Saturday, June 18, 2011

Drought and poachers take Botswana's natural wonder to brink of catastrophe

David Smith in the Guardian (UK): The Okavango delta in Botswana has suffered "catastrophic" species loss over the past 15 years, researchers have announced , in the latest sign of a growing crisis for wildlife in Africa. Some wild animal populations in the delta, one of the wonders of the natural world, have shrunk by up to 90% and are facing local extinction, according to the most comprehensive aerial survey yet undertaken there.

The findings come after a study this month showed dramatic declines in animal numbers in the Masai Mara wildlife reserve, south-west Kenya, raising anxiety about the effectiveness of conservation across the continent.

The delta, in north Botswana, has about 50,000 islands among a series of channels, lagoons and swamps, whose waters reach the Kalahari desert. Travellers pay premium rates to stay in upmarket safari lodges, many accessible only by air, and for the chance to explore the pristine 16,000 sq km oasis.

Botswana has been careful to restrict visitor numbers and preserve the fecundity of this watery wilderness. But that strategy has suffered a blow from research which shows that some of the delta's most precious assets will be jeopardised unless urgent action is taken.

"The results were unexpected," said Mike Chase, founder of Elephants without Borders, which did the aerial survey of the region. "There has been a cosy pretence that wildlife is thriving and doing well in the Okavango delta. Our survey provides the first scientific evidence that wildlife is declining, and pretty sharply too. That cosy pretence has been blown out of the water."…

Giraffes in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, shot by Cojharries, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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