Botswana

Okavango

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The Boteti River flows again

The Boteti River flows again

The Boteti River flows again

The Zambezi Traveller looks at nature taking its course and man making a difference.

David Dugmore, MD of Meno A Kwena comments: “The arrival of the Okavango Delta waters along the Boteti River at Meno A Kwena was the most special moment I have ever experienced after a decade of seeing so much desperation for water amongst so much wildlife. The dependence of wildlife on our limited, yet so very precious water was almost too much to bear as we helplessly watched many animals dying of thirst and starvation. To hear the sounds at night of thousands of animals trying to suck water from damp earth was so sad, yet as long as our diesel pumps could be heard we knew we were doing as much as we could. The intense pressure on us to make sure water was supplied efficiently and sufficiently for wildlife, while keeping guests entertained and the community supportive was unbelievable, yet we prevailed, convinced the river would flow before we collapsed and gave up.”

Veterinary fences, competition for water from both wild life and domestic livestock and the drying up of the river in the 1990’s resulted in an estimated 100,000 zebra and wildebeest being trapped in the Makgadikgadi Pans National park, unable to move to Okavango Delta and the Chobe River. Southern Africa’s biggest large herbivore migration was virtually wiped out in less than a decade. We have a very different scenario now.

Ten years ago Dugmore leased tribal land opposite the national park, overlooking the dry deep Boteti river bed. Utilizing water beneath the surface he starting pumping and very soon large numbers of zebra, wildebeest and elephants were congregating at the waterhole, they kept coming over the long dry months, until his many pumps were supplying 100,000 litres of water all day, every day.

An interview with David Dugmore. Discover how an area that was decimated of game because animals could not follow their ancient migrations has once again become abundant.

ZT :  I believe you come from a ‘Safari Family’
I was born in Kenya to a well known trophy hunting father by the name of John Dugmore PH.  When rumours spread through the East African hunting industry that the government was considering banning this activity, the famous hunting company, Ker & Downey Safaris for whom my father worked, opened their Botswana based company.  My parents packed everything they had, including my brothers and I, into a convoy of safari land cruisers, an ex army 4X4 truck and my Mother’s trusty Peugeot station wagon to drive the one month exodus to Maun, on the fringe of Botswana’s Okavango Delta.  Our family has since been involved with tourism in Botswana of one form or other since, including hunting, wildlife photography and film making, elephant back safaris and luxury mobile safaris and now I am hands on with Meno A Kwena Tented Camp & Safaris.  The ideal location of my camp puts us in an area of the Okavango drainage system that incorporates Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans NPs and Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

ZT :  I have read that you are very serious about employing local – in an effort to alleviating the human-animal conflict.  This is a serious problem that Zambezi Traveller is coming across all along the Zambezi.  How do you see this situation improving in the Okavango ?  Are you involved with anything specifically in this area?
We started operating mobile safaris in the Boteti River area and were confronted with a serious human/wildlife conflict as the river was drying up.  This is a natural occurrence directly related to the forty year cycles between higher and lower than average rainfall throughout the region.  To add to the harshness of this waterless expanse are the veterinary fences that block ancient migrations across the Kalahari.  Increasing populations of livestock where scarce water is available aren’t helping either.

The drying up of the river in the 1990s resulted in an estimated 100 000 zebra and wildebeest being trapped in Makgadikgadi Pans NP, unable to move to the Okavango Delta and Chobe River, all but a fraction dying of starvation and thirst.  Southern Africa’s biggest large herbivore migration was virtually wiped out in less than a decade.

The government’s decision to construct a fence along the Makgadikgadi Pans NP boundary in 2001, along the dry Boteti Riverbed to separate wildlife from livestock on the opposite bank, was welcomed as the only immediate solution for all the reasons.  This was the starting pistol shot that motivated me to develop a permanent safari camp, on leased tribal land opposite the NP in a spectacular site, overlooking the deep riverbed and NP.  The river was dry yet water was readily accessible just a few metres underground so we started pumping into a waterhole in the riverbed and inside the NP.  We did not expect such large numbers of wildlife, particularly zebra and wildebeest, and numerous other species, to quickly appear and drink our artificially supplied water faster than we could pump.  The zebra, wildebeest and elephant numbers increased over the long dry season months until our many pumps supplied 100 000 litres of desperately needed water all day every day.

