Botswana’s government came to the defence Friday of the makers of “Top Gear” after the BBC motoring show was accused by environmentalists of damaging the famed Makgadikgadi salt pans during filming.
Jeremy Clarkson and his co-hosts had been widely criticised earlier this month for driving an assortment of vehicles, including quad bikes and 4x4s, across the sun-baked salt flats, home to one of the biggest populations of zebras in the whole of Africa.
But in an attempt to dampen the row, the government in Gaborone has issued a report it commissioned into the filming, saying the producers went to great lengths to ensure that there would be no damage to the wilderness.
“Many weeks of planning went into determining a suitable route for filming, and a location scouting excursion was undertaken both from the air and on the ground to determine a suitable shooting route aimed at ensuring that the filming trip would have minimal environmental impact,” said a statement from the Ministry of Wildlife, Environment and Tourism.
“In addition, the Top Gear’s vehicles were completely stripped before going onto any pan area to make them as lightweight as possible,” it added.
The report also said that the vehicles had been specially fitted with wide tyres to reduce the pressure on the pan’s surface.
The Environmental Investigations Agency, an independent campaigning group, has warned that tracks left by the Top Gear team could scar the pans’ surface for years while a local guide expressed fears the programme would inspire other car fans to emulate Clarkson, “which will absolutely spoil the place.”