By VF/agencies - 06. February 2020
Botswana's former president Ian Khama, an avid environmentalist, had introduced a blanket ban on 'hunting' for sport or trophy in 2014 to reverse a decline in the population of wild animals. That included a ban to kill Elephants for money.
But President Mokgweetsi Masisi put Elephants at the centre of Botswana’s politics already when he campaigned for October elections that the now ruling party won.
By lifting the sport-hunting ban in May, incoming president Masisi broke ranks with his predecessor Ian Khama, who had garnered international praise for Botswana’s wildlife policies.
Botswana has around 130,000 Elephants nationwide.
Then in September 2019 Botswana's environment minister Kitso Mokaila announced that the new government would auction licences to trophy-hunting operators for the right to shoot 158 Elephants.
Masisi fended off criticism of his decision, saying the move would not threaten the Elephant population. The lifting of the hunting ban was praised by politicized local communities but derided by conservationists internationally and ignited tension between the Khama and Masisi in Botswana.
The government issued a quota for the killing of 272 of the animals in 2020, of which foreign hunters will be allowed to shoot 202 Elephants and export the trophies.
Despite worldwide protests against the change in policy the new governance in Botswana is now set to go ahead with the first auction tomorrow, Friday 07th February 2020.
72 Elephant killing permissions will be allocated for foreigners, who in addition for the auction price will have to pay 20,000 pula (US$1,834) as basic fee for each of the killing licences. The president of the Professional Hunters Association in South Africa, Dries van Coller commented and said: “It’s a very reasonable price”, but which kind of money will be thrown during the auction at each of the offered kill packages remains to be seen.
Bidding is open to "companies that are either owned by Botswana citizens or are registered in Botswana," wildlife spokeswoman Alice Mmolawa told AFP on Thursday.
The government will issue seven hunting "packages" of 10 Elephants each, confined to "controlled hunting areas", she added.
In a text message, she also stated that hunting would help areas most impacted by "human wildlife conflict," a reference to Elephants roaming off game parks into communities, but that already can be proven to be not true, since the critical zones are in different areas. Most of the Elephants are in the Chobe National Park, an important tourist draw.
While the government said it would allow the killing of 158 Elephants by foreign tourists in the 2019 season, auctions for hunting licenses never took place - that has changed now.
Auction It Ltd., which is operating the sales on behalf of the government, announced, the auction will take place at 3 p.m. local time in the capital, Gaborone, on Feb. 7 and interested bidders will need to put down a refundable deposit of 200,000 pula ($18,300) to participate. It can be followed online.
The 2020 Elephant killing season in Botswana is expected to open in April and will last up to September, spanning the dry Southern African winter when the bush is thinner and wild animals are easier to find.
The all-in cost of an Elephant hunt typically involves several hundred dollars a day for the professional hunters who accompany the tourists, as well as transports, accommodation and taxidermy fees. Hunts can last 10 to 18 days on average. Most trophy hunters in southern Africa come from the USA.
With unfenced parks and wide-open spaces, Botswana has Africa's largest Elephant population with around 130 to 135,000 —about a third of the African continent's total.
Many see this Elephant killing spectacle as a threat to the $2 billion safari tourism industry that is based on enjoying nature without a gun. In Botswana, tourism - mainly in the form of photographic safaris around Okavango and Chobe - accounts for a fifth of the country’s economy.
With estimated 135,000 Elephants roaming free nationwide, Botswana has the world’s largest Elephant population and was seen by conservationists as the stronghold for Africa's Elephant protection. That is changing now rapidly and it is feared that also Botswana will again join other African states in a downward spiral concerning nature protection.
By lifting the 'hunting' ban, Botswana follows its neighbouring countries. Zimbabwe issues around 500 trophy-hunter licences and 90 are sold in Namibia, while in 2017 foreign hunters reportedly generated $133 million for all wild species killed in the Republic of South Africa, whereby less than 50 Elephants got shot annually. Zambia also allocated 37 Elephant licences in 2019.
