Botswana and the fragility of conservation
A recent article in theWashington Post was titled, ‘I hate elephants.’ Behind the backlash against Botswana’s giants. It relates how human-wildlife conflict is escalating, causing destruction of local farm crops, and even lives. It’s triggered the resumption of elephant hunting and perhaps the culling of elephant herds. (Above photo: Luke Hunter/Panthera)
But even more serious is the threat of fencing! The alarm was recently sounded by Dr. Steven Osofsky at Cornell University, in an article entitled A plea to Botswana: Please rethink a “Not Enough Fences” approach.
Dr. Osofsky developed protocols to reduce the need for fencing, used to prevent disease transmission between wild and domestic animals. But now, he says, the government of Botswana is proposing more fencing, a disastrous policy for wildlife. He points out that fencing has been used in Botswana in the past, with catastrophic results:
"Between 1978 and 2003, populations of wildebeest and red hartebeest in Botswana’s Kalahari region declined by an order of magnitude. Wildebeest declined from 315,000 to 16,000, and hartebeest from 293,000 to 45,000, as a result of fragmentation of their range by fences. And as the antelopes decline, so do lions and other carnivores."
The new threats in Botswana are the result of a government led by PresidentMokgweetsi Masisi, who has veered away from his predecessor’s commitment to conservation.
A change in the political order can change everything.
Tanzania changing as well
What Botswana shows, so relevant for the Serengeti ecosystem, is that politics is central in protecting Africa’s last remaining wilderness. The score card for Tanzania is mixed. See this article about the Selous Reserve, which will be changed forever by a new hydroelectric dam.
On the other hand, the president of Tanzania has just commissioned a new national Park, Burigi-Chato, near Lake Victoria. It’s been upgraded from a reserve, and will hopefully be the first in a series of upgrades for other reserves.