While we secured water for wildlife it soon became evident the rural communities were lobbying government to construct the fence on the NP side of the river, to allow them access to the riverbed, where their hand dug wells pock marked the length of the Boteti to supply livestock.  To get the necessary community support that allowed construction of the fence alignment around camp so we are inside the NP became a priority.

Almost ten years down the road we look back at a dramatic process that turned a serious human/wildlife conflict zone from a dead end into an impressive model for intelligent responsible and sustainable tourism.  There is still a lot to do so we have created a new safari concept, - ‘Conservation Safaris’ that combines tourism with conservation that involves maximized rural community benefits.  (The website page for Conservation Safaris is faulty at the mo’ so will attach)

ZT:  On trip advisor I see that you are ranked #4 for speciality lodging on the Makgadkgadi pans.  What have you worked hard at to make Meno A Kwena something special and unique.
Really!!!  …We should be #1 for our conservation efforts and successful community involvement, while giving our guests an extremely natural and genuine safari experience from our unique authentic safari camp with its special homely atmosphere!!!  Not forgetting, of course spectacular wildlife experiences by any standard.  The reward for me is that if it weren’t for us and our guests, having the time of their lives, are contributing directly to the preservation of our threatened wildlife and their habitats.  The fact I am there most of the time is also a big plus to add to the reasons we should be #1.  The images tell it better!!!

ZT:  You over look the Boteti River that is flowing??  Is this a fragile ecosystem that you are part of?  What do you do to reduce your  impact on your environment?  Waste Management etc.
Yes the river is flowing for the first time in almost 20 years since 2008 after drying up in the 1990s.
We focus our attention on all levels of sustainability, including our impact on the environment …yes another reason for #1 in Trip adviser!!!  Meno A Kwena has been chosen with the top 50 African establishments for inclusion in The Green Safari Book!  We are waiting for the results of a recent assessment completed by The Dept Environment Affairs and hope to be awarded an ECO or Green rating.

We carry out strict waste management and control procedures including maximized recycling opportunities that includes arts and crafts development.  Consumption and waste is strictly monitored and controlled.  We treat our environment as if it were extremely fragile, as we all ought to be doing globally.  

ZT :  Briefly share with us your most memorable anecdote at this beautiful location.
Ha!  Is this a book or whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!!!

So many, Ummmm!!!...

The arrival of the Okavango Delta waters along the Boteti River at Meno A Kwena was the most special moment I have ever experienced after a decade of seeing so much desperation for water amongst so much wildlife.  The dependence of wildlife on our limited, yet so very precious water, was almost too much to bear as we helplessly watched many animals dying of thirst and starvation.  To hear the sounds at night of thousands of animals trying to suck water from damp earth was so very sad, yet as long as our diesel pumps could be heard we knew we were doing as much as we could.  The intense pressure on us to make sure water was supplied efficiently and sufficiently for wildlife, while keeping guests entertained and the community supportive was unbelievable, yet we prevailed convinced the river would flow before we collapsed and gave up.

Interestingly, we were the only ones convinced the river would flow again.  The remainder had pessimism ruling their hearts but then they probably had no reason to be optimists!  Even the Water Affairs Dept officially stated the river would never flow that far despite my numerous suggestions they ought to build bridges across the river so we have access into the national park when it arrives.

We celebrated the arrival of the river at Meno A Kwena for weeks before and after it finally snaked its way lazily through the deep chasm in front of camp on its way to the saltpans for the first time in over forty years.  We still celebrate the river every day we cast our eyes on this the only river that flows this deep into Botswana’s Kalahari thirst lands.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Okavango

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 08, March 2012)