With financially strong lobbies like the pro-hunting U.S.American Safari Club International on the one side and the phalanx of conservation organizations on the other, the discussions about the subject as such has since long overshadowed and confused rational decisions. Even organizations like the Kalahari Conservation Society, a Botswana-based but mainly U.S. funded organization that brags with sentences like: "Stop the loss, reduce the cost, unlock the value ..." and is surely economy-oriented but tries to strike a balance, do not recognize the underlying major problem: It's all a colonial legacy.
Overpopulation a Myth
Masisi has defended his decision to end the hunting ban saying Botswana has an overpopulation of Elephants, and pledged to regulate the practice.
His predecessor Khama was bitter.
"I have been against trophy 'hunting' because it represents a mentality (of) those who support it, to exploit nature for self-interest that has brought about the extinction of many species worldwide," he told AFP in a phone interview.
He said allowing commercial hunting could "demotivate those who are engaged in anti-poaching, who are being told to save Elephants from poachers but the regime is poaching the same Elephant and calling it hunting".
Audrey Delsink, Africa's wildlife director for the global conservation lobby charity Humane Society International said "the Botswana Elephant hunting auctions are deeply concerning and questionable".
"Hunting is not an effective long-term Human-Elephant mitigation tool or population control method," she said.
But Neil Fitt, who heads the Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS) in Botswana, views hunting as a new source of revenue for the country, though he cautioned it has to be practised "ethically and properly".
Unfortunately he thereby just uttered these old sentences to the BBC to ease the operations of his organization in the political minefield of Botswana and to not upset his donors - in the typical fashion most of the at-the-core white-owned NGOs work in Africa, though some dark-pigmented faces are placed on their boards.
The truly indigenous people like the San (Bushmen) are still kept out of all the decision making - and that is not only the greatest injustice but also the cause of the final failure of all these schemes and scams in Southern Africa.
Anglo-American conmen, lost culture and ethics as well as Tswana greed are a dangerous mix for everything and everyone natural.
Farmers from the non-Aboriginal ethnicities, which invaded the lands called today Botswana shortly after the cattle-herding and now ruling Tswana arrived there from West-Africa, have complained of a growing number of incidents with Elephants, which at times destroy crops, injure villagers or cause death.
To garner votes, political populists therefore often claim the marauding Elephants invade villages located near wildlife reserves, knocking down fences, destroying crops, and at times killing people.
While the issuing of trophy-licences won’t meaningfully reduce the size of the Elephant population, the income from the blood-sport , according to the government, could benefit local communities. Politicians and some organizations like KCS always argue along those economic lines, but in reality the money never reaches the poor.
In addition what is a couple of hundred thousand dollars from the trophy-killing plus or minus in the coffers of the diamond-rich Botswana government? If government wanted to do something for the needy and deprived people of the country and uplift all out of poverty, they could have done so since long. But as a policy the ruling class just mimicked the British colonists and behave like the earlier colonialists they are.
Conservationists worldwide have opposed the changes, warning that tourists may go elsewhere, highlighting that non-consumptive wildlife tourism accounts for a fifth of Botswana’s economy.
Outfitter companies are likely to bid for these sport-hunting packages and then on-sell them at a profit. The killing-for-trophy has to be carried out in the presence of a professional hunter and an additional fee is charged for that service.
Botswana holds auctions for elephant hunting licenses after lifting ban
By Jared Kukura – Posted on
Botswana’s upcoming hunting season puts 272 elephants in the crosshairs of wealthy foreigners’ rifles. Trophy hunting’s proponents have attempted to shut down opposition by claiming the high ground in the science versus emotion debate. There is a pervasive idea in many conservation circles that the only thing more dangerous than wildlife is an emotional attachment to it.
But those 272 elephants represent more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. And while there is merit to preventing our emotions from skewing results of scientific studies, our refusal to recognize the emotions of other species is a major failure of wildlife conservation. In fact, the more science advances our understanding of elephants, the more we realize how the long-term psychological damage caused by hunting can negatively impact conservation efforts.
