Minister says lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas are becoming extinct
The number of carnivorous animals in the country is on the decline and the government is worried.
From cheetahs, lions and leopards to stripped hyena’s and African wild dogs, their population has been dwindling at an alarming rate, a trend that is now being blamed on climate change, loss of food, and increased human population.
On Monday, Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa said it was a matter of serious concern that needed urgent attention.
“The number of the large carnivores is on the decline throughout the world and Kenya’s is no exception,” said the minister in a statement.
Dr Wekesa asked communities not to kill lions and hyenas and pledged that KWS would do everything possible to protect them and their livestock.
“I know there are plans to build lion-proof bomas. Let us all strive to preserve this important heritage,” he concluded.
Statistics from the Kenya Wildlife Service, for instance, indicate that the population of lions in the country had declined from an estimated 2,749 in 2002 to about 2000 in 2008.
But despite their receding numbers, the minister said the remaining animals were still a major source of problems especially to those living near national parks and reserves.
Attacks on livestock by large carnivores, he said, had increased and this consequently led to the killing of the wild animals.
“The just ended prolonged drought was the worst that had ever been felt in the area. The number of herbivores was reduced from as many as 7,000 to just 300,” he said while launching an ambitious strategy to conserve the carnivores.
Added the minister: “Already, the communities had lost over 80 per cent of their livestock to the drought. When the lions and hyenas turned to the remaining livestock, the communities were distressed and attacked them in return.”
Dr Wekesa continued: “The drought took a heavy toll on both wild animals and the habitats we care for. Besides, it also adversely affected the livestock of communities living adjacent to national parks and reserves. One of the consequences of the drought was increase in human wildlife conflict.”
The minister cited the ongoing translocation of 7,000 zebra and wildebeests at a cost of Sh103 million to restore the Amboseli ecosystem by the Kenya Wildlife Service as a show of government commitment to community welfare.
It is expected that the exercise will, in the long run, provide food to these animals, thus alleviating the human-wildlife conflict and ecological imbalance.
Dr Wekesa said the success of conservation efforts in the country largely depended on the goodwill of communities living adjacent to national parks and reserves.
“This means we have to protect the livelihoods of these communities and promote harmonious co-existence with wildlife,” the minister said.
The strategy is to provide a road map for the conservation of the animals.
It prescribes actions that need to be taken by various stakeholders and coordinated by the KWS to reverse the declining wildlife population.
Separately, the world’s 25 most endangered primates have been named in a new report.
Mankind’s closest living relatives — apes, monkeys, lemurs, and other primates — are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures, according to Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010.
The report reveals that nearly half of all primate species are now in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade, and commercial bush meat hunting.
The list includes five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, all of which are the most in need of urgent conservation action.
Compiled by 85 experts from across the world, the report was launched at Bristol Zoo Gardens last week, with guests from national and international conservation and research organisations.
Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur (trachypithecus p. poliocephalus), which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, north eastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain.
Similarly, there are thought to be less than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs (lepilemur septentrionalis) left in Madagascar and just 110 eastern black crested gibbons (nomascus nasutus) in north eastern Vietnam.
The list has been drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates.
One of the editors of the report is Dr Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), a sister organisation of Bristol Zoo Gardens.
Dr Schwitzer, who is also an adviser on Madagascan primates for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, contributed the chapter on the Endangered Sclater’s lemur (also called the blue-eyed black lemur).
Dr Schwitzer said: “This report makes for very alarming reading and it underlines the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates. We hope it will be effective in drawing attention to the plight of each of the 25 species included. Support and action to help save these species is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever.”
Almost half (48 per cent) of the world’s 634 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests (which results in the release of around 16 per cent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change), the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.
Article and photo at: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/866788/-/item/0/-/3rcnla/-/index.html]]>
Everyday thousands of people pass near Mkomazi National Park gates at Same Town, on one of Tanzania's busiest highway. Only a few of them, however, know of its rugged acacia-covered beauty beside Usambara and Pare mountains, with Kilimanjaro in the distance.
East of the Pare Mountains, Mkomazi falls along the edge of a semi-arid savanna arc that stretches into bordering Kenya's Tsavo East National Park. Together with Tsavo Park, Mkomazi now represents one of the largest protected areas in all of Africa.
Although it hides merely a few minutes away from Same Town, the road to Mkomazi leads you to an entirely different world. The park, vast yet dense, is overwhelming with beauty. We do not need to lament that Mkomazi is forgotten as it only gives us a better feeling of what it is to be lost into the Wild.
