The escalating number of cattle roaming the Okavango Delta and Wildlife Management Areas is being blamed not only as an eye sore but as a hindrance to the efficient management of the buffalo fence.
The cattle are now dominating areas meant for wild animals ÔÇô the very animals tourists come to see. The free movement of the cattle has also led to a failure by officials of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to fully maintain and manage the buffalo fence as they should, hence the repeated outbreaks of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the region.
Addressing tour operators in Maun this week, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Neil Fitt, said maintenance of the fence was very difficult in the past year as a result of the floods and animal movement, which they could not control.
He pointed out that the Ghanzi and Kuke fences were no exception as the same dilemma was experienced, even though farmer organizations in these areas tried all they could to help the situation with their limited resources.
“We have a lot of challenges around the Delta area, and we are almost losing on the conservation point of view, which is why we have called you here today to see if you may be interested in offering a helping hand to enable us do away with the current situation,” Fitt said. “We have deployed officials from our Anti-Poaching Unit to man the fence, but as you may know, there is still a lot that needs to be done. We are talking of an FMD barrier here and I think you all know it has to be maintained to a certain level, failure of which we might see the disease reoccurring.”
Fitt added that they had also received numerous reports from communities residing along the buffalo fence that disease control gates are not manned. He said that, for this reason, they want more people volunteering to help, while they also increase their visibility on the ground.
“They (communities) will also benefit in a way, and the issue of human/wildlife conflict stands to be better addressed, should there be proper monitoring, as there will be less FMD and less mobility of wild animals that encroach on areas of dwelling.”
For his part, the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS), Dr Letlhogile Modisa, said keeping cattle outside the Delta has always been their number one priority as it also goes along with their disease control policies.
He said that, as the Ministry of Agriculture, they also have a lot of responsibilities in the delta as they also have a major contribution to the flora and fauna in Botswana, “which is why we also need to work hard in ensuring the delta is conserved”.
He said their efforts have always been distracted by some farmers who deliberately drive their livestock into the delta for grazing, causing buffaloes and cattle to mix and, thereby, transmitting FMD even more.
“We are equally challenged here because, besides the continuing uncontrolled animal movements, there is also the issue of resource constraints on our part. Infrastructure is very important to us, and so we need to come up with interventions on how best to deal with this matter,” Modisa said. “As we speak, we do not even have enough patrol vehicles or manpower. And, as if that is not enough, certain bits of the buffalo fence have also been hard to maintain because most of it is submerged in water. So we only rely on water levels to go down before we can continue with maintenance as there is never a dry season in the delta.”
Modisa added that the ever increasing elephant population in the country is another setback as they (elephants) move from all directions and destroy the fence along the way. In the meantime, he said they have engaged the services of extra mural prisoners from Maun’s Boro Prison, who also assist with maintenance, even though sustaining them is also a problem as they have to be fed, closely monitored and transported every day.
He said that the DVS is more than willing to supply materials, funds permitting, and they just need to wait patiently and see how far it will take them.
Meanwhile, the DWNP Director, Dr Oldman Koboto, told the meeting that there is serious need for all stakeholders to come up with different strategies to actively involve themselves and assist where possible, adding that government alone cannot succeed as there are limitations already. He said stakeholders should help bridge the gap, come up with workable solutions as well as take the lead as they are also directly affected in one way or the other.