Science shows hunting bull elephants is connected with short-term elevated stress levels throughout the remaining elephant population. Bulls present in the area of a successful hunt experience the biggest changes in stress levels but aren’t the only ones affected. Bulls pass information of these events to cows, increasing their stress levels.
Read about why there are not too many elephants here.
It can be argued the physiological stress response to hunting is only a short-term repercussion and, therefore, not enough to deem the practice unethical. However, the dissemination of information regarding traumatic events leads to long-term psychological effects that can negatively impact conservation goals.
Elephants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park were heavily poached during the country’s civil war from 1977 and 1992. While the poaching threat has decreased, elephants are still wary and aggressivetowards humans. They are known to group together and charge vehicles, making them prime targets for lethal management techniques. After all, how many times have we heard the excuse we must hunt elephants to reduce human-elephant conflict?
Pilanesberg National Park’s elephant orphans also demonstrate the long-term impacts of traumatic conservation practices. The park’s elephants experienced culls and translocations in their past and performed poorly when distinguishing between calls from other individuals. In contrast, elephants in Amboseli National Park were not subject to past traumatic conservation practices and performed exceptionally on the test.
As well, a breakdown in elephant social structure can impact the survival of future generations due to poor recognition of predatory threats. Elephant herds with older matriarchs respond better to predatory threats than herds with younger matriarchs. When we step in with lethal management, we’re disrupting the lines of communication that have helped elephants survive in the wild.
Read about why problem elephants aren’t the problem here.
It’s easy for us to only focus on the numbers when we try to justify hunting other species. Our lack of empathy has been promoted as a cornerstone of proper, scientific wildlife management. But empathy towards other species is exactly what science needs to progress.
This is especially true when we look at the issue of human-elephant conflict. Past management techniques have focused on our species’ concerns and failed to address the root of the problem. Scientists argue we can “do more by investigating elephant behavior, cognition and ecology at the level of the individual to prevent conflict from occurring in the first place.”
Botswana’s elephant hunting season falls in line with the lethal management techniques of old. But science has progressed enough to where it is no longer acceptable to promote elephant hunting due to the long-term psychological damage that inevitably ensues. It’s time to modernize wildlife conservation, it’s time to stop hunting elephants.
The Botswana government has again demonstrated to the world that it either does not understand or does not care that elephants play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecological systems, nor does it understand that killing off prime elephant bulls undermines the very basis of its successful ecotourism economy.
Elephant Killing Auction
Evoking international condemnation, the Botswana government held a major hunting auction on 7 February. Six of the seven packages (of ten elephants each) were sold to the same white-owned hunting companies that benefited from Botswana’s hunting industry before the 2013 hunting moratorium. One package failed to reach the reserve price.
These 70 licences form the ‘special elephant quota’ element of the 2020 hunting quota of 272 elephants. Adverts for the auctions were only released to the public on 3 February. Interested bidders then only had until 7 February to register – at best an indication of the rushed way in which the reintroduction of hunting to Botswana has been managed; at worst, an indication of pre-decided outcomes.
The EMS Foundation, a South-African based conservation advocacy and research organisation, attempted to bid for the licences. It wrote a letter to Dr Cyril Taolo, the director of Wildlife and National Parks, requesting a revision of the qualifying criteria: “to enable us to bid on the hunting packages on the 7th of February 2020 with the express intention that the elephants included in these packages are not hunted should our bids be successful.”
The letter further notes that: “we wish to purchase available licences with no intention to hunt elephants, but for the money to be appropriately distributed in a way that benefits conservation.”
Local communities would therefore not be deprived of the revenue that would otherwise accrue through auctioning off elephant hunts. Of course, the hunting outfitters would lose out, but communities would have cash in hand, provided appropriate governance mechanisms were established through which to equitably distribute the revenue.
