CHOBE: Sitting on the famous Chobe Deck of Fame at Chobe Game Lodge in the Chobe National Park watching over the Chobe River, one is blessed with expansive panoramic views.
From a distance, this mighty river separating Botswana and Namibia has on the south side, plenty of wildlife.
There are large herds of elephants splashing on the riverbank and hippos, yawning and dipping in and out of the water.
Warthogs run around and kneel down to graze on the nutritious river grass. Then there are many impalas adding to the bright colour of the landscape. It is said if one stood there long enough and lady luck was on their side, one could witness the park’s coveted sighting of the big predators in action. Lions and cheetahs sometimes make their kill from this southern bank of the river.
However, if one looks just a stone’s throw away at the northern side of the river, on the Namibian soil is the Eastern Caprivi Strip and the situation is completely different. There is virtually no wildlife to see but just grass and small huts in the distant horizon. There is a huge ugly structure of a houseboat being built next to the river. There are also fishermen in small boats fishing dangerously next to the hippos and crocodile infested river.
But the fishermen know that the animals dare not cross into their Namibian side. A tourist asked why there are no animals on the Namibia side of the river. “They have eaten them all, and survivors have fled across to Botswana,” was the cheeky response from a Lodge official.
But in that response lies the conundrum of the Chobe-Caprivi situation. The southern tail end of the Caprivi Strip all the way to the quadripoint of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe where the Chobe pours into the Zambezi River, is the remotest part of Namibia.
To reach it from Windhoek, one has to cross into Botswana at Katima Mulilo and travel by boat back into Namibian settlements along the Chobe River. The Namibians living at these remote settlements live by their own laws, not the ones made in their capital, Windhoek. But on the Botswana side there is an extremely successful conservation area with abundant wildlife and passionate conservationists. Chobe has luxury tourist resorts and excellent forest reserves that attract filthy rich tourists to come and enjoy one of the world’s premier tourism sites. The Chairman of the Chobe National Park Management Plan, Jonathan Gibson, who also chairs Chobe Holdings Limited (CHL) that owns a number of resorts in the park, has spoken out about this “Caprivi situation”. Gibson said the Caprivi Strip problem has many facets but the root cause is the rampant lawlessness, especially on the remote eastern Caprivi Strip. He said, “There is an industry built up on the Namibian side that is virtually unregulated.”
Gibson says the Caprivi side of Chobe does not
There are also tribal issues because the eastern Caprivi Strip has three warring tribes. He mentioned that since most of the people there are rural, they have an antagonistic relationship with wild animals, for instance, lions eat their cattle, hippos and buffaloes trample on their crops, and some endanger human lives. These problems have compounded into a situation that breeds poaching into the protected Chobe area.
Gibson says investors from Botswana lobbied the Namibian government and tried to educate the communities across the river as well as assisting by investing in some of the resorts to help in managing the land use in the area. “The most important thing to do is to harmonise our regulations on land use and river as well as wildlife. We can’t have a situation where Namibia allows hunting on their side of the river because the same elephants that they hunt are our elephants that occasionally cross into their territory,” bemoans Gibson.
A solution to these problems, according to Gibson, is to have a transfrontier park stretching between four countries of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. He gave an example of the elephants’ problem saying it is not just a Botswana issue.
As part of Botswana’s commitment to conservation, all hunting of game species and all trophy hunting (including elephants) was banned from January 2014.
This noble but bold conservation move has created major problems for Botswana because the elephants’ population in the Chobe has shot up, causing much damage to the vegetation in the region.
Conservationists argue that opening up of borders with a large transfrontier conversation area could solve this problem. Gibson gave an example of how a Zimbabwe park tried to cull their elephants because they passed their quota of 13,000.
He said when they reached over 15,000 they decided to cull 2,000 but after shooting less than 300 they could not find any elephant as they had fled into Botswana.
Gibson has taken the responsibility to change mindsets and lead in the conservation initiatives for the Chobe and is fighting with all he has to involve the Caprivi Strip to join in with Chobe to become a harmonious transfrontier conservation area.
He pioneered by introducing electric vehicles and boats. Chobe Game Lodge is the first entity to operate eco-friendly vehicles and Gibson’s dream is to see other resorts following through on this green initiative.