Sunday, 20 December 2009

A conversation about conservation

Whilst we sat by the fire Nat and I got chatting to Wacko. We asked him about the conservation area we were in and how it came about.

This area of the Okavango Delta has been given back to the people. Split into sections, local communities had to write proposals about what their plans were for the area before being given the concession to work in it. Wacko’s community had area 17 and 32 which strode the river. He explained that the area of land was split into two again: half for ‘photographic’ trips (those who like to see animals rather than shoot them) and half for hunting. In both areas they had built lodges and had found areas where they could take tourists to bush camp in the delta as we had done.

His community managed this area of the delta, ensuring the reed beds remained rubbish and pollution free. Wacko explained that the hunting lodge was rented out to someone who ran the lodge. They then paid the fees necessary to receive licenses to hunt game. An example Wacko gave us was the elephant. The cost of a license to kill an elephant is USD$250,000…and that’s just the cost at cost price! For the manager to make money he must add a substantial profit margin to this cost. Thus, hunting game in this area is not a cheap hobby but provides significant income to the local community.

I asked how the government and the local community managed these licenses. Basically, the community is given licenses to kill a certain number of impala, zebra and elephants each year. These licences then either keep for themselves or sold on to the manager of the game lodge. When I asked whether anyone flouts the rules, Wacko said absolutely not. Every year the community must submit audits of where the money and licences given to them by the government have gone. Anyone who flouts the rules loses their valuable concession on the delta. Given that the majority of the community is employed in some way or another in tourism associated with the concession, no community can afford to lose it.

Botswana is known as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa but hearing Wacko talk so passionately about the Delta really brought to light what good management of such an ecologically unique area can actually achieve. The government receives money, the communities thrive and everyone works very hard indeed to conserve the area.

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