Wildlife ACT launches new project in Botswana

The day is here and Wildlife ACT is very excited to announce our first project site in Botswana – Chobe Enclave!

We have recently partnered with the University of Botswana and the Okavango Research Institute in order to assist them with priority conservation research projects throughout Botswana. In establishing our first field site and a research project on Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) two students from the University of South Florida were lucky enough to join me, Robyn Hartley in Chobe Enclave. Together with a translator and professional tracker we ventured off into the bush for three weeks.

Students University of Botswana

Aja Estro and Alicia Buchanan from the University of South Florida

Human-wildlife conflict is an ongoing and serious management and conservation issue in Botswana with research and mitigation strategies having been highlights as essential activities by the Government of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP).

elephant and fence conflicts

An agricultural fence has just been constructed in the area blocking access to the river. Elephants have been damaging the fence escalating the negative feelings towards wildlife.

The region where we will be focusing our first project is in the Chobe Enclave. This dynamic concession lies within the Chobe National Park and Chobe Forest Reserve, with the Linyanti and Chobe River creating its northern boundary with Namibia. This area is zoned as an agricultural, pastoral and wildlife management area bringing with it human-wildlife conflict at its most complex. This important wildlife corridor has a number of small communities residing in it and elephant, lion, leopard, hyena and other wildlife species utilising the area heavily impact them.

spoor transects lion

A lion spoor captured on one of our spoor transects running over a fence line broken by elephants.

The work that we are responsible for under the HWC study includes predictive mapping in assistance with mitigation strategies, as well as on the ground “intervention” methods. While the area boasts rich biodiversity and wildlife, they are commonly nervous, as they come under much persecution from poachers and revengeful farmers.

Chobe-wild dog

A fleeting moment with a wild dog before it disappeared into the bush.

The overall objective of the research is to establish a greater understanding of the patterns and underlying processes of human-wildlife interactions in the dynamic ecosystems of Botswana, with the Chobe section of the study feeding into a wider study. The study aims:

  1. To determine the current status and trends in incidents of HWC and map the spatio-temporal distribution of HWC in Chobe.
  2. To conduct spatial mapping of cattle posts within the area.
  3. Investigate the socio-ecological patterns and underlying processes of livestock attacks in Chobe.
  4. To determine the attitude towards wildlife by communities members and the success of on-going mitigation and conservation training.

    cattle post interviews

    Conducting interviews with cattle post owners & herders.

Our two students, Aja Estro and Alicia Buchanan had focuses of their own within our research priorities. Aja focused on indigenous knowledge of predators and its correlation to the Problem Animal Control reports collected by the DWNP after HWC incidents. Alicia focuses on the attitude of the communities towards wildlife and the extent to which Community Based Natural Resource Management has influenced this. Watch this space for what they found!

Alicia&Aja

Appreciation of all the sunrises and sunsets was never lacking.

Our first three weeks of fieldwork were intense with varying levels of responses from community members from bestowing us with local Setswana names and welcoming us into their homes, to accusing us of being spies and chasing us off their land. First-hand experience of livestock attacks brought my students and myself to the forefront of the situation there as well as hearing farmer’s promises to go out find the predators responsible and shoot them. One such interview stands out clearly in my mind. Upon asking a farmer to describe conservation and what it means to him, he responded immediately and without hesitation, “Conservation is the peoples’ enemy”. This particular interview was balanced with other interviews such as the man who had been attacked by a lion and had been left for dead by his friends. Upon asking if he thought predators were important to the eco-system he responded saying “Yes! Very important. They are just like us – looking for food and survival. We are in their space and need to learn how to live with them.”

Photo by Andrew Brukman.

The team trying to assist a calf bitten by a hyena. Photo by Andrew Brukman.

Spoor transects included extremely early mornings greeted by beautiful sunrises. Identification of predator tracks was an especially valuable skill learnt by the whole group from our experienced and enthusiastic professional tracker, Picture.

spoor transect details

Identification of each predator track was essential, including its species, age bracket and sex.

We had fantastic wildlife sightings on our spoor and afternoon herbivore transects including hundreds to thousands of elephants, buffalo, lion, giraffe, zebra, impala, jackal, wild cat, waterbuck, kudu, warthog and more. Our rare and endangered species sightings included wild dog, sable, the amusing Southern Ground Hornbill and a few herds of roan antelope.

Sable-male

This impressive sable male was spotted on one of our transects.

Our work in this area continues with additional aspects to be added including crop raiding and the factors involved with this. We hope to be an integral part of successful mitigation strategies in the area, a role player in preservation of an essential wildlife area and assistance to the community in learning how to coexist in the same space as wildlife.

elephant calf missing trunk

An elephant calf missing half its trunk – this can be either due to predation, snaring or due to fences that breeding herds encounter.