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PROTECTING WILDLIFE IN THE OKAVANGO DELTA
July 13, 2012
In a place where survival is determined by the cycle of dry and wet seasons, the Kalahari Desert can be a harsh place to live. Yet in spite of its extreme aridity, the Kalahari Desert is blessed with the Okavango Delta. With its plentiful supply of water allowing for diverse flora and fauna, the Delta provides refuge for a vast abundance of wildlife. But this unique and pristine ecosystem is under threat. Recent aerial studies of northern Botswana reveal a sharp decline in the Delta’s wildlife.
These losses highlight the need to better understand the Delta’s ecology and combat threats to biodiversity that will affect tourism in Botswana, an estimated US$1.62 billion dollar industry that accounts for twelve percent of the country’s GDP. In January 2012, the USAID-funded Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program (SAREP) partnered with the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) to discuss the status of the Delta’s wildlife, leading to the development of a research and monitoring strategy for its protection.
From January 26-27, more than one hundred conservationists, local researchers and representatives came together in Maun, Botswana, to identify ways to conserve the region’s declining wildlife. “An Urgent Call to Define an Improved Adaptive Management and Research Strategy for the Okavango Delta”, provided a unique forum to discuss strategies for researching, monitoring and protecting the Delta’s wildlife losses. Attendees agreed that poaching, habitat fragmentation and changing flood regimes are partially to blame and that a more comprehensive research strategy is needed.
Chris Brooks, SAREP’s biodiversity conservation coordinator, explains, “There have been many studies of a few key species, but little information is known on how the system itself is functioning.”
To address these gaps in knowledge, two working groups generated from the conference will develop a robust research strategy and define activities to continually monitor the region’s declining wildlife. “In a couple years”, Dr. Brooks states, “these activities – by replication- will help us to understand what factors and change in the parameters of these factors are affecting or limiting wildlife numbers.” Working groups will also identify measures to address threats to wildlife, including poaching, fires and the introduction of invasive plants. To ensure that recommended conservation measures are followed the groups will weave them into the Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP), Botswana’s framework for governing the conservation and sustainable use of the Delta.
By uniting a body of experts with the knowledge and commitment to ensure critical actions are incorporated into national policy, the conference marked a starting point for understanding the decline in the Delta’s wildlife and a roadmap for strengthening conservation. Highlighting the need for urgent action, the conference holds promise to protect a culturally and ecologically rich resource for Southern Africa.