The results of the recent and most extensive elephant population survey of Botswana estimates the country’s population at 126,000 elephants, a further decline from 131,600 reported in 2014. The report shows repeated evidence of significant increases in elephant poaching in four hotspots in Northern Botswana, which started a media storm last year.
This report by Elephants Without Borders (EWB) comes after the cabinet sub-committee presented their pro hunting report to President Masisi on Thursday last week, which proposes not only lifting the hunting ban, but also the introduction of regular elephant culling and associated elephant meat canning industry for pet food, as well as closing certain wildlife migratory routes.Botswana government earlier submitted a proposal to CITES in preparation for the CoP18 meeting in May this year, asking to amend the CITES listing of the African savannah elephant to allow for trade in hunting trophies, live animals and registered (government-owned) stocks of raw ivory. According to the African Elephant Status report (2016) Botswana’s elephant population declined by 15 percent in the preceding 10 years.
This report clearly shows that Botswana’s elephant population is not increasing, as is often suggested in political and hunting corridors. Although its population is still the largest in Southern Africa it is actually 100, 000 less than the 237,000 often quoted by politicians and the media in Botswana in attempts to justify culling and hunting. The EWB elephant population of 126,000 is based on a region-wide aerial survey, covering a larger area than any previous study by EWB. The joint EWB and DWNP team flew over a period of 62 days, recording more than 32,000 km of transects and covering over 100,000 km2 of Botswana, including Chobe, Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks and surrounding Wildlife Management Areas, Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve, and the pastoral areas in Ngamiland, Chobe and the Central Districts.
ELEPHANT POACHING HOTSPOTS
Since the last survey in 2014, the EWB research team discovered a steep increase in the number of fresh and recent elephant carcasses, that is, elephants that died within the last year of both natural causes and poaching. The EWB team confirmed that of the 128 elephant carcasses less than one year old, 72 were confirmed either on the ground or by aerial assessment as killed by poachers and an additional 22 from survey photographs as poaching victims. In addition, 79 older than one-year carcasses were assessed in one particular hotspot, of which 63 were confirmed as poached.
The all-age carcass ratio increased from 6.8 percent to 8.1 percent between 2014 and 2018, generally accepted as indicating an elephant population that could be declining. The elephant remains all show the graphic evidence of poaching with a similar modus operandi. Poachers shoot the animals with high calibre rifles when they come to drink at remote seasonal pans. If the elephant doesn’t die immediately, one of the poachers immobilises it by damaging the spinal cord with an axe.
Their tusks are hacked away, severely damaging the skull, the trunk is often removed from the face, and the carcass is covered in cut branches in an attempt to hide the dead animal. The poachers seem to operate in a certain area, targeting the bulls with large tusks, before moving on to the next site.
They are in no apparent rush, as a poacher’s camp was also discovered close to one of the carcass clusters.The ground verification team established that the vast majority of poached elephants are indeed bulls between the ages of 35-45 years old. This also corresponds with evidence in the report that the bull population has decreased from 21,600 individuals in 2014 to 19,400 in 2018. The poaching appears predominately in four hotspots in Northern Botswana – the area between the Pan Handle and Caprivi Strip, in and around the Savuti section of Chobe including Khwai and Linyanti, near Maun, and in the area between Chobe and Nxai Pan.
A panel of nine independent elephant scientists reviewed the EWB report and found the science to be rock solid. One member stated, “this is a very thorough and carefully documented report demonstrating exceptionally high rigour”. Nevertheless, the Botswana government still attempts to cast doubt on various issues detailed in the report, as part of a confusing political campaign. EWB strongly refutes the government claims and says they find it regrettable that the government has not contacted them directly to discuss the report.
In addition to the many elephant fatalities, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in just 11 months in Botswana, three of which were in the Okavango Delta. The surge in wildlife poaching is alarming, but sadly not unique to Botswana. Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, member of the reviewing panel, says “in my view [the EWB] count showing that elephant poaching has increased to a greater level than previously thought, raises the possibility that further escalations are possible”. Another member adds, “it is safe to say that, if the observed poaching trend continues, there could be a significant decrease in elephant populations. Politicians never like to see negative publicity however this should act as a warning call, and preventative action should be taken”.
Maun, the gateway to the beautiful Okavango Delta, the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site, is a very special place that has captivated domestic and international tourism in almost equal measures. Over the past few years, the town has been attracting thousands of fun lovers over the holidays and through-out the year. This festive season, once again many of those who wish to take time out of their busy schedules and unwind will be casting their eyes to one of the many river frontages that are spread through the North West district capital.
Beckoning with her beautiful scenery, and the many attractions that lie in wait for those who wish to have a good time, Maun has everything for everyone. River sands, nature, wildlife. Maun ka Monatji as most people can attest, when one goes to Maun, they know for sure that they are guaranteed to have the time of their lives.
