Illegal bushmeat hunting is a widespread and growing threat to wildlife in savannah ecosystems across Africa, but its secretive and unregulated nature undermines efforts to mitigate its impacts on wildlife and wildlife-based industries. BPCT recently contributed to a signifcant study of this problem in Northern Botswana that collected data through interviews with hunters, randomly selected heads of households, wildlife experts, land concession managers and anti-poaching personnel.
The results of this study suggest that 1500 to 2000 illegal hunters currently operate in and around the Delta, predominantly in the western region, harvesting 244 500 to 470 000 kg of bushmeat annually. One of the key findings was that bushmeat poaching was predominantly carried out in the Okavango Delta by young men, often mounted on horses or donkeys, using dogs and guns (as opposed to snares as more commonly used in neighbouring Zambia and Zimbabwe) and that these men originated from areas close to wildlife areas. Perhaps most surprisingly they often came from wealthier households.
Additional key findings included the discovery that among medium to large herbivores impala and greater kudu were the most affected (in contrast to official records which suggest that large species such as buffalo and giraffe accounted for the largest proportion of offtake). This data importantly suggests that wildlife managers and law enforcement in Botswana do not currently detect harvests of small species effectively. Indeed our data suggest that the proportion of greater kudu killed each year in some areas is approximately equal to the species' intrinsic growth rate.
Illegal bushmeat hunting constitutes a highly inefficient use of wildlife resources. Comparing the community benefits from illegal hunting to those from community-based photographic tourism operations in the northern delta demonstrates that tourism can provide benefits to local communities an order of magnitude greater than bushmeat hunting. Furthermore, illegal hunting fundamentally threatens the Okavnago's wildlife populations and the area's lucrative tourism industry which is dependent on wildlife. Hunters may kill four percent or more of many species’ populations annually. For greater kudu, ostrich, sable antelope and wildebeest, the annual harvest is likely greater than ten percent of the population. This may explain why more than half of interviewed hunters believe that one or more wildlife species is in decline.
The aim of this project going forward is to further develop our understanding of this damaging trade and to attempt to mitigate the negative impacts of illegal hunting in Botswana’s Okavango Delta by implementing better strategies including job creation, to ensure that members of local communities derive direct benefits from wildlife resources, while simultaneously curbing illegal hunting.