In June 1998 I moved from Mokolodi Nature Reserve near Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, to a village in the North western region of the Kalahari called D’kar. I was to establish a game farm and eco-tourism project on behalf of the bushmen community of this settlement.
During the first months, I naturally got to know the farming community around Gantsi very well. I had to deal with farmers who were supplying the project with wildlife and other types of support. It is well known that the most important farming activity in Botswana, namely beef, plays a very important role in the livelihood of farmers and it is also the second largest contribution to Botswana’s foreign income. In the case of the majority of farmers, there is also a strong cultural connotation in the ownership of cattle, which is very hard to overlook.
All these factors combined, create a recipe for disaster regarding the already diminishing endangered predator numbers in this country. The most concerning factor to the farmers is livestock losses due to predators. Animals specifically in the spotlight are Cheetahs, Lions and in particular the Southern African Wild Dog - it is not strange to hear of two to three wild dogs being shot in a month!
Although the farmers are shooting a lot of these animals, only a few of them are aware of the fact that wild dogs and cheetahs are Southern Africa’s most sensitive predators and are certainly heading for extinction, even in Botswana which is considered to be the last stronghold for these species.
However, it is sad to say that there is still a very large part of the farming community that only recognise the threat to their own livestock and there is absolutely no love lost between them and these animals. As one farmer has put it, “nobody must tell me that wild dogs are endangered. I tell you now, the only good wild dog is a dead wild dog! ” How much further from reality can one get?
It is estimated that there are probably less than 5000 wild dogs left in the whole of Africa (this estimation being made in the late 1980’s!). The fact is we have no idea of the true figure. It is only with optimism that one hopes to believe that this is a worst case scenario and that there are indeed more than 3000 wild dogs left in Africa.
It is quite clear that there is no information available regarding the extent of the problem animal situation in this predominantly commercial farming area in Botswana. It is quite evident that there are populations of wild dogs in these areas that require some sort of serious support from us.
The urgency of the situation became obvious when certain farmers started to contact me in order to capture and move the animals from their farms instead of shooting them. When I was contacted a while ago by the Pilanesberg Conservation Department it also became quite clear that the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) has indeed the foresight to try and deal with the situation. DWNP did agree that some problem wild dogs may be captured and moved to Pilanesberg in SA where they would be introduced to a group of young puppies and be released as a pack in the nature reserve.
The local Wildlife Department did not have the means or resources to do this and the lack of transit facilities in this area contributed to the problem. When I offered my help, the DWNP issued a permit to this effect. The problem is that I was also committed to another organisation and this hampered my own efforts to deal with the issue.
After wrapping up the development of the Bushman game farm, I resigned from my position in order to concentrate my efforts in this direction. The idea of starting an outreach facility and programme was formed and has reached a point where an area of 2000 hectare has been made available to us at no cost. This farm is ideally situated 10 km’s from Gantsi and therefore in the heart of the target area. The next step was to register the organisation and subsequently Lekanyane Conservation was born.
Andre de Jongh