The elephants that trampled the fences near the Gudigwa airstrip were just being elephants. To get to food and water sources, elephants let nothing get in their way. How can you blame them? Driven by natural instinct to migrate, especially during the dry season, elephants now crowd certain areas of Southern Africa trying to go about the business of living.
Unfortunately, humans, who live their lives moving within the confines of various borders (artificial and real), often try to dictate that animals do the same.
In Botswana, man-made borders are inhibiting the migration paths of elephants and other wildlife. Lines of fences extend for countless miles. Originally erected as a control method for the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious virus that can devastate livestock, the fences impede the movements of much of Botswana's wildlife. The economic impact of foot-and-mouth disease can be enormous and the stakes are high, so Botswana is trying to find a balance between protecting it's livestock (the country's second largest industry) and managing wildlife, which is the basis of the country's growing nature tourism industry.
||"conservationists are trying to work in a world dictated by borders to create migratory corridors"
To address this issue, conservationists are trying to work in a world dictated by borders to create migratory corridors, or connections, between existing wildlife reserves. In much of the world, wildlife reserves exist as islands unto themselves. Take a look at a map of the national parks in the United States. Are they connected? Do they border one another? In most cases, the answer is, "no."
John Hanks, who works for Conservation International in Africa, is working on creating a Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA). TFCAs are large tracts of land, crossing the borders of two or more countries, which share natural systems and encompass one or more protected areas.
In the Okavango region, a proposed Okavango/Upper Zambezi TFCA would stretch across 103,000-square-miles of northern
Botswana into Namibia's Caprivi Strip and include areas of southern Angola, southern Zambia and western Zimbabwe. Connections between protected areas would be established and new laws governing land-use would be created.
||"Botswana has the largest concentration of African elephants but we (scientists) don't know a whole lot about them."|
The creation of this TFCA would benefit wildlife and people. A conservation corridor would help disperse elephant herds back into their historical ranges. Herds currently crowd just a few areas of Botswana. New opportunities for ecotourism would open up in areas that are currently difficult to access. Along with this would come the creation of lodges, jobs and community enterprises.
There's a lot of work to be done before the lines of such a conservation area can be drawn. That's where Mike Chase and his work come into the picture. The data Mike collects will be a critical part of determining what the TFCA's borders might actually become. "It's pretty incredible," he said to me as we came upon our first herd of elephants near Khwai. "Botswana has the largest concentration of African elephants but we (scientists) don't know a whole lot about them." Botswana's official elephant estimate is around 75,000 but CI's researchers estimate that there are probably closer to 120,000.
One thing is certain. The more Mike and other conservationists learn about the demographic structure of elephants - population sizes, ages, sex ratio and growth rates, the better they can determine and predict trends that will be added into a management plan for the country's huge elephant population. With the cooperation of multinational stakeholders, TFCAs might be a way to create the right kind and size of habitat for this endangered giant and all other creatures who share its habitat.
The Okavango/Upper Zambezi TFCA may still be years away from becoming "official" but it isn't the first corridor of its kind in southern Africa. In May 2000, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) was designated as the world's first transfrontier park. The KTP brings links the 10,965 square mile (28,400 sq. kilometer) Gemsbok National Park in Botswana with the 3,703 square mile (9,591 sq. kilometer) Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa as a single unit. A unified system of control and management allows tourists to move freely across the international boundaries between the two countries. At the same time, Botswana and South Africa retain their territorial integrity and separate legal systems in their respective areas.
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