needs funding support to enable it to continue and develop further. We need to train and include more team members, get the teams better equipped, and expand the programme to include other interested communities, thereby also expanding the extent of the border area and total wildlife habitat area under regular monitoring observation.