The letter objects to the fact that the bid criteria “explicitly excludes tourism operators or foundations/companies such as ours that do not want to hunt elephants but do desire to fund non-consumptive conservation in Botswana”. Clearly, those who are willing to invest directly in conservation activities, and even subsidise revenue shortfalls in areas where non-consumptive tourism is apparently unviable, have been overtly excluded from the bidding process.
An Arbitrary Quota
The licences on auction were 10 each for CT4, CT7, CT29, NG8, NG9, NG11, and NG35. Ngamiland concessions 8, 9, and 11 are held by local communities. Local communities in NG3 objected to hunting in their concession (where a hunting disaster occurred in 2019 involving the shooting of a collared research bull). Consequently, there is no 2020 quota for NG3, but the quotas for some of the neighbouring concessions appear too high.
There has also been no consideration given to maintaining hunting-free corridors in critical areas such as NG41, which will be auctioned later. This suggests that the quota is not based on science: the way in which it has been divided up is arbitrary. If there is science to support the quota and the way in which it has been allocated, this should be made publicly available.
The results of the auction are telling. Six 10-elephant packages sold for between $330,000 and $435,000 each. The package for CT29 did not sell because it did not fetch the minimum clearing price. The government amassed a total of $2,355,000 for six packages. There is no indication of how this money will be spent. One can only question the governance process. Successful bidders will now look to sell elephant hunts for upwards of $60,000 per elephant, normally paid into foreign bank accounts. At an average cost of $39,250, the margins are impressive. But where is the governance guarantee that local community members are actually going to benefit from these licences distributed to wealthy hunting operators? Community-based natural resource management schemes were a governance mess long before the hunting moratorium was imposed.
CT4 and NG9 both went to Jeff Rann Safaris, now offering a 10-day elephant hunt for $85,000 on its website. Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute has long been an advocate of lifting the Khama-era moratorium on hunting in Botswana. Mbaiwa is a joint shareholder with the Rann Share Trust in a company called Xudum Okavango River Pty Ltd (XOR).
CT7 went to Leon Kachelhoffer, NG8 went to Clive Eaton (along with NG11, in partnership with Kaz Kader). NG35 went to Grant Albers. There are no obvious local community beneficiaries.
A Tale of Two Presidents
President Masisi has been lauded by Safari Club International’s (SCI) CEO W Laird Hamberlin as a “role model for African wildlife conservationists” for reintroducing trophy hunting. He was recently awarded the ‘international legislator of the year’ award in Reno at the annual SCI Convention. The SCI’s infamous lobbying efforts have paid off.
In response to the auction, former president Ian Khama had the following to say:
“I have been against hunting because it represents a mentality in those who support it to exploit nature for self-interest that has brought about the extinction of many species worldwide. This policy is driven by those who represent an industry that capitalizes on ecological destruction. The negative effects are already being felt in the tourism industry, which will threaten our revenues and employment that hunting proponents pretend they want to improve. No scientific work was done on numbers to hunt or places to do so. This new policy will also demotivate those who are engaged in anti-poaching who are being told to save elephants from poachers while the new regime is poaching the same elephants but calling it hunting. How can this government now be trusted to manage controlled hunting despite the rules whilst failing to control poaching?”
Taking Out Some of the Last Big Tuskers
There is no good ecological or economic reason to kill any of Botswana’s bull elephants. Hunting will simply create an additive effect to poaching, which is increasing rapidly and claimed the lives of roughly 400 elephants in 2017/18, according to a scientific paper published in Current Biology.
Hunting also traumatises elephants and makes them more aggressive towards humans, which exacerbates human and elephant conflict (HEC) in the country. One of the key rationalisations Masisi used to reintroduce hunting was that it would reduce HEC. There is scant evidence to support this claim. According to one 2019 academic paper, the majority of current measures to reduce conflict (such as hunting) “appear to be driven by short-term, site-specific factors that often transfer the problems of human-elephant conflict from one place to another”. Hunting is not a solution; better land-use planning is.