Staging as natives love to say is what Maun is best known for. And with events such as the My Maun Experience, the popular and colourful Wine and Whisky Jamboree event, as well as the other events such as the inaugural Maun Colour Jam, and the Monate ko Motjing events are just some of the events that are fast turning Maun into one of the hippiest places in Botswana.
Tumie Sebego tells this publication that Maun is a unique town as it serves as a tourism frontier town and the gateway to the world-famous UNESCO heritage site, the Okavango Delta. She explains that Maun is also in close proximity to other tourist attraction areas such as the Moremi Game Reserve, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pans, Tsodilo Hills and the Okavango Panhandle. This typically means that tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to nit-picking where they want to go for leisure and spend their money.
She also explains that one of the reasons that makes it a hit with tourists is the fact that it has good accommodation and a reliably mad mix of bush pilots, tourists, campers, volunteers and luxury-safari travellers. “For tourists, it is a great base to stay for a day or two, especially self-drive campers who wish to take a short break and get supplies in the local supermarkets. Batswana absolutely love to spend some time during long weekends and holidays at Maun as it is off the beaten track of the busy commercial towns and cities dotted on the eastern borders of the country,” she explains.
She also notes that the tropical feel of white sand, palm trees and giant trees offer a different perspective from the rocky savannah in the rest of the country. “In general, Maun has a very relaxed feel with a safari buzz as you will regularly see tourist overladen trucks, fully equipped safari car rentals, assortments of game viewing trucks and safari kitted people buzzing around town all year round,” she explains.
Sebego further says that the best and main attraction include the Thamalakane River which runs through the town which is strung out over a few kilometres. The river, she says offers more than just a water source but a beautiful view with lots of activities offered here such as motorized boat cruises, Mokoro trips (dug-out canoes), fishing and for the locals waterfront entertainment spots.
“The next attraction is the close proximity of Moremi Game reserve where people do day trips to view the abundant wildlife – these trips can be booked with most local operators and lodges. Most people visiting Maun for a few days will even opt for camping for a few days in the Moremi Park or in the Makgadikgadi pans. One of the best ways to see the Okavango delta is to do a fixed wing of helicopter scenic flight which can be booked with any of the air charter companies situated in close proximity to the airport,” she explains.
And what about entertainment, she notes that it is mostly self-made and involves some local restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars.
“There are some that are more popular than others which may bear some significance to some attractions such as The Old Bridge backpackers which has a popular bar and restaurant set on the river banks with sandy ground and rustic thatched structures. Motsana Arts and Culture centre offers a great one stop shop as it offers a quirky building with some craft shops, a relaxing café, health spa, some occasional flea markets and occasional performing art concerts. Another favourite local spot is just a spot on the river bank named Big Tree which just offers a beautiful area opposite the local park where people will regularly see some giraffes, zebras and impalas,” she highlights.
A renowned photographer, Thalefang Charles, who has explored the length and breathe of Botswana, explains that there is no place like Maun in Botswana. He explains that it is one of the few places in Botswana where one can have fun without going to the bars. He also adds that the people of Maun with their exotic language know how to host visitors.
“The fact that Maun is a tourist town, and that the residents have interacted with them means that they are always ready to welcome visitors into their town,” he says. He also notes that besides the beaches, visitors can embark on exhalating trips into the Moremi Game Reserve or the Okavango Delta (either day trip/night trip).
“There are a lot of tour operators who ply their trade there,” he says. According to a local host, Ryan Livingstone Kentshitswe, Maun is peculiar to Botswana in many respects. Firstly, it is Maun’s multi-ethnicity which he believes influences her being cosmopolitan. He also says that the fact that it is located in a district endowed with natural beauty and an international destination area has a lot more to do with Maun being as cosmopolitan as it is and that in its way enhances a unique type of energy amongst both inhabitants and visitors alike.“In Maun it is quite easy and natural for one to pick a spot anywhere around or in the outskirts of Maun, pull out a camp chair and a cooler box and have a picnic. This is excluding your different ‘beaches’,” he explains.
He also notes that the multi ethnicity also contributes a lot to the magic of Maun. “We have an easy-going nature hence folks from all over will always feel welcome in our mist. So, in that sense it is quite easy to see why Maun remains Botswana’s favourite go to place every other holiday,” he says.
Kentshitswe further says that besides the natural wonders such as the river which shelters many a ‘beach’ spots, the magic of Maun can also be credited to their creativity in both the entertainment and food scenes, which he believes rivals that of any place in the country. He reveals that before there was a club in Maun, it was quite natural to set up speakers and a DJ and of course beverages by the river and get an all-night picnic going. Trending places to look forward to includes popular spots such as Luna Bar and Pub 24/7.
“These are the trending bars at the moment but options extend beyond bars,” he notes.
