|Fence for containing diseased cattle.|
Late in 1995, an outbreak of cattle lung disease (Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia) spread along the northern border of Botswana, near Namibia.
In an effort to contain the problem, a series of fences were erected to limit the movement of diseased cattle. Over the next half a year, the outbreak was contained but the fences remained around the Okavango, limiting the movement of migrating wildlife and restricting their access to seasonal feeding grounds and water holes.
This practice initially began in the 1950’s as a way to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease between wild buffalo and cattle. Today, fences are still one of the main threats to wildlife in Botswana’s Okavango Delta region. It’s a challenging dilemma for conservationists. On one hand, the fences protect the country’s growing cattle industry, which provides people with working cattle, milk, food and a living. On the other, they harm wildlife, which tourists flock to Botswana to see, creating another important source of income.
Especially in the dry season, the Delta is a vital refuge for nomadic species like the elephant, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest, which normally roam the central Kalahari. They travel north to the Delta to forage, but blocked by agricultural and veterinary fences, many animals have died by the electrified fences or because they were unable to access water and feeding grounds. Conservationists estimate that 95 percent of the wildebeest population was lost between 1979-1994 because of fences.
A growing understanding of the threats posed to wildlife by the fences has sparked action by Botswana’s government. In 1998, the government announced that it would begin a major rollback and realignment of cattle fences. An environmental impact study and community planning were also announced as part of an effort to determine other areas where cattle fences could be removed or realigned.
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