Botswana's Wildlife Threatened By Severe Drought

Parched earth in a drought (file photo)

- Water shortage exacerbates human/wildlife conflicts

- DWNP races against time to provide water

- 'We have started pumping water into drinking ponds' -Batshabang

- Poachers target elephants along Nata/Kazungula road

PHILLIMON MMESO

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Severe drought, which has affected the whole country, is threatening one of Botswana's economic mainstay -tourism- as rivers are drying up and grassland shrivels.

Acting Director of Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Moemi Batshabang paints a very gloomy situation, saying the drought is one of the worst that the Southern Africa sub region has ever faced in recent years. The drought, he said, poses a danger to both wildlife and humans especially in the northern part of the country as it increases the human/animal conflicts. "The greatest issue that we are facing is the drying up of the Okavango Delta which has been providing water especially for the aquatic animals being the hippos and crocodiles," he said, with worry written all over his face.

A lot of hippos were trapped in muddy waters in the Okavango delta and rivers like Thamalakane which have dried up and the DWNP was forced to rescue and relocate them. Batshabang said that in Tubu and Nxaraga areas estimated 200 hippos were trapped in each area and they had to open water wells and pump water to help them. "We had to open wells and pumped water into some ponds and had to translocate the 80 hippos and crocodiles from Thamalakane River to where there is water," he said.

On why they are not translocating some of the hippos, Batshabang said that they are territorial and moving them to another area will lead to fights with those they find in another territory. One of the reasons he said they are translocating the hippos and crocodiles in Maun is because they want to protect people in the area as human life comes first.

Another area of concern for DWNP is the drying up of Lake Ngami which has an estimated 100 hippos and Batshabang said that their team is in the area to address the situation. "The main challenge at Lake Ngami is the livestock especially cattle whose population is currently standing at over 38000 and pumping water in the lake is going to be a challenge," he revealed.

As a mitigation strategy the acting DWNP Director said that they are going to pump water into some section of the lake from their boreholes in the area. Though they are addressing the water situation, Batshabang said that another worry is the shriveling of the grassland. He said they are currently giving the hippos' supplementary food.

High conflict area

There have been high cases of human/animal conflict in the northern part of Botswana leading to many casualties mostly caused by elephants. This, DWNP boss attributed partly to the drought as elephants move into human settlement looking for water and ultimately destroying boreholes in areas like Sandveldt.

Elephants, which have no predators, roam widely to get their daily ration of as much as 52 gallons (200 litres) of water and about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of grass, leaves and twigs. While they can provide water, the main challenge for the DWNP is lack of grass.

On why elephants kill people, Batshabang highlighted that in most cases they were either provoked in the past and they have sharp memory to remember the perpetrator thus going after them. "In some instances is just some bulls which behave in a certain way and just attack people unprovoked," adding that what is needed is awareness on the behavior of elephants.

He said that the pressure is very high for them to provide water for the elephants and limit their movement to the human settlements. "The good thing that we did in the past is to drill boreholes which we use during dry seasons and we have now started using them," he revealed.

He said the area that gives them a lot of problems is the Ngwasha area along Nata/Kazungula road (A33) which he said due to the drought, poachers now use it to poach elephants. "We have stepped up our anti-poaching activities to try and protect the animals because they know that most of them are thirsty and using that to lure them," he said.

Hunting ban

On the contentious issue of hunting ban which has pitted the country against some international conservationist, Batshabang said that they expect hunting to start early September. This he said it will be done in a very manageable way and which species to be hunted and the quota.

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