If Noah had docked the ark it was in Chobe. Botswana’s first national park, Chobe is one of the few places left on the continent where ‘teaming with wildlife’ is gospel. Home to Africa’s largest elephant population of an estimated fifty thousand and growing, there is a genuine sense of jubilation to the sound of trumpeting as you drive through these endangered herds.
With 100,000 elephants poached in Africa over three years what you are witnessing here is an elephantidae lock down. Policed by a government with a zero tolerance hunting policy, the beast is given an unprecedented pedestal. Neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe are yet to follow in the footsteps of conservationists bar none. With a government hellbent on exploiting its natural ‘resources’ these animals face a daily battle for their very breath. Wildlife corridors offer Zimbabwe’s game a refuge in places like Chobe, some respite but not enough to keep legal or illegal hunting at bay. Bush meat is available in Botswana to buy. Kudu fillet, warthog borewors and impala mince are advertised outside a popular Kasane butchery. No doubt cross border shopping works both ways.
Kasane is the jewel of the transfrontier park’s crown. Bigger than Italy, the Kavango Zambezi Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) is planet earth’s largest protected area and the African continent’s greatest hope against the tyranny of poaching. A shining example of governance is not without its problems however. Given that KAZA consists of five bordering countries Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Botswana it creates a haven for illicit cross border trafficking and a logistical nightmare for wildlife officers. Despite this, Botswana has taken the bull by the horns and tackled her treasury of animal’s greatest opponent with the tenacity of a honey badger.
Fearless and unrivalled in her approach to conservation, this landlocked southern African country with just 2 million people has risen from the ashes of one of the poorest nations on earth in the 1960s to one of the fastest growing economies in the world as of 2015. Using this to the advantage of its wildlife, Botswana has become a safe haven for high profile game like rhino, being relocated from hard hit areas like Kruger Park, where Mozambican poverty drives an insatiable demand for horn. President Ian Khama, former commander of the Botswana Defence Force is at the helm of this drive to save targeted species.
I can’t help but think of the slaughter of defenceless animals back home in Zimbabwe as I look at the full moon tonight from the deck of my room at Chobe Bakwena. A giant spotlight with rechargeable batteries lighting a poacher’s way to a full belly and handful of money. The grunt of a hippo derails my morbid train of thought and brings me back to where I am: Chobe, the Kalahari Desert, big sister to the Okavango Delta. Looking back up at that celestial body I gaze again in wonder at the man on the moon: “One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind”. The future of Africa’s wildlife beams bright on a Botswana night.
Photo by Sandi