It is common knowledge that the Okavango Delta, which originates in the Angola highlands, is renowned as Africa's most beautiful wetland; a habitat of various animal and plants life species visited by queens, kings and other imminent persons from across the world. It is a wonderland even more famous than its host country "Botswana". However, the fascination for the spellbound tourists may soon be no more as the delta is reportedly under threat of loosing its animals.
Okavango is a natural work of art that trapped Karen Ross who upon her encounter with it in 1983 while in Botswana on a documentary for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) became convinced she had to stay. As the government of Botswana proceeds with the idea to have the Okavango given the World Heritage status, the reality is Ross championed this listing idea. Think of the Basarwa of Khwai - the nowadays landless great people who gave away their ancestral land for the establishment of the award-winning Moremi Game Reserve (MGR) in the delta - all their land now gone for conservation.
Clearly if the findings of a recent wildlife aerial survey, which was conducted by Elephant Without Borders (EWB), is anything to go by destruction to any items of fascination in the delta - be it wild animals, will be a tragedy for the world. According to an aerial survey in Northern Botswana by EWB, 11 mammal species in the Okavango have declined by 60 percent. The biggest decline of 18 percent recorded was for the wildebeests. From a population of 23,538 in 1999, the wildebeest plummeted to only 1,995 in 2010. The analysis of MGR in the delta recorded an annual rate of decline of eight percent for giraffes, Kudu (11 percent), Lechwe (seven percent), and Tseseebe (13 percent).
It was against this backdrop that as leading wildlife experts from the southern African region, some aged men who came to the delta in their fruitful years and the young alike, converged on Maun Lodge in a bid to come up with strategies to address the decline. The general consensus was that there is a decline but why this decline? None among the reputable experts in attendance could give a solid convincing answer. They are some researchers like Okavango Research Institute (ORI), Casper Bonyongo, who doubt EWB findings, questioning the methodologies used. Much skepticism has been raised that the survey may have been politically motivated and a pretext for an eventual commercial trophy hunting ban.
However, for EWB leader Dr Mike Chase, the decline is a reality that needs immediate solutions - not doubts. He once defended his survey saying should any study commence now into his findings, it would come to the same conclusions.Speaking at the Maun Lodge, he said the survey findings corroborate well-known existing research and previous surveys by DWNP, which reflect the same downward trend for certain mammals.
Astonishingly the decline coincided with the restoration of the Okavango Delta to bounty by flooding. It was also observed that while other animals have been halved, the elephants population is thriving in Ngamiland as it stands at 61,600 from the total of 130,000 in the whole of Botswana, which has the largest elephants herd in Africa. The elephant issues caused such an animated debate that they almost overshadowed factors responsible for other speciesÕ decline. An emphasis was made to the participants by facilitator Dr David Cumming to distinguish between Ôblame and causalityÕ on the elephant issue. Other participants argued that elephants play a bigger role in the Okavango system by clearing hard-to-reach areas for smaller game to graze.
From the presentation of Dr Greg Stuart Smith, poaching is one of the factors leading to the decline but not on a very large scale. Participants called for the communities (living with the wildlife)Õs involvement into the solution.Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS) chief executive officer (CEO) Felix Monggae, hinted that communities may soon return to poaching as they no longer enjoy incentives like they used to under the CBNRM.
Lin Cassidy from ORI stated that there is a need to make the benefits of wildlife become available to the whole of Ngamiland - not only to the 10 percent of people in the Wildlife management areas like it is the case, to curb poaching.Fences, fires, drought, poaching and habitat fragmentation were cited as some of as factors leading to the decline in the Okavango. However, judging by deliberations there is a still need for research to determine causes. The objectives of the two-day workshop were to:
*Review the status of wildlife, identify threats and impacts; and
*develop an appropriate research monitoring and implementing framework in the Delta to curb the declines.