Moses Selebatso, CI’s Biodiversity Manager for the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor (WKCC) Project in Botswana, believes in coincidences and passion. Two of his most important life events started at the University of Botswana, where he first realized his passion for ecology and he met his future wife, Eda.
During his studies at the University of Botswana, Selebatso’s enthusiasm for ecology began—a dedication that continues to this day. “The subject made me think, ‘this is very exciting and I want to specialize in understanding nature.’ It was at that stage that I made up my mind that I would become an ecologist.”
From Tropical Ecology to the Desert
With his Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology, Selebatso began working for the government of Botswana as a wildlife biologist. His work led him to the Kalahari, a vast desert that encompasses more than 900,000 square kilometers (350,000 square miles) and covers most of Botswana. It’s known for its hot days and cold nights.
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“The environment looks strange (in the Kalahari Desert), but is fascinating to me. Different vegetation types, wildlife species, and breathtaking landscapes with sand dunes and salt pans. (And I loved) the people. It was like a new home to me, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life in such an environment.”
Unfortunately, a limited research budget made it difficult to accomplish important work in the area. Coincidently, CI’s WKCC Project came about just in time. It had “objectives that were so challenging and exciting. They were very close to what I have always wanted for the Kalahari ecosystem.” So with that, Selebatso joined CI in June 2007.
Established Expertise in Botswana
Selebatso received a scholarship from Norwegian government to complete his Master’s degree, enriching his knowledge of ecology. Today, he is responsible for coordinating biodiversity-related activities of the WKCC project, which aims to establish a migratory corridor for wildlife between the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kalahari Transfrontier Park.
“The protected areas used to form part of one ecosystem, but human activities have disrupted connectivity between them. In this project, I work with different partners with different expertise, from biologists and land use officers to private researchers, community leaders and traditional trackers.
“I have conducted aerial surveys, studies on human-wildlife conflict, development of a GIS database, and ground surveys.”
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Selebatso measures his success from the encouragement of others. His former colleagues at the government convey that they are impressed with Selebatso’s commitment and impact in his conservation efforts. Selebatso views their trust and confidence in him as an “ecologist, and most importantly as a member of conservation community.”
Changing Minds, Creating Opportunities
He also finds satisfaction when he gains skeptics’ trust and praise. One memorable situation occurred when Selebatso was conducting a workshop on human-wildlife conflict, an issue on which farmers and government officials often take opposite sides. Some participants appeared to have doubts that a young man like Selebatso could facilitate a workshop on such a controversial subject. By the end of the workshop, however, a local farmer and the local chief—both of whom had been suspicious and doubtful of any success—congratulated Selebatso on a job well-done. They were encouraged that solutions to conflicts could be realized because of his kind approach and calculative efforts.
Just as Selebatso is admired for his efforts, he gladly returns the sentiment to his partners in his everyday work—his local “trackers.” Currently, Selebatso is working on a resource inventory and monitoring of natural resources, and he credits the local trackers who assist him with an “amazing knowledge of wildlife and their area.” Through this, the indigenous San people are using their traditional skills to support modern conservation work—and gaining a voice in their future.
Selebatso also presents new employment opportunities by including local people in his conservation efforts. He is optimistic that the skills the local people have now can be transferred to potential tourism businesses as well as offered to future generations in place of hunting and gathering.
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“This collaboration with local people and their participation in resource inventory is unique and exciting,” says Selebatso. “This, to me, forms a good base of community-based natural resource management and most importantly, empowerment, which will enhance their sense of ownership and capacity to advocate for their rights.”
Even with his local successes, he recognizes that, “this process of engaging and empowering local people needs more focus and time to ensure sustenance.”
Passion and Coincidence
Looking back, Selebatso sees many connections between his professional and personal paths.
Just as his time at University of Botswana enlightened Selebatso to what he calls his “natural attachment to nature,” he credits his marriage to a string of coincidences over 11 years. With chance employments together in the same government department, then the same station, he and his wife-to-be became “good friends” and at last married. And in July of 2008, they welcomed a baby boy to the family—Moses Setso.
Ultimately, whether Selebatso is in the field or at home, he carries with him a passion for ecology and conservation efforts that runs deep in his heart and in his home country of Botswana.
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