It was still close to dawn when Zero, our bushwalk guide, pointed to large tracks on the sandy ground and said, "OK, let's read the morning news." Apparently, there was more than one elephant near camp last night. "If you are the first people to come upon tracks at dawn, you can understand what's been happening in the bush," he said.
As we walked, Zero and our bushmen guides pointed out more signs of elephants in the area: trampled grass, tree stumps, piles of dung and, in between, evidence of insects and small mammals that thrive in the elephants' wake. We were also shown how nearly every plant we came upon during our guided walk could be useful to people: eaten, made into shelter or used for medicinal purposes.
My colleague, Jennifer Carr, and I were in Botswana to learn about the connections between conservation and tourism by chronicling the opening of Gudigwa Camp, a new CI-supported ecotourism
venture that is owned and operated by the Bukakhwe San Bushmen. By creating Gudigwa Camp in partnership
with the community-run Bukakhwe Cultural Conservation Trust, CI-Botswana aims to demonstrate that the protection of biodiversity can go hand in hand with economic alternatives like ecotourism. CI believes if people earn their living from ecotourism, they are more likely to protect their natural resources and support conservation efforts.
Close to the biologically rich Okavango Delta, Gudigwa Camp sits in a strategic location in a five-nation Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) that CI is working with local partners to establish. Much like a conservation corridor, the TFCA will connect protected areas around the Okavango Delta and surrounding region, creating pathways for migrating species
like the elephant (and all other creatures that follow it). The TFCA will also encourage participating governments to change laws governing land use, opening up new opportunities for conservation-based tourism, of which Gudigwa would be a working model.