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Saving 'Ngurungu'

THALEFANG CHARLES
Bushbuck also known as Ngurungu is facing extinction in the Chobe National Park. PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
This weekend the Ngamiland football outfit, Sankoyo Bushbucks, popularly known as ‘Ngurungu’, get into their last battle to survive the chop from the Botswana Premier League. However, their namesake, the real bushbucks is also facing extinction from the elephant-ravaged forests of Chobe. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES reports

In Botswana most people, especially from the southern regions, know ‘Ngurungu’ as a football team, Sankoyo Bushbucks.  It is a young team from deep in the Ngamiland wilderness with their very own fairytale story in which it became the first ever football team from the north-western region to reach the elite league in 2014. 

On the team’s logo is a bushbuck’s head called ‘ngurungu’ in the Seyei language, because as Kgosi Gokgathang Moalosi of Sankoyo village explains, “Ngurungu is a stubborn and clever animal that knows how to hide and fight dogs when it is hunted”.

But in the Chobe region there is nowhere to hide for the Chobe bushbuck and it is facing extinction. 

The small antelope that used to be celebrated by gracing the emblems of world famous boutique lodges such as the Chobe Game Lodge, has vanished from one of Africa’s Edenic wildlife parks.

This startling observation was made recently by two of Chobe’s most passionate conservationists, Jonathan Gibson, the chief executive officer of Chobe Holdings and Dr Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders (EWB). A bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) is a brown antelope with geometrically shaped white stripes on the most mobile parts of the body including the ears, chin, tail, legs and neck. 

They are solitary animals that live in one area, usually a thicket. Many guides working at the Chobe National Park say they do not remember the last time they sighted a bushbuck inside the park.

 

Ngurungu’s plight

“Bushbuck used to be on our logo.  But they are not here anymore,” says Gibson, wryly describing the plight of the antelope in the Chobe area.

Gibson is an authoritative figure in the Chobe region in matters of conservation. He grew up on the river  banks and has seen great change to the environment. His experience and expertise in the area is unsurpassed.

Chase, who is one of Africa’s leading ecologists, explained that there are a number of factors that have led to the disappearance of the animal in Chobe.

“The over-population of elephants in the Chobe has led to the destruction of vegetation and that has led to lots of problems including the disappearance of some animal and plant species,” Chase says.

Chobe has one of the world’s largest concentration of elephants and the area has started to bear the brunt of being the haven of the African elephant.

The elephants have ravaged the area so badly that small animals that used to inhabit thickets like the bushbuck have become exposed to predators.

“The vegetation that could

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support the bushbucks has been destroyed, so leopards and other predators are now feasting on the poor animals,” Chase says.

The few bushbucks remaining are trapped between the river and private properties on the Kasane-Kazungula riverfront. This year, the bushbucks’ situation is compounded by the swollen Chobe River that has forced the antelopes to move into private homes to avoid being eaten by crocodiles. One of the farmers who has  property along the Chobe River front is Michael Grahame Barlett who lives in Kazungula. “They (bushbucks) are running away from the river predators to the land and now they face human dangers of poaching by being trapped in snares,” Barlett says.

He also said the fencing of the riverfront yards has trapped the poor animals. According to the farmer, the use of razor wire in fences around the riverfront has proved lethal for the antelopes. 

The vicious dogs reared by the people in the area have also reportedly accounted for many bushbucks.

What is the solution?  Both Gibson and Chase believe that the plight of the bushbuck needs an immediate solution, which they say can be found in relocating the remaining animals to selected sanctuaries.

“It is not the ideal solution, but it is the best we can do for now.  We cannot afford to let this animal become extinct,” Gibson says.   He suggests that Government, through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), should assist in finding sanctuaries for the bushbucks.

 

Bushbuck rescue

Through the intervention of Gibson and the Ministry of Environment Wildlife, Conservation and Natural Resources, the EWB with support from Bank of America, has embarked on a project to save the last remaining bushbuck in the homesteads of Kasane and Kazungula. “Chobe Holdings has offered protected land with the right vegetation for the relocation of the bushbucks in Kasane,” Chase says.

Chase together with his team of experts including veterinarian Dr Larry Peterson, and Robert Sutcliffe from EWB, are currently relocating the bushbucks found in the periphery of the river to the secured Aquaculture Fish Farm in Kazungula with lush vegetation perfect for the bushbucks.

The project is a crucial lifeline for the existence of the bushbuck in the Chobe area because without the intervention the animal would soon cease to exist in the area. Meanwhile, Kgosi Moalosi and the supporters of the Sankoyo Bushbucks have welcomed the news of saving the ngurungu, musing that it is a good omen for the survival of their football team in the top league.



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