Bush meat hunting threatens Okavango Delta tourism in Botswana
ILLEGAL bush meat hunting poses a threat to the Okavango Delta’s tourism industry in Botswana.
Although Botswana is not normally associated with high levels of poaching, report found that illegal bush meat hunting is occurring at a large scale in the Delta. The large quantities of bush meat reported by some hunters suggest the existence of an organised commercial element, with capacity to harvest, transport and dispose of significant volumes.
The report estimated that there are about 1 800 illegal hunters who are harvesting 320kg of bush meat annually. It further raises concerns that the commercialisation of the bush meat trade could be the first step towards a more organised wildlife crime syndicate that targets lions, rhinos and elephants.
The report says that humans are the fourth most prominent predators in the delta and that cumulative harvesting by humans and other predators likely exceeds the inherent population growth rate of several species of ungulates in the delta.
Wildlife populations and tourism will be under threat because of that cause.
Great Plains and National Geographic Explore CEO Derreck Joubert said bush meat in small quantities had far-reaching effects.
“When poachers enter our national parks and reserves specifically for meat they often target predators simply because it is easier and less dangerous to operate in a predator-free hunting area,” Joubert said.
He said the savanna ecosystem tourism depends on lions, elephants and rhinos. When the predators disappear, the magic of an African safari wanes. And another revenue industry (tourism) declines, throwing more people out of work and into the bush meat trade.
Kai Collins, Wilderness Safaris Group conservation manager, said the report indicated that competition between humans and other apical predators for limited prey reduces the ecosystem’s carrying capacity for large carnivores.
“The combination of the illegal bush meat hunting offtake with natural predators appears to be unsustainable and likely to cause population declines in certain areas and for certain species.”
With wildlife critical to high-value tourism in the area the knock- on effect that this could have on the tourism industry in the region is palpable.
Operations director for Sanctuary Retreats Botswana Charl Badenhorst said although the Okavango Delta remains one of the most pristine wildernesses in the world, the bush meat trade if left uncurbed will be a serious threat.
The tourism industry in Botswana provides alternative livelihoods for communities with a large focus on ecotourism-related employment options.
These large commercial enterprises in Botswana are responsible for hiring staff from communities and also supporting these communities in the form of levies, royalties, or leases and wildlife based tourism has played a vital part of the country’s growth over the last 30 years, creating at least 70 000 jobs and contributing nearly 10% of Botswana’s GDP.
The report suggested that, too frequently the financial benefits of wildlife-based tourism did not reach impoverished communities near or within protected areas.
Badenhorst said one of the ways in which sanctuary retreats was helping combat hunting was by creating awareness through education on the impact bush meat hunting had on the tourism potential of their own areas.
“While we are committed to this, the ownership and responsibility falls upon the decision makers within the communities, making it important to reach these people.
“We’ve been lucky with one of the communities we work closely with, with one community leader saying, ‘those animals are our diamonds’, meaning they need to be preserved in order to attract tourism,” Badenhorst said.
He said this type of awareness needed to be compellingly and urgently fostered even more through partnership with communities, stakeholder, tourism operators and the government at all levels for the bush meat trade to be curbed effectively in the long run.
UNDER THREAT: Work linked to tourism has provided 70 000 jobs for locals in Botswana and if the wildlife disappears to poachers, so do the jobs.