We had always thought of Botswana, where there is limited high-end tourist development and accountable government, as an inspiring haven of ecological sustainability in a disastrous world.
Because the Botswana governemnt is dependent on tourist ‘safari’ dollars, in a time of dwindling diamond revenues, there is a great motivation to preserve the environment at gvt level. We have seen a big improvement in the roads since we started coming to Botswana 10 and 30 years ago respectively, a reasonable increase in park fees, more up-market lodges, with no noticeable degradation of the landscape. One can reach parts that were previously unreachable in the wet season except by the most intrepid visitor.
But the equation is complicated – those same roads that increase access to the bush for tourists, and us, (not that we want it) allow poachers easier access to animals and make policing the poachers more difficult. Local poaching, for bush meat rather than to export, is a significant and increasing threat to animals.
Now! A wild card – apparently the most effective policing of poaching occurs in huge hunting concessions. Much as we are not fans of the type of guy who will fly across the world to hunt down a beautiful creature, kill it and then triumphantly nail its dead head to the wall, hunting serves a vital purpose in this fragile African ecology. Because, ironically, hunters alone seem to have the vision, motivation and resources to prioritise long term sustainability, if not for reasons we share. And, vitally, because the hunting areas lie between national parks, corridors are created between the parks that wild animals can pass relatively safely through.
It doesn’t take much to threaten the equation. The president, Ian Khama, is very anti-hunting. People say that all hunting concessions will be closed in Botswana within the year to become ‘Photographic Safaris’. A good transition? But…hunting mainly takes place in areas of rough bush that are basically unuseable for photographic safaris…it will take many photographers driving 4x4s through the bush to replace the income to Botswana from one American hunter, who will pay $30,000 to kill an elephant…increasing the number of vehicles in the bush swarming on kills etc, does damage the environment…lodge infrastructures have a detrimental environmental impact…
So now, as we leave this incredible country, the picture feels more complicated, the balance more tenuous. The parks are smaller than we remembered.