As climate change sweeps over our corner of the planet, playing havoc with rainfall and temperatures, the battle between humans and animals for survival is also heightening.
During the 2014–2016 record droughts, cattle ranchers in the west fought for rapidly declining, drought ravaged pasture with the safari industry, which argued that wildlife brought revenues of a more sustainable and less fickle nature.
In those years in the north, the little yield crop farmers were expecting was imperilled by the encroachment of elephants, desperate for nourishment in a difficult year. Predators such as lions, hyenas and leopards routinely raided livestock resulting in high losses for farmers.
The interaction of wildlife and livestock also increased the threat of disease outbreaks, such as Foot and Mouth and Newcastle diseases.
The heavens opened over the country during the 2016-2017 season and already this season many parts of the tourism heartland have received modest rains that have greened the wilderness.
It is clear for many how droughts escalate the human/animal conflict, as wildlife and livestock compete for limited space and pasture.
Ironically, good rains can also contribute to heightened tensions between farmers and animals. Plentiful rains obviously boost populations and survival rates of both wildlife and livestock, but there is more to the story.
In periods of drought, waterholes for wildlife are few and far between, meaning various species congregate in the few available water bodies. In periods of plentiful rain, wildlife are more spread out hunting and accessing water, often leading to more instances of contact with farmers and their reinvigorated livestock which are equally enjoying wider pasture and water.
We share our environment with these animals and have done so since time immemorial. Conflicts are natural and standing between both sides is government policy, as enforced by the officials engaged and equipped for the very purpose.
Increasingly, however, Batswana are complaining that the Problem Animal Control units around the country appear ineffectual in protecting farmers and their produce.
Farmers do receive some meagre compensation for crop losses and infrastructure damage, but the opportunity costs associated can never be replaced.
According to the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, the Problem Animal Control units are ‘very busy’ across the country and thus, are stretched thin.
In the meantime, Batswana have found themselves face to face with troublesome animals and some have taken the law into their own hands receiving heavy censure in the process.
There are no easy solutions and many attempts such as sponsoring farmers to diversify away from a reliance on agriculture, are having limited success. Other efforts have focused on helping farmers repel wildlife without resorting to lethal methods.
Whatever the case, as the national dialogue on this continues, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect communities from the wild neighbours around them.
“Unless the local community signs up, wildlife won’t survive.”
– Jochen Zeitz