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.