The park's name comes from the Pare tribe's word for "water source", referring to the Umba River on Mkomazi's south eastern border. The river and other water holes keep the park abounding with small and big mammals, including silver backed jackals, lions, cheetahs, leopards, lesser kudus, giraffes, buffalos, elephants and zebras. The Park is also a birdwatcher's paradise with over 450 avian species from tawny eagles to kingfishers and many different kinds of parrots.
Mkomazi is the place where the black rhino and the wild dog have returned to roam. Indeed, the highlight of the journey is the 30 square mile Black Rhino Sanctuary. The sight of the endangered specie makes you forget that the sanctuary is surrounded by an electrified fence and heavily patrolled by armed guards. Built over 5 years it now houses a population of eight rhinos, the first of its kind in Tanzania.
Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, Mkomazi suffered a dramatic decline due to inadequate protection and severe mismanagement. During this devastating period the population of black rhinos fell from over four hundred individuals to zero. Previous to that, the park held one of the largest numbers of breeding rhinos.
The government recently promoted the reserve into a national park and extended the Ruaha Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania by incorporating Ihefu and Usangu basins. Thus Mkomazi Game Reserve is now the country's 15th national park.
Article at: http://allafrica.com/stories/200808110366.html
Some 2,000 wild animals are being relocated to Kenya's Meru National Park from areas of the country with larger populations as part of a drive by the government to revive and rebrand the park as "complete wilderness."
Species such as the endangered Grevy's zebra, common zebra, impala, hartebeest and Beisa oryx are being moved in what the Kenya Wildlife Service is calling, "the greatest African ungulate translocation."
Early this month, Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng'etich formally started the last phase of an historic process to restore the park's biodiversity that started in 2000.
Since the end of July when this relocation started, 396 zebras and 492 impalas out of the targeted 2,000 have been moved to the park. The animals are being taken from overstocked wildlife areas in Naivasha, Nakuru and Laikipia.
They are driven into funnel-shaped capture sites and loaded into crates. The system can only be used for smaller animals and is commonly used in South Africa.
This relocation will cost Sh8.8 million (US$135,000), says Paul Udoto, corporate communications manager with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Meru National Park in northern Kenya, 348 kilometres (216 miles) from the capital Nairobi, lost its position as a premier destination for visitors seeking untamed wilderness when it suffered a downturn in the 1970s and early 80s due to rampant banditry and poaching.
During this period, poachers slaughtered 90 percent of the park's 3,000 elephants. Rhinos were completely wiped out. Lawlessness and land use conflicts between humans and wildlife devastated the park and tourism plummeted.
Since 2000, international donors Agence Francaise de Developpement, AFD, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, have helped to bring animals back into the park. In April 2003, one of nine endangered white rhinos translocated to the park the month before gave birth to a healthy calf, the first born in the park in 20 years.
Thirty-nine reticulated giraffe from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy were relocated to Meru National Park in June 2003 as part of ongoing efforts to replace wildlife species in the vast protected area. In 2000, the Kenya Wildlife Service moved 66 elephants from private ranches in Laikipia to Meru. IFAW teamed up with the Born Free Foundation and Ol Pejeta Ranch, a private game sanctuary, to help the Service translocate the elephants. Each family group was captured and moved at one time to ensure that their social bonds were not disturbed.
Meru National Park is best known as the setting for George and Joy Adamson's book and Oscar-winning 1966 film "Born Free", about an orphaned lioness cub they raised and named Elsa.
Joy Adamson acquired the lioness after George shot its mother in self-defense. The film depicts the dilemma the Adamsons faced when their time in Kenya came to an end, forcing them to decide whether to place Elsa in a zoo, or to attempt to teach the domesticated lioness to hunt and fend for herself. Else was successfully released back into the wild.
Gazetted as a protected area in 1966, Meru National Park straddles the equator at the foot of the Nyambene Hills. It is inhabited by rare and unique animal species characteristic of semi-arid areas and is dominated by tall grass, lush swamps, thorny acacia, bush lands, and 14 permanent rivers.
The rivers support swamps and river forests with such diverse trees as figs, tamarinds and doum palms. There are 400 recorded species of birds, including such rare species as Peter's finfoot and Pel's fishing owl.
The Kenya Wildlife Service, with millions of dollars in support from AFD and IFAW, has invested in new infrastructure developments including four airstrips, visitor accommodation facilities, roads, gates, staff housing and community projects.
These funds have allowed rebuilding of the park's original ranger headquarters, repair of security vehicles, and fencing of two nearby farms to prevent elephants from wandering onto them.
