As game ranches in Botswana close, the deserted lands become increasingly barren habitats.
Effective January 2014, Botswana banned hunting nationwide in an effort to evaluate declining numbers in wildlife populations and habitats. On the surface, this seems like some great legislation in an effort to establish solid conservation practices. However, even the best ideas can have detrimental consequences without proper planning.
With the new law in place and the profitability of legal trophy hunting being virtually halted, many game ranchers throughout Botswana abandoned their lands in pursuit of alternate means of income. With no one to manage these man-made landscapes, the once flourishing habitats are becoming desolate wastelands incapable of sustaining the (largely introduced) wildlife populations which relied so heavily on the persistent year-round supply of food and water.
“Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day….”
Many species, such as elephants, will migrate long distances to find suitable watering holes; remembering the peak season for each. Others have a “critical water distance”, or minimum range they will stray from reliable drinking sources crucial for their survival. In these game areas, a vast majority of the drinking water is from drilled boreholes from which the ranchers would pump clean ground water into an attractive reservoir. For years they kept them full and clean, supplanting the knowledge of seasonality in wildlife with the understanding that these lands were ones to be settled, or they could always return to this location at any time for a guaranteed drink. Abruptly, the lands have been abandoned and swept out from under the feet of the populations which relied so heavily on the consistency, leaving the water to evaporate without replenishment, and vegetation to wither. This is potentially life threatening to those who come from great distances to reach these vital locations just to find them barren, and forces the abundance of wildlife which have taken residence in the area to leave in search of greener pastures.
Effect on Biodiversity
Game ranches are artificial habitats which lack true biodiversity essential for a viable ecosystem. For the ranchers, this lack of diversity is part of the business, and even described in the “Botswana Game Ranching Handbook” by the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, section 1:3:3-
“…In Botswana the hunting industry is heavily skewed towards very expensive, traditional ‘big game’ safaris in large exclusive areas. The main attractions are charismatic species such as lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo. Safari companies rely heavily on these species to attract clients and sell less glamorous species in a ‘package’. ”
Thus, lands are tailored to suit the needs of the “charismatic” (most profitable) species, while anything else surviving in the area is a bonus, but not priority. Many of the lands which have been terraformed into money-making hunting grounds were once natural habitats hosting a wide variety of species native to the area. Some are even Wildlife Management Areas that have been fenced off and reformed. Altered, abandoned, and left to without attention; it will take many years for these lands to regain a semblance of their prior glory as sustainable natural habitats.
Represented alongside, we can see the vast difference in conservation priorities. Note: This map represents only nationally owned lands, and does not include the privately owned game ranches encompassing an additional ~25% of the country, many which surround the National Parks. Can you spot the sanctuaries?
This map has been generated directly from the Botswana Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism website. The colors and legend have been adjusted for easier viewing
Although the law banning hunting in Botswana is definitely a step in the right direction, the inadequate forethought to the socioeconomic implications which subsequently led to deserted game ranches is an oversight of which the wildlife and ecosystem will pay the price. This article is not meant to encourage the idea that hunting is “good for conservation”, on the contrary, but there’s a certain level of social and environmental responsibility to uphold when a legislation tries to tackle a national issue with one of its largest industries without a thorough plan to facilitate the resulting impact.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Jace Porter