Ghanzi, Botswana–This is the first installment from reporting on cheetah conservation and human/predator co-existence from Southern Africa. We begin in Botswana….
From what I can surmise on this hot morning, the job takes place behind the wheel. OK, I am exaggerating, but the truth is that locations are not close by. They are many miles away, down ungraded gravel roads, and those are the ones in fair condition. Turning off the main road is a guarantee of throwing the tires out of alignment, and once one turns off, it can be another long bumpy ride way into the bush before reaching the final destination of a farm house, a marking tree, a local community, a cattle post, etc. The trusty Toyota Hilux that CCB uses takes a beating. Petrol and repairs are vital to be able to just get a day’s work done.
This morning, we (Andrea, Phale, Max and myself ) are traveling to the community of New Xade (Xade is pronounced with a “click,” but most Westerners will say it with a hard “K” sound), a new town on the edge of the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve — the second largest game reserve in the world) to introduce ourselves, make connections, and a plan to return for more intensive outreach.
The drive reveals miles and miles of scorched earth on either side of the road. If a fire rages on communal lands such as these, it is left to burn. We start to wonder if the village is still there, based on the vast expanse of blackened bush and ground. A few hours drive, and we arrive in a sparsely populated village where a local man points us in the direction of the administrative office.
The entire interaction takes place in the Setswana language, the lingua franca of Botswana. Max and Phale do most of the talking/listening and interpret for Andrea. They ask what wildlife issues the community has, how they kraal (corral) their livestock, and which specific animals may be a challenge for the farmers. The chief of New Xade tells us there is a community meeting taking place that afternoon and we should poke our heads in and see if there is an opportunity to learn about what is going on.
The surrounding communities of the CKGR are forming a trust to plan how to manage their lands and open up to tourism. In a large room inside a schoolhouse, around 40 people gather to talk and be heard. The entire meeting is also in Setswana and I’m completely lost, but do my best to infer inflections in speech and body language. I’m still lost.
The good news is that the MC of the meeting and others are very welcoming to our unannounced arrival and make room in their schedule for Max and Phale to talk and field questions. They decide to speak briefly, then listen to the meeting before speaking again. This turns into a marathon four hours that goes beyond the group’s lunchtime. I’m a little amazed nobody has mutinied yet in the name of low blood sugar, but people are polite (albeit fidgety) and everyone on the MC’s schedule gets their turn to speak.
After Max answers a few basic questions and talks about starting a project in the area, and with the meeting still going strong, we leave for cheetah camp. It’s important to be off the roads after dark if we can help it. Livestock and wildlife regularly run into the road, and accidents are, sadly, a frequent event in Botswana.
Plans are made to return with more comprehensive outreach for New Xade and a relationship starts to take place between CCB and locals. This is long term, slow work. It doesn’t happen overnight and this is but one day of primary introductions, including nearly 4.5 hours of drive time.
Follow this story and you’ll notice I use the word “perseverance” throughout. Conservation is reaching out to people, listening to each other, and moving forward little by little.
Stay tuned for more days-in-the-life of cheetah camp, Ghanzi; Cheetah Conservation Botswana.