The Service is building one of its biggest ranger camps with 129 housing units at the park's Murera gate to boost security and avoid a repeat of the 1980s poaching and banditry.
Earlier this month, investors in the tourism industry were invited to purchase sites in four development locations in parks and reserves in the Meru Conservation Area, which includes the Meru and Kora national parks and the Bisanadi and Mwingi national reserves, having a total of 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles).
A 10 year management plan for the area, unveiled at the end of June 2007, opened 13 new sites for construction of tourism facilities in Meru National Park.
All these moves are in line with Kenya's Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife's shift "from mass to exclusive high-end tourism," says Udoto.
Some of the area's key tourist attractions include game viewing, wilderness habitats, the grave of Elsa the lioness and the home of Joy and George Adamson, a rhino sanctuary, Adamson's Falls, and boating opportunities on River Tana.
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High up on the list of excellent places to visit, close to the slot reserved for the world’s Seventh Wonder — the Maasai Mara Reserve — is the Samburu National Reserve. And even better, it is off the beaten track.
Driving there takes five to six hours on fairly good roads, with much to see en-route. By plane, it takes a bare 60 minutes to the adjacent Buffalo Springs Reserve airstrip.
Also nearby is the Shaba Reserve.
River Uaso Nyiro. It is key to the region’s success as a wildlife refuge as it provides almost year-round water for humans and animals. Photo by Brian Harris
The three reserves have a spectacular landscape of dry bush, yellow grassland and acacia thickets. They are ringed by towering mountain ranges, dominated by the sheer-sided Ol Olokwe. The trio are home to an abundance of wildlife not equalled even by the Mara.
Still, it was good to hear that the Mara had been declared a World Heritage site by Unesco, and rated by some as a Seventh Wonder of the modern world.
Saved for posterity
Now it can take its rightful place, alongside other natural and man-made wonders such as the Grand Canyon in the USA and the temples of Angkor War in Cambodia. Thereby, it will secure special care and attention and will be saved for posterity.
Expect the Mara to be more popular then ever, especially now that tourist arrivals to Kenya have broken through the million number. Even more visitors are expected in 2007, with many of those travel advisories consigned to the waste bin.
While in no way detracting from the famous Mara, which will be the country’s biggest tourist draw for a number of reasons, topped by near certainty as the place to view the ‘Big Five’, other parks and reserves should be adequately publicised. (The Big Five are, elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and giraffe.)
Visit to the arid north
It’s not the fault of promoters for concentrating on the Mara and a few selected parks. They are driven simply by what tourists and other clients want. But for anyone to come and leave Kenya without a visit to the arid north is to miss out on colourful and natural scenery.
Take the Samburu reserve. It is easily accessible by road and air. Together with the nearby Buffalo Springs Reserve and the Shaba Reserve, it makes for scenic landscape and abundant wildlife unequalled even in the Maasai Mara.
Unequalled, that is, in variety — and not in sheer numbers. Here are to be found at least six animals that are unique to the area. These are the reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, the Somali blue necked ostrich, the gerenuk and the Beisa oryx. Elephant, leopard, lion and cheetah are seen frequently and, although rhino are listed, it is doubtful that any remain as permanent residents. Birdlife is prolific, running to perhaps 500 species. Again, this beats the Mara hands down.
Perhaps key to the region’s success as a wildlife refuge is River Uaso Nyiro, which separates Buffalo Springs and Samburu reserves. It winds around Shaba and provides near year-round water for humans and animals.
From a trickle or less, it can, following heavy rains in the Aberdare or Nyahururu ranges, be a raging torrent, carrying all before it. Within weeks, however, it usually reverts to a gently flowing stream, so shallow for the most part that elephants can ford it pretty much where the fancy takes them. And crocodiles emerge from the muddy water to warm themselves on a convenient sand bar.
Try watching this idyllic scene while parked under the shade of an acacia tree. You will be transfixed by the beauty of it all. Once in Samburu reserve, you quickly get the sensation that civilisation has been left far away, so pristine and unspoiled is the landscape.
These days, there is a multitude of places to stay at, most of them strategically placed along the Uaso Nyiro river. For those who want to get even closer to nature, there are several camp sites with all the necessary amenities.
Choosing to indulge ourselves, we opted for the Samburu Game Lodge, one of two properties operated by Wilderness Lodges Limited in the reserve. Both properties have been recently refurbished and upgraded.
Searching for game
The rooms, in particular, have been tastefully done, as has the dining area. At other times, we enjoyed relaxing by the swimming pool, or meeting at the Crocodile Bar overhanging the river to partake of a sundowner and compare notes after a day’s searching for game on the hot savannah.
