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Conservation in Botswana, an interview with Brian Jackman

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Safari Consultants recently interviewed Brian Jackman, the noted Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph travel journalist, about his a passion for Africa and lion conservation in particular. The above video represents extracts from the interview with a reference to conservation in Botswana. For the full interview, please click here.

Transcript

OC     “Hello Africa fans! Recently, I travelled to the West-country to interview Brian Jackman. Brian has over 30 years’ experience writing for the Sunday Times, and today also writes for the Daily Telegraph. I asked him to share his opinions on conservation in Botswana.

OC     “Thank you very much, Brian for agreeing to be interviewed today. I’d like to talk to you specifically about Botswana if that’s possible? You’ve got a great interest in lion conservation and a long history of writing all sorts of things about Africa: where in your opinion is the best place in Botswana to see lions in action?”

BJ     “To see them in action? You’ve probably got to go to Duba Plains I suppose, it’s the place where I’ve had the most exciting lion encounters. There are huge numbers of Buffalo there and you have this extraordinary set-up of basically lions versus buffalos, which produces some pretty exciting game-watching. Mombo is another; people call it the predator capital of the universe. It’s an expensive, high-end destination but it does have fantastic game-viewing for all big cats.”

OC     “Where about is Duba Plains?”

BJ     “Duba Plains is right deep out in the Okavango Delta, as far in as you can go. It’s a lovely remote, wet habitat. If you’re a lion ‘junky’ like me, it’s a very good place to go! As a complete contrast, I also love the central Kalahari Game Reserve. It’s about the size of Arizona and it’s a completely different habitat; far fewer lions there, but the ones there are – you get good lions there; big black-mane Kalahari lions.”

OC     “And of course there’s no grass in the way there is there?”

BJ     “Well no, but you have to work hard to find them, and that’s part of the fun I think. You need to go in the green season, when it’s been raining half a dozen huge, apocalyptic thunderstorms, and they transform the Kalahari, giving you this wonderful emerald desert, if you like, and it’s a stunning time to be there. It’s a stunning place to visit and it has the bonus of these magnificent lions if you’re lucky enough to track them down in places like Deception Pan or Deception Valley. These are little lion hotspots where they’re really good to see.

OC     “I think Duba Plains – that’s on a private conservancy isn’t it? And Mombo?”

BJ     “The whole of the Okavango is a kind of jigsaw of concessions, all divided up. Each one seems like the size of a small country when you’re in it! It has the benefit of this wonderful scheme that the Botswana Government has come up with; they’ve gone for the top end of tourism and it has so many benefits.”

OC     “What role do private conservancies play in wildlife conservation in Botswana; are these conservancies, broadly speaking, a good thing for the wildlife?”

BJ     “I believe so. I don’t really think you can have mass-tourism and conservation – the two just don’t go together.”

OC     “And as you mentioned, the Botswana Government has had a policy for quite a few years now of pursuing this high-end, low volume expensive holidays.”

BJ     “That’s exactly the road they’ve gone down, and with terrific results.”

OC     “So you think that that is a good model for the long term survival of the country’s wildlife?”

BJ     “I believe it’s made Botswana a fantastic destination, and a fantastic refuge for endangered species.”

OC     “And why do you think that is, is it just less people visiting; less tourists to disturb the wildlife?”

BJ     “Partly, and for a start Botswana’s a big country, with a population of about two million; very, very low – and so there is room for wildlife, and room for large numbers of elephants. Elephants need space and not too many people around. Most of those 2 million people are down to the South around Gaborone. It’s a win-win situation if the policies are conscientiously pursued, which they seem to be doing extremely well.”

OC     “That’s good news. What do you think the tourism industry does to help conservation, if anything?”

BJ     “You know the saying: ‘if it pays, it stays’ – that says it all. Conscientious eco-tourism, as long as it’s sustainable, you can make the whole thing pay and then there’s no reason to get rid of the wildlife when it’s bringing in so much money and employing so many people. It can roll on and roll on forever, unlike hunting where you have a trophy lion, you shoot it, and it’s gone; and one guy has the pleasure. If that lion is there for several years of its life attracting tourists, it’s earning money repeatedly all throughout its life. Up in Kenya years ago, Richard Leakey called his lions the great unpaid workers of the Kenyan economy. He said they were working round the clock for us making millions, which is true and the same of course happens in Botswana.”

OC     “Yes, well it’s more exciting than Madame Tussauds in London! Thinking about protecting the wildlife in the country – obviously there are all sorts of problems with poaching, and it’s a very terrible and serious issue throughout Africa; do you think poaching can ever be beaten, or at least contained in Botswana, or are the problems faced just too great for a single nation to tackle on its own?”

BJ     “If the will is there I think it can be contained, and at the moment the will is there. If the Botswana Defence Force is brought to bear down hard on poachers, I think that’s very positive. If the Government are serious about conserving wildlife, which they seem to be and always have done, then I think that the future is probably better for Botswana than many of the other, if not all the other wildlife destination countries in Africa. In many ways it holds out the best hope.”

OC     “Well that’s very positive. Of course in February 2014, Botswana was one of four African nations to pledge to honour a 10 year moratorium on the trade of ivory, meaning that they won’t sell any of their ivory stocks on the open-market; do you think that’s a positive move for conservation in Botswana? Obviously ivory is a very valuable commodity, but don’t you they’d do better to just destroy all of their ivory stocks?

