Heritage Trail update:
In November, Arthur and KWT community liaison officer Sefako Chumbo facilitated consultative meetings at 7 villages scattered across Western Ngamiland as part of the Heritage Trail project (see post below). Of the populations encompassed within the project area (see map in post), these villages are amongst the most remote and marginalized in terms of lack of livelihood opportunities and involvement in tourism. Our main aim, apart from gathering base-line data, was to assess opportunities for developing tourism facilities, products/activities and the required spatial linkages. This vast sandveld area currently sees virtually no tourist traffic, despite having excellent widerness landscape, wildlife and cultural attributes. In collaboration with our project parners, Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, we plan to finalize a feasibility study by February 2019, which will identify priority activites for the envisaged pilot 4X4 heritage trail, which will link up these remote communities and adjacent habitats with the self drive and mobile safari markets. A plentiful supply of "Monkey Oranges" ("Mogorogorwane" Strychnos cocculoides) from the Shaikarawe community provided our team with much needed refreshment against the scorching heat!
Kagusi Wilderness Campsite update:
In December the Botswana Department of Tourism granted a tourism enteprise licence for the Kagusi Wilderness Campsite, a joint collaboration between Athur and Sandi Albertson and a remote Ju/hoansi San community in Western Ngamiland. Initiated in 2010, the project has faced many challenges, mostly delays associated with the administrative prerequisites to the tourism licensing application. As a unique low-impact cultural / wilderness experience, this low-volume tourism activity will generate much-needed income and other benefits for the community. It will also compliment the work of KWT in the area, which is aimed at assisting the communities to protect their ancestral lands, rehabilitate local migratory wildlife populations, conserve endangered cultural skills and knowledge, and secure livelihood income on an environmentally sustainable basis.
In early October, we travelled down to GH11 - a remote Wildlife Management Area located west of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - where we installed the first of 10 Portable Rainwater Harvester ("PRH") devices we've manufactured so far this year, from sponsorship received from the Comanis Foundation. The PRH device (our own invention) will provide vulnerable, water-stressed communities with an extremely useful adaptive coping mechanism, at a time when the effects of global climate change are already showing signs of accelerating. One of these devices can yield enough drinking water to sustain up to 11 people for a year, at annual rainfall as low as 350mm (typical drought condition). Its effectiveness lies in its ability to efficiently capture any amount of rainfall and protect it from contamination and evaporation - a critically important feature, considering that evaporative water loss in Botswana often exceeds 2000mm per year!
Amongst its mutiple benefits, the PRH will help the San and other similar communities by facilitating their access to useful natural habitats - situated away from the settlements - that are still unaffected by livestock overgrazing, as well as those areas that are naturally richer in supplies of wild plant food species. Such areas have become difficult to access due to the lack of surface water and the required travel distances, as compounded by the difficulty in transporting drinking water, which makes it extremely impractical to undertake effective gathering expeditions for effective plant food harvesting.
Rural settlements and cattleposts - where water supplies are currently located - are characterised by widespread overgrazing by livestock and the depletion of most of the surrounding natural plant food resources on which the original occupants of these areas historically relied, thus compounding dependencies on foodstuffs sold in local shops, which are typically too pricey to be accessible to most residents and at any rate are extremely limited in variety and deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. By contrast, over 100 species of wild, drought-tolerant, plant food species are potentially available for use in natural Central Kalahari habitats, often with nutritional qualities far exceeding that of processed foodstuffs.
The PRH therefore has the potential to impact positively on the food security of many struggling and malnourished rural dwellers, in particular the San. It also has good potential for promoting the preservation of traditional knowledge and culture through skills transfer and as a water supply alternative for remote tourism operations in dryland areas where potable ground water extraction is prohibitively expensive and impractical. The primary advantage however lies simply in improving the overall reliability and supply of clean drinking water for people - wherever they may live - and in freeing water-stressed communities from their current over-dependence on centralised water supply points that are costly to maintain and ultimately unsustainable due to the lack of recharge taking place in the deep fossil underground water acquifers they extract from.
The PRH essentially dramatically reduces the daily personal health risks and energy expenditure involved in accessing conventional, centralised water supplies as users can install it at optimal and conventient locations (e.g. right where they live) and it empowers users to independently manage - by way of a single device - their own drinking water provision, on an ongoing basis and from source through to supply.