Whichever way you travel to Samburu, you might be lucky to be treated to a full-on view of Mt Kenya’s majestic, snow covered peaks, particularly early in the day before the warmth of the sun causes them to cloud over.
Surprisingly, very few people know when Kenya came by its name. Many believe this happened around the turn of the 19th century, in 1901 to be precise, the year the Uganda Railway finally reached Port Florence (present day Kisumu). But that is not so.
Dark rock and white snow
Although Uganda got its name in 1894, Kenya became a country in its own right only in 1920. Before then, it went by the undistinguished title of East Africa Protectorate.
The country’s name, of course, was taken from the mountain which, in Gikuyu, is Kirinyaga. In Kamba, it is Kii-nyaa. Both names refer to the black and white plumage of the male ostrich, redolent of the peak’s dark rock and white snow.
Seen from Nairobi, the mountain appears to consist of a single peak. But, in fact, there are two — one just a few metres higher than its twin.
Now, here’s a teaser with a big reward for the winner: What are the peaks called, and who are they named after? Send your answers to Wilderness Lodges at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first correct entry to be drawn will win two nights for two at Samburu Game Lodge.
The Chobe National Park, which is the second largest national park in Botswana and covers 10,566 square kilometres, has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent. Its uniqueness in the abundance of wildlife and the true African nature of the region, offers a safari experience of a lifetime.
The park is divided into four distinctly different eco systems: Serondela with its lush plains and dense forests in the Chobe River area in the extreme north-east; the Savuti Marsh in the west about fifty kilometres north of Mababe gate; the Linyanti Swamps in the north-west and the hot dry hinterland in between.
From Kasane, follow the new tar road past the airport to Sedudu Gate. Here all persons are required to check in and pay the park fees, unless proceeding on the tar road to Ngoma. Four-wheel drive vehicles are essential, especially if the intention is to travel extensively into the park - deep sand in some areas tests the skill of the driver and the capabilities of the vehicle. However, most rewarding game viewing awaits.
The original inhabitants of what is now the park were the San people, otherwise known in Botswana as the Basarwa. They were hunter-gatherers who lived by moving from one area to another in search of water, wild fruits and wild animals. The San were later joined by groups of the Basubiya people and later still, around 1911, by a group of Batawana led by Sekgoma. When the country was divided into various land tenure systems, late last century and early this century, the larger part of the area that is now the national park was classified as crown land. In 1931 the idea of creating a national park in the area was first mooted, in order to protect the wildlife from extinction and to attract visitors. In 1932, an area of some 24,000 square kilometres in the Chobe district was declared a non-hunting area and the following year, the protected area was increased to 31,600 square kilometres. However, heavy tsetse fly infestations resulted in the whole idea lapsing in 1943. In 1957, the idea of a national park was raised again when an area of about 21,000 square kilometres was proposed as a game reserve and eventually a reduced area was gazetted in 1960 as Chobe Game Reserve. Later, in 1967, the reserve was declared a national park - the first national park in Botswana. There was a large settlement, based on the timber industry, at Serondela, some remains of which can still be seen today. This settlement was gradually moved out and the Chobe National Park was finally empty of human occupation in 1975. In 1980 and again in 1987, the boundaries were altered, increasing the park to its present size.
A major feature of Chobe National Park is its elephant population. First of all, the Chobe elephant comprise part of what is probably the largest surviving continuous elephant population. This population covers most of northern Botswana plus northwestern Zimbabwe. The Botswana's elephant population is currently estimated at around 120,000. This elephant population has built up steadily from a few thousand since the early 1900s and has escaped the massive illegal offtake that has decimated other populations in the 1970s and 1980s. The Chobe elephant are migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 kilometres from the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, where they concentrate in the dry season, to the pans in the southeast of the park, to which they disperse in the rains. The elephants, in this area have the distinction of being the largest in body size of all living elephants though the ivory is brittle and you will not see many huge tuskers among these rangy monsters.
Public camping grounds are situated within Chobe at Ihaha, Savuti and Linyanti with toilet and shower facilities available. Each of these camping grounds has its own unique character and a visit to each is recommended - however, it is once again stressed that a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential. Visitors travelling through the park should remember that this is essentially a wilderness area and, as such, no services are available between Kasane and Maun. Because of this, it is wise to carry basic safety items such as water, food, fuel, torches, extra wheels, tools, jacks and pumps. In all public camping grounds booking for campsites is essential.