Perhaps of greatest concern regarding Botswana’s 2020 elephant hunting quota is that NG41 – owned by the Mababe Community – has been allocated 20 elephants (the single largest allocation, to be auctioned soon). As is clear from the map, this concession links the Okavango Delta to Chobe National Park and is home to most of the last of Botswana’s great tuskers.
Botswana’s Weekend Post last week reported that “a number of concerned business people in the tourism sector are chronicling how the former Minister [of Environment, Kitso Mokaila] is lobbying for South Africa’s Johan Calitz of Johan Calitz Safaris to lease a Mababe Concession (NG41)”. Concerning too is that in NG49 and CT8, 25 elephants will be eliminated along a relatively small area on either side of the Boteti River.
The Tuli Block area – which borders Zimbabwe and South Africa – will see 35 bulls shot in one year under Botswana’s quota alone. In 2013, four scientists published a paper showing that hunting in that area was unsustainable and at current rates of hunting, “trophy bulls will disappear from the population in less than 10 years”.
Why not allow any willing bidder (such as the EMS Foundation) to pay for these licences if that raises revenue to conserve magnificent bull elephants instead of eliminating them?
Short-Term Thinking vs Long-Term Sustainability
There appears to be little to no appreciation for the critical importance of older elephant bulls for maintaining elephant institutions and ecological functionality. Botswana has also ignored the fact that any big-tusked bull is prized by photographers and can be photographed hundreds of times over during its natural lifetime.
Botswana should abandon short-term rent seeking in favour of long-term ecological sustainability as the foundation for its economy. Instead, it is selling its inheritance for short term rents from a purely extractive industry.
Botswana’s First Elephant Hunt to be Auctioned in Canada
Canada shockingly still allows Elephant ivory trade
Amid global recognition of the threatened survival of Elephants, a hunting club in Calgary is poised to auction off the first licence for a foreigner to hunt an Elephant in Botswana.
The Ivory-Free Canada Coalition, a partnership of Canadian non-profit organisations, including: Humane Society International/Canada, Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, World Elephant Day, Elephanatics, and the Global March for Elephants, ECOTERRA Intl. as well as Rhino-Toronto, has petitioned the federal government for already two years now to ban the import, domestic sale, and export of all Elephant ivory, including hunting trophies.
The Ivory-Free Canada Coalition believes a full Elephant ivory ban in Canada is more important than ever, as the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International is shockingly set to award the Elephant hunt to the highest bidder at their 27th Annual Fundraiser on January 25 (provided the bid is over $84,000 CAD).
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who lifted and ignored the ban installed six years ago by Ian Khama, Botswana’s previous president, incited worldwide outrage already when he previously gifted stools made from Elephant feet to regional leaders during a meeting to discuss the Elephants’ fate.
Michael Bernard, Deputy Director – HSI/Canada, stated: “It is absolutely appalling that in this day and age Canada is still complicit with the slaughter of Elephants for trophies. We are urgently calling on the Canadian Government to ban all trade in Elephant ivory and end Canada’s role in further endangering these magnificent creatures.”
Fran Duthie, President of Elephanatics, added: “Statistics have shown large-tusked Elephants are in decline and need to be protected from trophy hunting and poaching. With the increase in illegal trade in ivory the need to ban trophy hunting is even more necessary.”
Patricia Sims, Founder of World Elephant Day and President – World Elephant Society, also stated: “The trophy hunting of Elephants is atrocious and needs to be banned worldwide. Elephants are a vital keystone species, they are the caretakers of their habitats and climate change mitigators in their role of maintaining biodiversity. Killing Elephants ultimately destroys habitats and Canada needs to take a stand now to ban Elephant ivory and protect elephants for their survival and the health of our planet.”
A staggering 20,000 African Elephants are killed each year. Scientists anticipate they will be extinct in the wild within 20 years if threats continue. While poaching is the main threat to Elephants, legalized killing for trophy only exacerbates the threat and drives up the demand for Elephant ivory.
