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Botswana: Africa’s best-kept secret

Michael Merbeck, abendsonne afrika und Tweslopele C. Moremi, Botschafterin Botswana in Deutschland

Botswana, a country in southwest Africa and the partner country of this year’s ITB Berlin, has been described by Messe Berlin as ’Africa’s best-kept secret’. Indeed, the extent to which Botswana has adopted a pioneering role in nature conservation is not widely known. It is due to the sustainable management practised by the government and conservationists that wildlife abounds in this country. It is Botswana’s perfect investment in a future in which tourism plays an important part.

Naturally, Botswana is where the ’Big Five’ are – elephants, white and black rhinos, buffaloes, lions and leopards. Incidentally, the term comes not from their size but from the risk they pose to human hunters. 120,000 elephants alone live in Chobe National Park, as well as hippos and crocodiles. Botswana is home to one-third of Africa’s savanna elephants, namely 200,000 animals. In the Okavango Delta, with a bit of luck, safari tourists can spot the rare white rhino. Conditions are excellent for these animals here and the government has made a concerted effort to fight poaching. As a result, rhinos from other southern African countries are resettled in Botswana. The cost of relocating a single animal is 70,000 to 100,000 US dollars.

The Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) is an active member of numerous local wildlife conservation projects. Thus the BTO is currently endeavouring to fund a rhino task force, the Central Rhino Operations Unit, along with an aerial navigation event, the Race for Rhinos. A presentation will take place at the Destination Day on 9 March at the ITB Berlin Convention. For the people in Botswana saving the rhino is an undertaking of key importance, one that involves saving a vulnerable and endangered species for posterity. 2014 witnessed the founding of Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB). Tshekedi Khama has followed in the footsteps of the country’s president, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, as patron of this international organisation. The Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism is also a member of the board of the Tlhokomela Trust. The trust, a public-private partnership now in its second year, protects endangered wildlife and is a partner of the Giants Club. Along with Kenya, Gabon and Uganda, Botswana is the fourth country making efforts to conserve its elephant population and protect it against the illegal ivory trade. The country is also proud to have organised the first-ever elephant population count.

Prizes for good work

Zebras and giraffes, mainly in the southwest of the Okavango Delta, hippos and flamingos in the shallow waters during the rainy season – they too are among the stars that visitors can watch close-up on safaris. For Michael Merbeck, an expert on Africa and managing director of the tour operator Abendsonne Afrika, safaris in Botswana offer something exclusive: “The country is sparsely populated. This is not where you find the occupants of ten jeeps watching elephants bathe at a watering hole.“ Botswana is not only the refuge for a number of endangered mammals, including African wild dogs and brown hyenas, but for rare bird species such as Cape vultures and wattled cranes as well.

National Geographic Traveller has praised the country’s efforts and in 2015/2016 it declared Botswana its partner country. Impressive documentaries such as Savage Kingdom and Saba the phantom assassin portray wildlife in Botswana’s various habitats, and can be viewed online on NatGeo Wild. Last year at ITB Berlin 2016 Botswana received a World Legacy Award for its conservation work and was voted Lonely Planet’s Destination of the Year. UNWTO has included three nature reserves, the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park and the Makgadikgadi Game Reserve, on the list of its top 100 Green Destinations. In 2017 Botswana was nominated for the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Award.

Nature reserves cover 40 per cent of the country’s land surface

The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country without beaches. To the southeast it borders on South Africa, to the west and north on Namibia, and to the northeast on Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its surface area is 1.5 times that of Germany, whereas its population is just under two million. Over ten per cent of the country’s inhabitants live in the capital Gaborone. Botswana is a tableland, and largely without hills. Most regions lie at an altitude of more than 1,000 metres. Savanna, bush and swamp areas make up a diverse landscape. Botswana’s nature parks and game reserves are the country’s national treasures, as laid down in the National Development Plan (NDP11). At 52,000 square kilometres, they cover almost 40 per cent of the land surface. President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama has experience of the bush and was instrumental in these developments.

In Botswana, unlike other African countries, there is no risk of encountering poachers in the wild. “There is no poaching“, says Michael Merbeck, who has covered more than 150,000 kilometres on safaris in southern and eastern Africa. Nor do people hunt for food.“ It is much more likely that tourists will encounter a helicopter landing next to them on their travels across the country. The crews of the Botswana Defence Force are tasked with checking wildlife populations and illegal trade with game trophies.

Sabine Neumann und Horst Schwartz

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