Serondela has been closed down and a new camping ground has been opened at Ihaha. Ihaha has modern facilities, an attractive reception office and is more remote in nature.
Often described as one of, if not the best, wildlife-viewing area in Africa today. Savuti boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent. Animals are present during all seasons, and at certain times of the year their numbers can be staggering. If you allow yourself adequate time here (a minimum of three to four days is recommended) you will probably see nearly all the major species: giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, tsessebe, roan, sable, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, eland and accompanying predators including lion, hyaena, jackal, bat-eared fox and possibly even cheetah and wild dog.
Savuti is famous for its predators, particularly its resident lions and spotted hyaena populations. Sometimes you will have them uncomfortably close, as both they and marauding hyaenas do wander through the campsite. Do NOT feed them. Almost certainly you will hear lion at night.
Savuti has an excellent new campsite. Lying 172 kilometres southwest of Sedudu gate, Savuti camping ground overlooks the Savuti River channel, which is currently dry. Geographically, Savuti is an area of many unknowns. One of the greatest mysteries is the Savuti Channel itself, which has over the past 100 years inexplicably dried up and recommenced its flow several times. The present dry period started in 1982.
In the furthest corner of Chobe National Park lies the forgotten paradise of Linyanti. Secluded and uncrowded, this short strip of swampy river frontage is reminiscent of the Okavango's permanent waterways with papyrus-lined lagoons, reed-beds and a towering canopy of trees. The Linyanti Swamp covers an area of almost 900km2, to which follows the river and fills the area between the converging courses of the Kwando and Linyanti rivers. The national park only touches the river for a short section on the far eastern edge of the swamp.
The wildlife is plentifull, especially in the dry winter months when great concentrations of elephant, buffalo and zebra congregate along the river, with giraffe, impala and roan antelope being seen in the forests. The birdlife is diverse, if not overwhelming in its numbers. Waterbirds, including pelican, are common.
Linyanti has a small camping ground, 39 kilometres northwest of Savuti, among tall riverine trees overlooking the perennial Linyanti River. This is generally a quieter camp as it is off the main tourist circuit, but for those seeking a remote and peaceful environment, with spectacular dry season concentrations of elephant, Linyanti is the place to go. Access is rough and sandy and only reliable 4x4 vehicles should attempt this journey.
The Sedudu gate near Kasane also gives access to a public road that passes for 54 kilometres through the park to Ngoma gate. Ngoma is the entrance used by visitors from Namibia, with the border crossing nearby. The southern entrance to the park is at Mababe gate, along a route that connects with the Moremi Game Reserve. Mababe gate is some 56 kilometres south of Savuti and many visitors enter from Kasane, camp at Ihaha and then at Savuti, exit through Mababe and on through to Moremi - or the other way around. Apart from this circuit and the charming camp ground at Linyanti, another route within the park, which intrepid visitors take, is south from Sedudu for 68 kilometres to Noghatsaa and then across to Savuti, which is a further 140 kilometres. Roads through this area are not clearly signed at this time, so visitors should carefully plan their route before setting out and it is advisable to inform park staff of intentions to visit the Noghatsaa area.
Game viewing is at its best during the dry season, when the majority of natural pans have dried up, and it is wise to avoid the Chobe River front during the heavy rains from January to March. It is also wise to note that no fuel supplies are available within the park and visitors travelling between Kasane and Maun should ensure that they are self-contained for the entire journey. All drinking water should be boiled or chemically treated. Mosquitoes are prevalent throughout the park and visitors are strongly advised to take an anti-malarial prophylactic before, during and for four weeks from visiting the park, especially during the rainy season.
A sister to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and located close by, is the 2,578 square kilometre Nxai Pan National Park. An unobtrusive turnoff, 136 kilometres out from Maun on the Maun-Nata road, or 65 kilometres from Gweta turnoff if travelling from the east, leads for a further 37 kilometres over a deep sandy track to the Nxai Pan entrance gate. The sandiness of this track should not be underestimated and only 4x4 vehicles should attempt the journey, engaging 4-wheel drive before negotiating the deep sand - carrying a spade is also wise. There are no supplies of fuel available in the park - the nearest being in the village of Gweta.
Within the park there are two small public camping grounds with ablution facilities; one in the south on the edge of the plain, less than 2 kilometres from the entrance gate, and the other in the north, 8 kilometres from the gate, within mopane woodland. Campers should note that firewood can often be a problem in this park and it is recommended that small gas cookers should be used. Water standpipes are available at both sites.