Both, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES) and members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have asked all countries to ban their domestic trade of ivory to save Elephants. At least nine countries and 10 US states have done so. But at the last IUCN Congress, Canada – along with Japan, Namibia and South Africa – refused to support the motion on domestic ivory trade bans and now the secretariat of the United Nations based CITES convention also remained mum when Botswana opens the killing fields again.
Over 100 African Elephant tusks were imported into Canada as hunting trophies over the past decade, according to the data Canada reported to CITES in its annual trade reports. Yet, exporting countries reported that over 300 African Elephant tusks were exported to Canada in this same time period. The reason for the discrepancy is officially 'unknown', but experts know the loopholes and those involved.
Botswana was previously considered one of the last safe havens for Elephants.
In order to press the Canadian government into action, the Ivory-Free Canada Coalition launched a petition to ban Elephant ivory and hunting trophies at change.org/ivoryfreecanada. With over 517,000 signatures, it is one of the largest Canadian petitions on Change.org for 2019.
PROTESTS SUCCEEDED PARTLY
Calgary Elephant auction withdrawn, hunt still going ahead
By HEIDE PEARSON - 24. January 2020
Calgary Safari Club cancels Elephant auction, but 'hunt' will still be sold
A Calgary safari group auctioning off an Elephant hunt in Botswana hit a real nerve with animal rights advocates around the world. As Jill Croteau reports, even though it’s been withdrawn from the auction, the hunt is still on.
A highly contentious Elephant hunt that was up for grabs at a Calgary auction has been withdrawn from the event.
Safari Club International’s Calgary-Alberta (SCI Calgary) chapter was under fire on Thursday after people caught wind of the fact they were auctioning off a two-week hunting trip to Botswana, where killing Elephants for sport is no longer banned.
Animal rights activists called SCI’s bluff, saying their justification — that it was being done in the interest of population control — doesn’t hold up.
“The animals don’t have a chance on this planet when you have the wealthy and powerful coming together and auctioning off a life,” Shaun Hofer with Direct Action Everywhere said.
The president of SCI Calgary, David Little, said hunting for population control was a “viable tool” that Botswana was redeploying.
Animal activists plan protest outside Elephant hunt auction in Calgary to protect Elephants like these in Africa
In a Facebook post on Friday, SCI said there’s been “considerable interest” in the hunt, which led the group to ask the outfitter if the hunt could instead be sold privately instead of auctioned off.
“SCI Calgary wants to thank all those who have expressed their support of the hunt, including the people of Botswana to determine their future and the role ethical, controlled hunting plays in the long-term conservation of this majestic species,” the statement read.
For 10-year-old Elephant lover Hurley Omelchuk, the situation is heartbreaking.
“They’re super amazing and more special than other animals,” Omelchuk told Global News on Friday.
Omelchuk loves the animal so much, he even fosters an Elephant in Africa and donates all the money he receives for his birthdays to a rescue organization.
“I was super sad and I didn’t want anyone to hunt any Elephants,” the boy said about the auction.
“I have no idea why… I think they want to do it for fun but that’s not good. There has to be other ways than killing Elephants to keep the population in check.”
Global News’ requests for comment from SCI on Friday were not returned.
READ ABOUT THE LAST AUCTION 10 YEARS AGO:
Botswana Elephant Auction: Jumbos Net Million (pula) [1USD is appro. 11 BWP )
By AfricaHunting.com - 18. June 2010
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) on Wednesday raked in P1.1 million from the sale of 18 elephants. [In average the killer paid 60,000 USD for one elephant]
The auction sale was performed in Gaborone by the Kgale Auctioneers on behalf of the DWNP. The elephants sold will be hunted at the CT4 and CT7 control hunting areas in the Central District and NG8, NG9 as well as NG35 in the Nhabe area.
Reserve price for each elephant was perked at P10 000, but the lowest elephants went on to fetch P40 000 while the most expensive ones were bought for P95 000.