On the 25th of September, we conduted a 512km aerial survey over a vast tract of wilderness considered to be a vital spatial linkage in plans to re-establish - through the KAZA TFCA (transboundary conservation area) initiative - a major historical wildlife migration route between Botswana's Okavango Delta and Namibia's Kaudom National Park and Nyae-nyae Conservancy. Area "NG3" in Botswana is one of KWT's primary project focal areas, and the flight was valuable in deepening our understanding of this sparsely populated area. The survey was particulary valuable in:
1. Furthering our understanding of where some of the primary east-to-west elephant movement paths are located.
2. Obtaining further photographic evidence of illegal use of an abandoned mineral prospecting borehole by a members of a suspected crime syndicate under investigation for elephant poaching.
3. Verifying the location of new cattle post developments threatening core wildlife habitats and proposed community based tourism initiatives.
4. Verifying habitat conditions and changes (relative to our previous ground observations) in various parts of NG3 and southern NG2 for community based tourism and habitat conservation planning purposes.
We would like to thank Wilderness Safaris for making the survey possible through their kind sponsorship of the cost of the flight. Thanks are also due to Rhino Conservation Botswana for making their specilaized "husky" survey aeroplane available for the work (at a discounted rate), and last but not least to their pilot, Mark Flatt, for his expert flying skills.
Move cursor over photos below to see captions:
Since our previous activity update on this matter in October 2017, all indications are that the Department of Veterinary Services has now abandoned its 2016 plans for the construction of a new 68km "protection zone fence" along the eastern boundary of wildlife management area NG5 (see Map). KWT, on a completely unsupported (pro-bono) work basis, has played a crucial role in achieving this outcome: As the only conservation organization that actively participated as an interested party in the environmental authorization application process for this proposed development, as overseen by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), KWT provided crucial input by way of its independent submitted reports and contributions to DEA reference group meetings, relating to, for example:
- Inadequancies in the stakeholder consultations and environmental studies related to the EIA undertaken on behalf of DVS by their appointed Consultants;
- Data on the movement of wildlife across the existing, dilapidated Setata Fence, by way of intensive spoor based surveys (February and June 2017) carried out in partnership with Round River Conservation Studies and Wildlife Act respectively, proving the likelihood that the new fence would severely constrain and injure migratory wildlife;
- Evidence of impacts of fencing on wildlife from the previous alignment of this fence across NG5, which was partly dismantled in 1998 and then fully removed in 2004 due to the lobbying efforts of KWT's founding Trustee;
- Evidence of lack of monitoring of livestock movements across the existing Setata Fence and the ineffectiveness of fencing in this area as a disease control measure, especially considering that the western portion is situated in a waterless wildlife habitat area far from any cattleposts.
Throught these technical inputs and regular advisory support to DEA, the Consultants were effectively compelled to "go back to the drawing board" in terms of the conceptualization of the project and have been unable to generate the revised studies requested by DEA since October 2017. The elapsed time has now expired the EIA process and DVS has abandoned its efforts to obtain authorization. The outcome of this is that a major environmental catastrophe has been averted, as the development, inter-alia, would have resulted in:
- The deforestation of at least 170 hectares of natural vegetation by way of a 68km X 25m bulldozed cutline;
- Movement obstruction of elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland, gemsbok, kudu, ostrich and many other species, and physical stress due to the inability of wildlife to move freely to food and water supplies within their territorial ranges;
- Injury and mortality of potentially hundreds of wild animals due to entanglement with the new fence in attempting to run, jump or crawl through it;
- Further loss of wildlife due to poaching along new roads that would be located on either side of the new fence-line, in an area that is currently protected from most human disturbances by having no access roads.
With the support of WWF-Namibia, and together with our project partner, Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, we have initiated the consultative stage of our Heritage Trail project. The 12 month project is primarily a feasibility study for the development of a tourist transit route through the Botswana portion of the Kaudom-Ngamiland Wildlife Dispersal Area (see Map). This is the most westerly of the six WDAs comprising the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area. The envisaged Trail will provide regional adventure-seeking tourists with access to the unique wilderness and cultural heritage attributes of this largely unknown but impressive wilderness landscape, thereby creating opportunities for community based tourism enterprise development and wildlife habitat conservation.
What the project will aim to do:
1. Improve accessibility to, and spatially connect - via a marketed 4X4 adventure route - both known tourism facilities and heritage sites with some relatively unknown wilderness and community areas, thus catering to the growing demand for new and more authentic wilderness and cultural experiences. The geographic expansion and diversification of tourism is also an important strategic tourism development imperative for Botswana.