In addition to this, informal camping is permitted at Baines Baobabs, although no facilities are available and the nearest water supply is at the Game Scout Camp situated near the entrance gate.
Originally state land, an area of 1676 square kilometres was declared a game reserve in 1970 and then in 1992 the boundaries were extended to include Baines Baobabs to give the present total area of 2578 square kilometres and National Park status was granted.
Perhaps the focal point of Nxai Pan is the water hole, situated only two kilometres from the entrance gate, in the midst of a large grassy plain which is dotted with a few clumps of short umbrella thorn trees. Here, and within the mopane woodland, lion, giraffe, kudu, impala, ostrich, fascinating birdlife and large numbers of springbok, together with a good population of jackal, bat-eared fox and numerous smaller creatures, are permanent residents. Once the rains have started, gemsbok, elephant and zebra migrate to the area. At that time, zebra are present in thousands and drop their young at Nxai Pan, rivalling the spectacle of the multitude of young springbok, to further enhance game-viewing opportunities. Whilst many other parks and reserves are not considered to be at their best during the rains, Nxai Pan becomes a veritable Garden of Eden.
Nxai Pan, the name of which is claimed by some to be that of a hooked metal rod used to remove springhares from their holes, and by others to simply mean a pan, is open to visitors throughout the year, although road conditions can become difficult during times of heavy rain.
Within the park there are points of interest worthy of mention. One is the "old trek route", a trail pioneered in the 1950s and used until 1963, as a short cut through Ngamiland to Kazungula via Pandamatenga, along which cattle were driven before the advent of the modern veterinary control fences. A number of boreholes, used to provide water for the cattle and men on their long trek, were capped when this trail had to be abandoned, but are said to be still capable of supplying copious water supplies if re-equipped. Another point of interest, which pre-dates that of the trek route, is known as "bushman pits". Here, near the edge of a small pan area, small pits were dug by the Bushmen in which they could hide whilst hunting wild animals that came to drink, giving closer range for the use of their bows and arrows. Today there are the remains in the area of an old cattle post, connected with the trek route, but the bushman pits can still be seen.
The lesser-known Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is situated roughly halfway between Maun and Nata on the Francistown road in northern Botswana. A modest looking turnoff to the park's main entrance can be found 160 kilometres east of Maun and 45 kilometres west of the small village of Gweta, which has the nearest lodge accommodation, fuel and supplies.
From turning off the main tar road, 8 kilometres of rough gravel road leads to the park entrance gate, where entry fees are to be paid. All roads within the park are rough and in many cases very sandy, so it is essential to have a 4x4 vehicle. It is also wise to carry water and travel in tandem with a second vehicle, as, if there should be a breakdown deep within the park, it may be a long wait before any other vehicle is likely to come along to assist.
There are two camping options within the park available to visitors. The first is Njuca Hills, traditionally spelt Njugha, where two camping sites overlooking the vast open plains, undeveloped except for two pit latrines, afford visitors the opportunity to witness large migrations of zebra and wildebeest during the onset of the rains. Njuca Hills are situated 26 kilometres south of the main entrance gate and it should be noted that no water is available at this site, so campers must be totally self-contained.
The other option is the public camping ground at Kumaga, 48 kilometres southwest of the main entrance, situated on the banks of the Boteti River across from Kumaga village. This site, which is also an alternative entry point to the park, is provided with an ablution block and water standpipe. Water here, which is supplied from a borehole, has a particularly unpleasant sulphur smell when first drawn, but improves if left to stand. However, it is advised that water for drinking purposes should be brought. Limited basic food supplies can be obtained in the Kumaga village. Kumaga derives its name from a pool near the village that contains edible tubers.
The Boteti River, once a broad strong-flowing waterway fed by waters drained from the Okavango during the months of June and July annually, later dwindling to a chain of pools, last ceased flowing in September 1992. The last few deep permanent pools that remain are competed for by humans, livestock and wildlife, causing considerable conflict. It is hoped by all that the present drought cycle will soon be broken.
Makgadikgadi, the name of which implies a vast open lifeless land, is not without its folklore. There are stories of people setting out from Gweta to explore the land that lay between them and the Boteti River to seek a favourable environment in which to settle. They entered these great thirstlands at the driest time of year, drawn by what they perceived as large lakes of sparkling water on the horizon. Suffering badly from thirst, the lakes kept drawing them hurriedly on in their attempts to reach the life-giving water that always remained just ahead of them. Gradually, one by one, they fell and died.