Rann Hunting Safaris produced the highest bid, buying the package of four elephants from NG35 for P95 000 per elephant. The company was also successful in its bid for three elephants in CT7 hunting area, making seven the total number of elephants they bought.
Other companies that managed to bid successfully were Friends of South Sahara who bought four elephants in CT4, Tholo Safaris (four elephants at NG8) and Derrick Brink Holdings (three elephants at NG9).
Only Botswana registered companies were allowed to bid for the animals.
DWNP Director Mr Trevor Mmopelwa said they were elated by the outcome of the sale. He said the animals were from the quota of 25 elephants they were given for the 2010 hunting season.
He said in total 400 elephants were availed for hunting this year, but a significant number of them went to community trusts.
The quota was for animals from concession areas not allocated to any community trust. Every year we ask for a quota which is then endorsed by CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Spices), he said.
The director said he was happy that many Batswana were showing interest in buying the elephants.
The head of CITES office in Botswana Mrs Diana Chimidza said they advertised the elephants for two weeks and 13 companies responded to the advertisements, saying ultimately 12 companies turned up for the auction.
It was a great response from companies and the enthusiasm that prevailed during the auction was just amazing. We were really excited by the outcome of the auction and to get P95 000 for the highest bid was just amazing, she said.
On why they decided to sell the elephants, she said they felt they have not been utilising their quota of elephants well. We felt it was time to generate more money using these elephants.
Mrs Chimidza said the elephants they had sold were trophy animals whose tusk weighed more than 11 kilograms.
She said the successful bidders will be free to hunt for the elephants from the day they acquire their hunting licenses until the end of November. BOPA
STOP THESE KILLERS - SUPPORT PROTECTION
Steve Boyes - TED2018
How we're saving one of Earth's last wild places
Visible from space, the Okavango Delta is Africa's largest remaining intact wetland wilderness. This shining delta in landlocked Botswana is the jewel of the Kalahari, more valuable than diamonds to the world's largest diamond producer and celebrated in 2014 as our planet's 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now, what you see here are the two major tributaries, the Cuito and the Cubango, disappearing up north into the little-known Angolan highlands. This is the largest undeveloped river basin on the planet, spanning an area larger than California. These vast, undeveloped Angolan watersheds were frozen in time by 27 years of civil war. In fact, Africa's largest tank battle since World War II was fought over a bridge crossing the Okavango's Cuito River. There on the right, disappearing off into the unknown, into the "Terra do fim do mundo" -- the land at the end of the earth, as it was known by the first Portuguese explorers.
In 2001, at the age of 22, I took a job as head of housekeeping at Vundumtiki Camp in the Okavango Delta ... a patchwork mosaic of channels, floodplains, lagoons and thousands upon thousands of islands to explore. Home to the largest remaining population of elephants on the planet. Rhinos are airlifted in C130s to find sanctuary in this wilderness. Lion, leopard, hyena, wild dog, cheetah, ancient baobab trees that stand like cathedrals under the Milky Way. Here, I discovered something obvious: wilderness is our natural habitat, too. We need these last wild places to reconnect with who we really are. We -- all seven billion of us -- must never forget we are a biological species forever bound to this particular biological world. Like the waves connected to the ocean, we cannot exist apart from it -- a constant flow of atoms and energy between individuals and species around the world in a day and out into the cosmos. Our fates are forever connected to the millions of species we rely on directly and indirectly every day.
Four years ago, it was declared that 50 percent of all wildlife around the world had disappeared in just 40 years. This is a mass drowning of 15,000 wildebeests that I witnessed in the Maasai Mara two years ago. This is definitely our fault. By 2020, global wildlife populations are projected to have fallen by a staggering two-thirds. We are the sixth extinction because we left no safe space for millions of species to sustainably coexist.