2. Improve regional tourist flows and local community access to the tourist markets, thus creating much needed income streams (e.g. camping fees, craft sales) to help combat poverty in this remote region, whilst diversifying livelihoods and incentivizing the preservation of wildlife and traditional culture;
3. Improve the sustainability of land-use in this vital wildlife corridor and create an enabling environment for low-impact and culturally-sensitive tourism development that will also help to re-establish historical wildlife migration routes between Botswana and Namibia.
4. The project will aim, within 12 months, to kickstart the planning and authorisation processes for priority community tourism enterprises along a viable trail route, and will identify the required support processes for the trail as a marketed product. The project is also expected to serve as a platform for identifying and planning other future funded projects, the long-term goal being to assist as many communities as possible in their endeavours to achieve sustainable livelihoods and become meaningful participants in the tourism sector.
A big thank you to Peter and Vicky Stevens of Morama Trust for their kind donation towards our community conservation work out in Western Ngamiland. All donations received go a long way to help fund the costs of travel to and engagement with communities on vital livelihood and conservation matters. Our ongoing work is focussed on humanitarian support, community wildlife conservancy development, human-elephant conflict mitigation and craft development. Morama Trust's unfenced conservancy project 80km Northwest of Gumare is similarly also highly dedicated to supporting local communities and conserving wildlife habitat and migration routes linking Western Ngamiland with the Okavango Delta. Their presence is vital too, so please also pay their website a visit!
Great news for remote Kalahari Communities deprived of easy access to clean drinking water! Thanks to the generous support of the COMANIS FOUNDATION, we have finally received our first sponsorship for the manufacturing and installation of 10 X 3000 litre-capacity portable rainwater harvester (a.k.a "PRH") units. Our own unique invention - the PRH safely and efficiently captures and stores any amount of natural rainfall, protecting it from evaporative loss. Fully portable and easily cleaned and maintained by the end user, we believe the PRH has the potential to revolutionaize drinking water security in rural areas: In semi-arid regions globally, surface and ground water may be severely lacking or extremely costly and problematic to extract, transport and safely use. In high rainfall regions, water supplies are frequently exposed to contaminants which can cause life threatening diseases. The PRH dramatically reduces these risks as well as the total costs and time associated with the provision of drinking water by:
1. Enabling extremely cost-effective transportation and installation, on account of it being able to be folded up into a carry bag, allowing for low-cost mass transportation. Installation can be done by the end-user after basic training, without the need for any skilled labour or special tools.
2. Being easy to operate, clean and maintain - and at zero cost - thus cutting out the need for end-user dependency on the regular importation of costly, skilled maintenance crews.
3. Empowering communities to locate water supplies at or close to where they actually live, thus enabling full end-user quality control and dramtically reducing the time and energy expenditure involved in obtaining drinking water. The competition, stress and health risks associated with increasingly unreliable and overused centralised water supplies - all of which are being exacerbated by climate change - can be largely avoided in this way.
The prototype units will be installed in a number of identified Kalahari community areas around Botswana where their operation will be monitored as part of our ongoing research and development program in partnership with the University of Connecticut Engineering Department. At only 400mm of rain per year, these units will generate enough clean drinking water for up to 130 people per year, on an ongoing basis.
Meet our latest Kalahari rescue! We are seeking support for our efforts in aid of community animals in distress: donations towards food and medical treatment while we are in the field, education on the proper care of animals, the private adoption of animals in critical condition that we bring back etc. Lack of access to sterilization services in remote areas leads to uncontrolled birth rates, in hostile environments where little or no food is available, resulting in starvation, fierce competition and injury. We are also appealing for support for getting a veterinary team out to remote areas to carry out treatments and sterilizations. Please also support the vital work of the Maun Animal Welfare Society MAWS.
Work has begun on an upgrade to an existing building along the main road through Qangwa village in Western ngamiland, which will serve as the first ever outlet in this region for traditional crafts produced by local Ju/hoansi San, Herero and Hambukushu communities. The shop will help to generate much needed income in an area with few economic opportunities. Many thanks to Theda Knyphausen of Consafarity for her kind donation towards the start-up costs for this important initiative!
In December 2017 we initiated the recording of the personal history testimonies of //Au//ei elders, including a woman who, until her arrival in a settlement in 2016, was one of the last few remaining San in Botswana still living an independent mobile foraging existence. The documentation and conservation of fast-disappearing unique traditional knowledge systems and skills is an ongoing concern. Thanks to the Kalahari Peoples Fund for its kind donation towards the costs of the initial December field work.