But Makgadikgadi is not always dry. The pans, which are situated in half the south, east and northeastern areas of the park, fill with water during the rains from mid-November and mostly retain their water into April or May. The "thirstlands" are then transformed into great sheets of water, which attract a spectacular array of waterbirds and trigger dramatic migrations of wildebeest and zebra. It is unfortunate that this huge water spectacle becomes practically inaccessible by road at this time, but anyone fortunate enough to fly over the area during the wet season sees a water wonderland of incredible scenic beauty.
Makgadikgadi was initially state land. People have never been resident in its waterless interior, but in times of drought, surrounding villagers were permitted to graze their livestock within the area, withdrawing them to their homes when conditions improved. The area was declared a game reserve in 1970 and in December 1992, the boundaries were extended and National Park status was attained. The present park covers some 4,900 square kilometres.
Here, as with all parks and reserves, the use of an anti-malarial prophylactic is strongly recommended and, when travelling within these areas, a 4x4 vehicle, carrying emergency water and food, is necessary. Engaging 4-wheel drive before negotiating sandy patches not only minimises the possibility of becoming stuck, but also saves chewing up the road surfaces for others.
Both dry season and wet season visits to this park are recommended in order to witness the dramatic appearance of the pans at their driest and to experience the transformation to a water wonderland, and see the wildebeest and zebra migrations, in the wet season. Linking a few days in Makgadikgadi with a similar period of time in its nearby sister park, Nxai Pan, will give visitors a distinctly different experience. Makgadikgadi - a vast wilderness of space and timelessness.
West of Gweta, the tar road road to Maun slices through Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park. Because of their complementary natures regarding wildlife migrations, Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve and Nxai Pan National Park were established concurrently in the early 1970s, in the hope of protecting the entire ecosystem.
In December of 1992 the area of the Nxai Pan National Park was extended south to the main Gweta/Maun road, so it adjoins the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve, which was renamed "The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park" to form one vast area covering just under 7,500km2. The park incorporates Ntwetwe Pan, Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan, Baines' Baobabs and Kudiakam Pan. Visitors to either section must pay park and camping fees at either the Xhumaga or Nxai Pan Game scout camp.
Four wheel drive is recommended throughout this area, as even in the dry season the pan surface can be treacherous with the unseen water table lurking often just inches under the hard-baked surface. Once on the pans the exhilaration of speeding across the flat surface in unforgettable.
While there are no fixed lodges or hotels in the park, there are several designated campsites. This limits access to all but the fully equipped self-drive visitor, or those on tailor-made safaris.
The 2,500 square kilometre Khutse Game Reserve was opened in 1971, on Bakwena tribal land. Prior to this date, due to the almost complete absence of surface water and the fragile vegetation, very few people lived in this area of undulating plains of dry Kalahari bush savannah. Those who did subsisted by gathering wild foods, undertaking limited hunting and keeping small stock. Wildlife was therefore considered to be a good alternative form of land use.
The extensive mineralised pan system within Khutse provides an important habitat for wildlife attracting herbivores to graze on the grasses of the pans, drink the mineralised water- during the rainy season and to lick salt during the dry season. These herbivores in turn attract predators, such as lion, cheetah and leopard. Boreholes have been established at certain points within the reserve in order to encourage wildlife to stay within the area throughout the year. Whilst the visitor to Khutse should not expect to see or meet up with large concentrations of game, giraffe, gemsbok, red hartebeest, eland, kudu, wildebeest, springbok, steenbok, grey duiker, lion, leopard, cheetah, brown hyaena, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox and wild dog can be seen within Khutse, as well as many other smaller mammals. A wide range of birdlife from ostrich and kori bustard down to the LBJs (little brown jobs) will keep bird enthusiasts well occupied.
The route from Botswana's capital Gaborone to the Khutse Game Reserve covers some 210 kilometres of varying road conditions taking some four hours of driving time. The first 50-kilometre section is along a good national road to Molepolole, where a turn to the right is taken following the directional signs to Letlhakeng. A further 61 kilometres of good tar road brings the traveller to the village of Letlhakeng, where the feature of a traffic circle brings an end to the tar. At this circle a green sign indicating the direction to Khutse is a most welcome sight as the variety of tracks is confusing to the uninitiated. Letlhakeng has a small filling station.