One of the events to look forward to these holidays is none other than the inaugural Maun Colour Jam slated to take place on December 30th at the Metro Farm. Kentshitswe, will host the chillas event with the focus being to bring out that summer spirit. The dress code for the event is bright coloured clothes. The venue for this event, he explains is a private farm with a luxury chalet and several fully furnished porta cabins and a camp site. Highlights to look forward to include hammocks, volleyball, ping pong, hubbly smoking and Tswana games as part of the activities.
“Food forms a big part of the event. On the menu, we have braai (chicken, beef, pork, kebabs etc) as well as interesting side dishes like chicken feet and necks, gizzards and a bit of mexican foods and many more. We also have a camping package running from Dec 29 to 02 Jan.”
He points out that the difference between the Maun Colour Jam and other events is that revellers can look forward to a number of activities. He also says that others focus more on sale of liquor and food but hardly provide activities such as water slides, modern and traditional games. Those who are interested to learn more about the event can visit the events FB page Metro Farm. Besides the Maun Colour Jam event, one other event that has been transforming Maun and drawing multitudes is none other than the Wine and Whiskey Jamboree.
The event is held on January 1st, and it takes place at the Lek-a-Valley Farm (30 kilometres from Maun in Chanoga). Event organiser, Mochaena Kepadisa explains that the event is in its fourth year. The event, he says was conceptualised four years ago, and started off as a small event for family and friends. But it soon grew, and transformed into the brand that it is today. Highlights to look forward to include wine tasting, boat cruises, and horse riding activities. On the line-up, HanC of Rejection and Perion of Lejebejebe hit will keep revellers on their toes. He explains that they have engaged the village leadership, and that the VDC is also involved. On the day, the VDC will have a stall where they will be selling indigenous foods such as Tswii, and fish.
“We are anticipating that a lot of people will be coming through, and we want them to sample some of these dishes,” he explains. Tickets are on sale for Pl50 per person, or P2500 for four friends, inclusive of a bottle of wine, and snacks or P750 per person, inclusive of a bottle of sparkling wine, and food.
Qorokwe, a new Wilderness Safaris Classic Camp situated in the private, wildlife-rich 26 180 hectare (64 692 acre) Qorokwe Concession in Botswana’s south-eastern Okavango Delta adjacent to Moremi Game Reserve, is set to open for guests in December 2017. According to a press release, Qorokwe, which is owned by the Maun-based Calitz family, ‘is a spectacular and highly productive mix of fertile Okavango habitats’. The camp’s diverse landscape includes scattered acacia and mopane woodlands, open seasonal and permanent floodplains and picturesque riverine islands along the Gomoti and Santantadibe Channels. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Calitz family to reveal this exclusive new land-based camp and private concession – a highly-productive game-viewing area that has been unutilised for the past four years. The quality of the landscape and our experiences to date are such that we are confident that our guests can look forward to exceptional wildlife experiences”, said Kim Nixon, Wilderness Safaris Botswana Managing Director.
The exclusive camp will feature just eight elegant tented suites and one spacious family suite with its own splash pool. The main area overlooks a scenic lagoon and the dining area, lounge, library, bar and infinity swimming pool are built on raised wooden platforms, all connected by walkways. In line with Wilderness Safaris’ commitment to operating with as light an eco-footprint as possible, the camp will be 100 percent solar-powered and all water will be heated by means of thermodynamic solar geysers, further helping to mitigate the camp’s carbon emissions.
In addition to creating an exceptional ecotourism offering that will ultimately ensure the ongoing biodiversity protection of this pristine concession, Qorokwe will play an important role in the empowerment of local communities through job creation and other income-generating opportunities. “We have already employed 49 people from our local communities and are extremely proud of the special team we have in place who collectively cannot wait to start welcoming guests and exceeding their expectations”, commented Johan Calitz, owner of Qorokwe Camp.
“Our family is looking forward to working closely with Wilderness Safaris to launch, market and sell Qorokwe to the world, enabling us to make a sustainable difference to the conservation of this incredible area and the empowerment of the local people”, said Johan Calitz.
Botswana based wildlife documentary filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert were gored by a buffalo last week Thursday in the Okavango Delta. Both celebrity award winning filmmakers were injured and Beverly was committed to an intensive care unit, where she is said to be recovering well.
In addition to their numerous filmmaking awards, the Jouberts are National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence and wildlife conservationists, who have been filming, researching and exploring in Africa for over 30 years. Their mission is the conservation and understanding of the large predators and other key wildlife species that determine the course of all conservation in Africa.
The Jouberts are the founders of the Big Cats Initiative with National Geographic, which currently funds 80 grants in 27 countries for the conservation of big cats. The world famous filmmakers have made over 25 films for National Geographic, published 11 books, half a dozen scientific papers, and have written many articles for the National Geographic Magazine. Beverly Joubert is also an acclaimed photographer and her international exhibitions have further helped to raise awareness for the plight of big cats across the world.