BY CALISTUS BOSALETSWE
An author of a research paper titled “Can trackers count free-ranging wildlife as effectively and efficiently as conventional aerial survey and distance sampling? Implications for citizen science in the Kalahari, Botswana,” Derek Keeping maintains that wildlife skills that the tribesman of the Kalahari Desert otherwise known as Basarwa in the local streets has are far more-superior than the conventional aerial survey.
The study compared Basarwa’s unmatched skills on counting of wildlife species with conventional aerial survey such as the controversial one that was carried by a local NGO – Elephant Without Borders (EWB).
Throughout the research period, Keeping compared Basarwa’s track survey and the aerial one and used few criteria such as accuracy on the population estimates. He also calculated for each method the efficiency in terms of the time and money spent to collect enough data for accurate population assessments.
In his study, for instance, he Keeping discovered that the aerial survey and tracking by vehicle( track survey) for population estimate had identical results for six large grazing herbivores such as ÔÇô gemsbok, hartebeest, wildebeest, eland, springbok and ostrich the tracking team estimated more kudu than the aerial survey team.
One other astonishing results that pushed Keeping towards concluding that the Basarwa’s survey method outclassed its aerial counterpart relates to counting of large carnivores to make population estimates.
He said that carnivores are rarely counted during flights, as most of them are sleeping off the night’s activities under bushes or in dens when the aerial survey team is flying overhead while the beauty of using tracks is that the sand records nocturnal animals’ activities, which are easily read by trackers the next morning.
At the end, Keeping assures that the Basarwa data rivals those collected regularly by wildlife authorities using conventional methods.
The study also suggests that track surveys have a potential to replace, the increasingly cost-prohibitive aerial surveys.
Along other several researchers, Keeping is convinced that Basarwa’s tracking surveys skills, if preserved will safe guard their indigenous knowledge which has been practiced from time immemorial.
He also argues that the benefits of tracking survey among the community can be funded and generate income for the community by inviting tourists to join trackers on wildlife monitoring-back safaris.
“The situation is dire in these communities. No jobs besides Ipelegeng drought relief), no rights to utilize their traditional territories for sustainable hunting and gathering”, Keeping said.
Instead, Keeping continued, Basarwa communities are not getting proper help to develop wilderness, wildlife and cultural ecotourism but rather redirected towards some policies which are threatening wildlife-related future.
By contrast, cattle development in the Kalahari is said to be a dead-end that drives rural poverty rather than eradicates it. Cattle development has also been linked to the degrading of semi-arid rangelands eliminating important food and medicinal plants.
In a recent interview, Keeping further stated this unique tourism offering for wildlife-loving, adventure safari enthusiast will help local people realise the benefits of their own traditional tracking culture and their wildlife.
Pundits within the conservation circles agrees that Keeping’s research has a great potential to demystify a notion that conventional aerial survey that government usually consider for counting wildlife species was better than tracking survey in collecting data.
He recommended that, “Animal-back surveys have the additional benefit of reducing the pace of the survey, allowing the trackers to record smaller, yet extremely important, species such as pangolins and black-footed cats some which are threatened species like pangolin which threatened by wildlife trafficking, whilst the black-footed cat is endemic to the Kalahari region, yet receives little scientific attention”.
Keeping argues that the use of animal back surveys among bushman trackers has a potential to uplift the marginalised communities who could get funding for track survey and offer their tourists an opportunity to be part of the tracking survey sojourn.
He is adamant that most of wildlife loving tourist who prefers to visit Botswana will consider this mouth-watering holiday packages that are unique tourism offering for wildlife-loving, adventure-seeking safari goers, while communities benefit from resources and their indigenous knowledge for their own livelihood.
Keeping says he is hopeful that the data collected from these track survey and in future will be used to inform population estimates and distribution data, which can be used to highlight the importance of this part of the Kalahari ecosystem.