Proceeding along a sand road after Letlhakeng soon illustrates to the traveller why only 4x4 vehicles are recommended, as the sand is loose and deeply rutted, particularly during the dry season from about April to the time when the rains break usually in November. Some 25 kilometres from Letlhakeng is striking Khudumelapye, where an abundance of fine trees gives this village the appearance of being an oasis. Here large pools of sweet water accumulate following heavy rains and large numbers of livestock congregate. This is very much cattle country. A further 36 kilometres of sandy road brings the traveller to the last large settlement before reaching Khutse. This village is called Salajwe and some basic supplies and drinks may be obtained there. The traveller will notice that it is not always easy to find the way through the villages, as tracks seem to lead in all directions. However, the green Khutse signs are there as a guide. The remainder of the journey has fewer features, although there are small settlements away from the road.
Eventually a sign advises the weary traveller that the boundary of Khutse Game Reserve has at last been reached. A short distance later the National flag can be seen flying above the trees, and the Wildlife Camp, which incorporates the tourist reception office, is finally reached. Here visitors are required to check in and pay the fees for their stay.
There are no tourist lodges, no chalets nor rest camps in Khutse. Nor are there any shops or fuel supplies. Khutse is a protected area where development has been kept to a minimum and where the wilderness atmosphere has been carefully preserved. There are areas that have been designated as campsites, some of which have pit latrines but no other form of development. Although Botswana's central and southern parks and reserves are not as well known as their northern sisters, visitors who are devoted to the wilderness have come from places as far afield as Spain and the United States to enjoy the wonderful sense of isolation and timelessness these areas have to offer.
The main concentration of campsites is grouped in an area between Khutse I and Khutse II Pans, whilst more isolated individual camps are to be found at Moreswe Pan in the south-western area of the reserve. Further isolated sites, named Mahurushele, Sekusuwe and Khankhe, are actually situated in the adjoining Central Kalahari Game Reserve but administered by Khutse. Visitors to Khutse should be completely self-contained with all their requirements including drinking water. Water for purposes other than drinking can be obtained from the Wildlife Camp. All litter should either be totally removed from the reserve or deposited at the Wildlife Camp. The basic rules to be observed when in the reserve are to drive only on the tracks indicated on the map that is obtained on arrival; to camp only at the designated campsites which are clearly indicated; to ensure that no grass fires are caused, nor litter left, nor other visitors disturbed - in other words consideration for others and for the environment should be of paramount concern.
When travelling between Molose Waterhole and Moreswe Pan, first time visitors will be interested to come across a sign in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, proclaiming that this point intersects the Tropic of Capricorn. There cannot be many visitors who have not stopped there to take a photographic record of this.
Africa's first formally declared trans-border conservation area - the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) on the border of South Africa and Botswana - was officially launched on May 12, 2000 by South African President Thabo Mbeki and Botswana President Festus Mogae. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is located in Kgalagadi District approximately 865km southwest of Gaborone.
The combined land area of the KTP is about 38,000 km2 of which 28,400 km2 lies in Botswana and 9,600 km2 in South Africa.
Transfrontier parks, border parks or transboundary conservation areas are protected areas that straddle international boundaries. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is such a protected area in the southern Kalahari Desert. The southern Kalahari represents an increasingly rare phenomenon: a large ecosystem relatively free from human interference. The absence of man-made barriers (except to the west and south of the Park) has provided a conservation area large enough to maintain examples of two ecological processes that were once widespread in the savannahs and grasslands of Africa. The large scale migratory movements of wild ungulates; and predation by large mammalian carnivores. These processes are impossible to maintain except in the largest of areas, and their presence in the Kalahari makes the system of special value to conservation.
In addition to this, the Kalahari has a particular aesthetic appeal. The harsh, semi-arid environment has placed adaptive demands on both fauna and flora that are of considerable scientific interest. Few other conservation areas have attracted so many research projects. This research has revealed a widely fluctuating environment, driven by rainfall events, which vary widely in time and space, and produces a system that is difficult to predict and understand without long-term study.
The significance of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is that it is the first formally declared Transfrontier Park in Africa and it will hopefully serve as a model for conservation in the 21st Century. The Government of Botswana is keen to make the Transfrontier Park a success. The Peace Parks Foundation (an NGO dedicated to promoting transfrontier parks in southern Africa) has played an important role in the development of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and provides assistance for the creation of other transboundary conservation areas in the region.
To get to the park from Botswana travel from Gaborone on tarred road for about 550km until Tsabong in Kgalagadi District, from Tsabong travel for about 310km on gravel road. This road is negotiable by 4 x 2 vehicles during the dry season and 4 x 4 vehicles during the wet season. The alternative route is to travel from Gaborone to Hukuntsi on tarred road for 530km followed by approximately 171km of sand road, which is negotiable by 4 x 4 vehicles only.
For more information visit: www.gov.bw/tourism/transfrontier.