A project titled, ‘Establishment of a Farmers Network to improve Rangeland Management & Biodiversity Conservation in Botswana’, sponsored by European Union’s Empowerment of Non State Actors (ENSA) and implemented by Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) has just ended.
Sponsored to the tune of P100 000, the project aimed at cultivating tolerance towards cheetahs and other carnivores; whose retaliatory killing jeopardises the already vulnerable populations. The animals’ long term survival is dependent on conservation management of the agricultural zones ÔÇô Gantsi and Southern District areas. Its implementation covers farming areas around Jwaneng and Gantsi.
“The Gantsi district is the largest commercial farming region in Botswana and is situated adjacent to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The District is home to small scale, subsistence livestock farmers, commercial livestock farmers and game farmers. The Southern District is the second focus area of the project. Conflict with carnivores is high including cheetahs, leopards, brown hyenas and occasionally wild dogs,” explained Connie Sebati, CCB spokesperson.
She explained that over the past century, the world’s cheetah population has declined by 90 percent due to habitat loss, declining prey populations, poaching and increasing human/wildlife conflict. Botswana is one of the last strongholds of cheetahs left in the world, containing approximately 30 percent of the estimated 7 100 of them remaining on earth.
“In addition, its central position in southern Africa makes it an important strategic region, providing connectivity between remaining cheetah populations. Despite the nation’s strong conservation credentials, Botswana’s cheetahs are under threat. Protected areas cannot be relied upon to conserve adequate populations, as cheetahs are often out-competed by high populations of stronger carnivores,” she said.
Although parks and game reserves provide a haven for many carnivores, she highlighted, cheetahs require space that extends into agricultural lands. It is estimated that 90 percent of southern Africa’s cheetahs live outside protected areas were they come into conflict with livestock farming communities.
Establishing a network of these various stakeholders in the project areas will encourage improved access to valuable resources, learning through sharing of experiences, information dissemination and stronger collaboration between different stakeholder groups.
“This network will also allow a forum through which CCB may continue to provide critical support services in non-lethal carnivore control, rangeland and livestock management. Such support services include the placement of livestock guarding dogs, technical advice in livestock management, resource workshops and exchange visits,” said Sebati.
On the communities’ response to the initiative, Sebati indicated that; “Inception workshops held at both project sites in February 2016 were well attended by local farmers. They went further to elect representatives to form a steering committee to guide activities of the network.”
Since then, she said the steering committee of Southern Livestock Farmers Network (SOLIFANE) from Jwaneng, attended the Gantsi Agricultural show as a way of networking and visited two farmers to learn from their experiences with livestock guarding dogs placed through CCB.
“SOLIFANE also attended the Southern District Beef Farmers Association field day in May 2016 at Mmalonkonkwane farms. The CCB will be available for any support they may need while allowing the farmers to run and own their networks.
Sebati emphasised the fact that Botswana is an important country for carnivore conservation and has one of the largest concentrations of the cheetahs in the world, and this should be a motivation to Batswana.
“CCB works hard to test and promote farming techniques that can help farmers protect their livestock from carnivores. Farmers are less likely to kill threatened species such as the cheetah if they are not losing livestock to them,” she said.