Now, since 2010, I have poled myself eight times across the Okavango Delta to conduct detailed scientific surveys along a 200-mile, 18-day research transect. Now, why am I doing this? Why am I risking my life each year? I'm doing this because we need this information to benchmark this near-pristine wilderness before upstream development happens.
These are the Wayeyi river bushmen, the people of the Okavango Delta. They have taught me all I know about the Mother Okavango -- about presence in the wild. Our shared pilgrimage across the Okavango Delta each year in our mokoros or dugout canoes -- remembers millenia living in the wild. Ten thousand years ago, our entire world was wilderness. Today, wilderness is all that remains of that world, now gone. Ten thousand years ago, we were as we are today: a modern, dreaming intelligence unlike anything seen before. Living in the wilderness is what taught us to speak, to seek technologies like fire and stone, bow and arrow, medicine and poison, to domesticate plants and animals and rely on each other and all living things around us. We are these last wildernesses -- every one of us.
Over 80 percent of our planet's land surface is now experiencing measurable human impact: habitat destruction and illegal wildlife trade are decimating global wildlife populations. We urgently need to create safe space for these wild animals. So in late 2014, we launched an ambitious project to do just that: explore and protect. By mid-May 2015, we had pioneered access through active minefields to the undocumented source lake of the Cuito River -- this otherworldly place; an ancient, untouched wilderness. By the 21st of May, we had launched the Okavango megatransect ... in seven dugout canoes; 1,500 miles, 121 days later, all of the poling, paddling and intensive research got us across the entire river basin to Lake Xau in the Kalahari Desert, 480 kilometers past the Okavango Delta.
My entire world became the water: every ripple, eddy, lily pad and current ... any sign of danger, every sign of life. Now imagine millions of sweat bees choking the air around you, flesh-eating bacteria, the constant threat of a landmine going off or an unseen hippo capsizing your mokoro. These are the scenes moments after a hippo did just that -- thrusting its tusks through the hull of my boat. You can see the two holes -- puncture wounds in the base of the hull -- absolutely terrifying and completely my fault.
Many, many portages, tree blockages and capsizes in rocky rapids. You're living on rice and beans, bathing in a bucket of cold water and paddling a marathon six to eight hours every single day. After 121 days of this, I'd forgotten the PIN numbers to my bank accounts and logins for social media -- a complete systems reboot. You ask me now if I miss it, and I will tell you I am still there.
Now why do we need to save places we hardly ever go? Why do we need to save places where you have to risk your life to be there? Now, I'm not a religious or particularly spiritual person, but in the wild, I believe I've experienced the birthplace of religion. Standing in front of an elephant far away from anywhere is the closest I will ever get to God. Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, Jesus, the Hindu teachers, prophets and mystics, all went into the wilderness -- up into the mountains, into the desert, to sit quietly and listen for those secrets that were to guide their societies for millennia. I go into the Okavango on my mokoro. You must join me one day.
Over 50 percent of the remaining wilderness is unprotected. A huge opportunity -- a chance for us all. We need to act with great urgency. Since the 2015 megatransect, we have explored all major rivers of the Okavango River basin, covering a life-changing 4,000 miles of detailed research transects on our dugout canoes and our fat-tire mountain bikes. We now have 57 top scientists rediscovering what we call the Okavango-Zambezi water tower -- this vast, post-war wilderness with undocumented source lakes, unnamed waterfalls in what is Africa's largest remaining Miombo woodland. We've now discovered 24 new species to science and hundreds of species not known to be there.
This year, we start the process, with the Angolan government, to establish one of the largest systems of protected areas in the world to preserve the Okavango-Zambezi water tower we have been exploring. Downstream, this represents water security for millions of people and more than half of the elephants remaining on this planet. There is no doubt this is the biggest conservation opportunity in Africa in decades. Over the next 10 to 15 years, we need to make an unprecedented investment in the preservation of wilderness around the world. To me, preserving wilderness is far more than simply protecting ecosystems that clean the water we drink and create the air we breathe. Preserving wilderness protects our basic human right to be wild -- our basic human rights to explore.