Case Study by: Ceeanna Zulla

Imagine an area in Africa that has never been forcibly colonized; an area home to the most mysterious combination of habitats—desert, in-land river delta, forests. With 45% of its land protected, Botswana represents what Nature Needs Half is all about.

According to the 4th World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas definition, 45% of Botswana’s land is protected. In Botswana, to be considered a protected area it must fall under the category of “an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.”

Botswana’s protected land is divided between eight categories: National Parks, Game Reserves, Private Wildlife and Nature Reserves, Wildlife Management Areas, Forest Reserves, National Monuments, World Heritage Sites, and Ramsar Sites. Within these territories, controlled hunting is only authorized in Wildlife Management Areas (which also holds the biggest percentage of total land area; 24%). National Parks only hold 8% of total land area throughout the state.

This protected land includes notable biodiversity located through the eastern part of the country to the Okavango Delta, Makgadikgadi Pans and the Chobe National Park.

Most of the areas are largely diverse with plant, mammal and fish species but the Kalahari Xeric ecoregion is among the poorest nutrient areas in South Africa. 18% of this Savannah is protected but where the Kalahari Xeric is not protected, heavy grazing has negatively impacted the habitat. Although it has tremendously poor plant species, the Kalahari has a diverse group of large mammals such as the gemsbok, the cheetah, and the Kalahari lion.  These large mammals totaling to 150 species, with 444 species of birds are able to survive because of what lies in the middle of the dry desert; The Okavango Delta.

The Okavango Delta (the world’s largest Ramsar Site) includes the inland delta of the Okavango River, the Tsodilo Hills, KwandoLinyanti River system, and Lake Ngami. The Okavango Delta is home to remarkable lagoons, lakes and channels that cover over 17,000 square km. It also has one of the most pristine inland deltas in the world.  The delta is surrounded by an unusual combination of habitats. As previously stated, the Okavango Delta is located in the Kalahari Desert. As one of the harshest habitats, sand consumes the area around. On the outskirts of the delta are the dry forests and woodlands, which surround the wetlands and grass plains. In these diverse habitats, animals ranging from hyenas, wild dogs, and lions to monkeys, squirrels and bush babies inhabit the area. It is also home to the world’s largest population of elephants, numbering approximately 120,000 elephants. The delta is home to copious amount of wildlife and its biodiversity is said to be under the highest pressure in Botswana.

In February 2012 the Botswana government submitted an Okavango Delta Nomination Dossier to UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, with the hope of inscribing it as a World Heritage site, joining the nearby Victoria Falls and the Tsodilo Hills which are already designated as such. This will give the Delta an extra layer of protection, and secure its place within the heart of the proposed KAZA Transfrontier region. These efforts are described in The WILD Foundation’s blog in February 2011 and also in May 2011.

These protected areas are not only essential for wildlife but for human survival as well. Citizens depend on the environment for their livelihood. Some of the poorer urban communities rely on the water directly from the habitat for themselves and for their crops. Another major factor is tourism. Tourists realize that the delta is such an uncommon habitat to find in a desert that it has become a popular site. People all over the world want to come see Botswana’s wildlife in its natural habitat with minimal tourists surrounding. The survival of the endemic species is not only ecological but economical too.

With striving to keep the wildlife intact for these benefits, these factors are also diminishing the Okavango Delta. Within the three major threats, tourism activities are included along with fires and disturbances to the habitat such as human activities. While there are thousands of acres of land owned and protected mainly by tribes, one will question if one of these areas is harmed, are the others affected as well?

Throughout the northern part of the country lies the Kalahari Acacia-Baikiaea Woodlands. These woodlands extend through the Chobe National Park and create a home for much of the region’s wildlife. In the southern part of the country is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which connected the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana to the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa. The goals of Botswana are in keeping with those that Nature Needs Half represents. These large landscape woodlands, called Miombo-Mopane, are considered to be a global megadiversity hotspot worthy of special attention.

The Miombo-Mopane woodland type extends between ten countries, and both human communities and wildlife depend on the water and food provided it provides. This large landscape area is the focus of KAZA – the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area,  and is potentially the world’s largest conservation area (over half of KAZA has some form of protective designation), and encompasses over 150,000 square miles of southern Africa’s landscape spanning five countries; Botswana, Namibia, Angola,  Zambia and Zimbabwe, centered around the Caprivi-Chobe-Victoria Falls area. On March 15th 2012 the relevant Ministers from all five countries signed a treaty to pursue this vision.

The WILD Foundation, Wilderness Foundation and other conservation groups have also successfully lobbied to have key corridors established in the network of veterinary cattle fences that sprung up in the Okavango/Miombo-Mopane region in the 1990s. These interventions make an important contribution in re-establishing connectivity between wild areas, which not only protect historical migratory routes but also buffer for unforeseen changes in ecosystems due to climate change.

Overall, there is good in situ conservation for eco-regions and wildlife species. With the exception of the northeastern part of Botswana, there is generally less protection since most of the endangered and rare plants are outside of the protected areas. Botswana recognized the issue and in 2007 commissioned a Botswana Threatened Species Policy study, but unfortunately, but as of yet, comprehensive legal support is lacking and this has not been followed through.

Ex situ conservation throughout the state was limited until the creation of the Millennium Seed Bank Project. The seed banks contain over 500 collections of plant seeds, herbanum voucher and live specimens. While this allows over 60% of threatened species available, there is little protection for tree species.

The Forest Act of 1968 declared the right for certain tree species to be protected. The act after research listed ten species in need but in today’s database of Southern African Plant Red Data list, these species are not listed. This shows mishandling of data and the need for more organization/access to data.

The threat to biodiversity is relatively low. One aspect is the average amount of people per square km. The total land adds up to 581,730 squared kilometers with the average population being 3 people her squared km. That is a massive amount of land with a small population inhabiting it.

So what has the state come up with to keep their environment thriving? The Ministry of Environmental Wildlife and Tourism developed a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) in order to sustain and to conserve the wildlife for today and future generations.

The BSAP encompasses 11 strategic objectives. A few include efficient management of biodiversity, dealing with environmental change, improved accessibility to biodiversity data and raising awareness throughout the public. The government is looking for a balance between the people of Botswana and its nature. BSAP hopes to achieve this vision by 2016.

Other programs have sought out to take on helping the environment through their own groups. One in particular, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, established the Maun Conservation Education Centre. It was created in 2008 to help teach the values of conservation.

Education programs are beginning to be integrated in Botswana’s education system as well. They believe it is a major factor for the wilderness to survive. By creating these programs, it enables first-hand experience allowing citizens of the community to become aware of threatened or near threatened wildlife.

Botswana’s main vision is to see a balance between humans and nature. The country has such a wide variety of habitats that are crucial to the survival of their plant and animal species. With continuing to protect it through parks and reserves, establishing better management, organizing data and involving the community, Botswana’s habitats will benefit.

Many thanks to Karen Ross for her editorial updates to this case study! Karen is the Director of the Okavango World Heritage Project.

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