BJ     “Yes I do. I would do what president Moi did in Kenya: he just burnt it. Ivory is what rich people buy and nobody needs and that’s a comment that Iain Douglas-Hamilton made years ago and it’s as true now as it was then. You don’t ivory – if it’s there it’s this terrible temptation that ends up with people dying. Poachers die, and people trying to defend the wildlife get killed as well: and for what?

Years ago there was a marvellous film called ‘Bloody Ivory’, made about the life of a Kenyan Game Warden, David Sheldrick, and that’s what it is: it has blood on its hands. I think just before the ivory trade was banned, back at the end of the 1980s, I think it was said that 95% of all ivory in-trade was illegal. In other words it was poached. So if there is any kind of legal trade; it’s just a conduit that disguises the illegal trade behind it. Burn it! I feel really strongly about this.

For years working at the Sunday Times I reported on the ivory wars, and it’s not very nice to see elephants with their faces chopped off and their tusks taken out, and it’s not very nice to have people firing AK47s at you. There was one occasion in my life when a hit-squad was sent to London to ‘bump me off’ for trying to expose an African ivory poaching story, so there’s a lot of serious and bad people out there involved in this dirty business.”

OC     “Ivory has a street value that is worth per kilogram more than cocaine…”

BJ     “Yes, and you move onto Rhino horns which are worth more than their weight in gold; it’s a huge incentive. In a sense you can’t blame the poor little guy in the bush who takes all the risk. Having said that, you really have to bear down on them. If these were people breaking into the bank of England bank vaults and they were caught in the act, they’d be gunned down, and there’s no difference in my view. It’s not poaching a pheasant for the pot, some people have romantic views of what poaching is all about, but this is serious. The Rhino; this wonderful old dinosaur that’s walked the earth for millions of years: when it’s gone it’s gone. You cannot bring it back. I think that’s the greatest crime in the book: the crime of extinction. So I feel quite passionate, and quite strongly about this, and I’m very pleased to see how well Botswana comes out of this: they’ve hone to huge lengths to protect their wildlife.

Going back to lions again, which are endangered now and disappearing in huge areas of their continent-wide range, I think Botswana is one of only 7 countries in Africa with more than 1000 lions. In the Okavango they’ve got about 1500 lions.”

OC     “And are those numbers increasing?”

BJ     “I think they are probably going to now. There’s been a hunting ban imposed and you can’t shoot a trophy lion anymore, which was causing huge problems. Even if you shoot one male lion, there are repercussions going through the pride hierarchy, because another male lion will come in and kill the cubs. It’s not just killing one lion, there’s a ripple effect in the rest of their society. So I would like to think that those number now will actually increase, which would be tremendous.”

OC     “On a slightly different tack, I understand Namibia has mooted plans to dam the Okavango River, to the north of the country where the Okavango enters the country; what’s your take on the impact on tourism and the country more widely that the damming of the Okavango River might have were this project to go ahead?”

BJ     “Anything that would threaten the future and stability of the Okavango Delta would be a colossal disaster in my view.”

OC “It’s really a unique habitat isn’t it?”

BJ “It is unique: 10,000 square miles of this oasis in Africa, this wonderful area of reed-beds, plains, lagoons, water-ways: absolutely stunning, and heaving with wildlife.”

OC     “It would probably have a pretty detrimental effect on the wildlife wouldn’t it, because it would unbalance the whole eco-system, because, presumably there would be less water flowing in?”

BJ     “It’s bound to affect it. It belongs to the world, it’s a priceless thing, hang on to it at all costs. The value to Botswana, as wildlife and wild places become increasingly rare and hard to find, then the places that survive, are rather like rare and wonderful antiques whose value is increased. So, by its scarcity value alone, and area like the Okavango will become more and more valuable, and worth more to Botswana to keep it as pristine as it is now, and it’s very important that they do that.”

OC     “On that note, do you think that the natural environment and the wildlife of Botswana has a positive future? In 15 years’ time, what sort of state do you think the country’s wildlife will be in?”

BJ     “I think that whatever happens across the rest of Africa, Botswana probably holds out the greatest hope for the wildlife of the continent. But having said that doesn’t mean to say that it’s risk free, or that people aren’t going to have to fight to maintain the status quo – you’ve got to put your shoulder to the wheel and fight for every last inch it’s so precious.”

OC     “Thank you very much for your time, Brian Jackman.”

BJ     “Always a pleasure to talk about Africa.”

 

Post-script:

With the rhinoceros in real peril across most of Africa, and the authorities seemingly helpless in taking meaningful action against the increased poaching of this magnificent animal, two major safari players recently announced a move to translocate 100 animals (of both species) back into Botswana in 2015.

And Beyond and Great Plains Conservation, private concessionaires and lodge owners within Botswana, are currently raising the US$8 million required to effect the translocation.

Map-Ives-on-map-150More recently on the 25th April, Map Ives, renowned safari guide and conservationists, was appointed as Botswana’s National Rhino Coordinator by the country’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. Further evidence that Botswana’s Government is committed to the conservation of its wildlife.



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