Botswana lies in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa – and its tourism is the envy of the continent in many ways. It's regarded, quite rightly, as having some of the continent's best wildlife areas, which are still in generally pristine condition.
What's more, the expansion of tourism from the nucleus of the national parks to the areas around them, has gradually increased the area effectively protected for wildlife since the 1980s. Areas that were devoted to hunting are now becoming solely photographic. This is enlarging the contiguous area in northern Botswana available for the wildlife, helping to ensure that the game populations increase in size, and become more viable.
A final word here goes to Peter Sandenberg, who has been running safari camps and tourism operations in this area for longer than most. He observes that 'one of the greatest changes since coming to this area in 1983 has been the remarkable increase in animal numbers and species' diversity.'
Changing economics of tourism
Tourism isn't yet as important to Botswana as diamonds or beef production. However, it is increasing every year, and is providing substantial employment and also bringing foreign exchange into the country, which gives the politicians a reason to support conservation.
When the diamonds run out – within the next few decades – Botswana needs to have an alternative, and renewable, source of income … and tourism is one of the most obvious contenders. The difficulty for the government will be trying to increase substantially tourism's revenues whilst still keeping tourism a premium product, and hence at a low density.
How you can help more
The visitor on an expensive safari is, by his or her mere presence, making a financial contribution to development and conservation in Botswana. When on safari, one very simple thing that you can do to help is to question your safari operator, in the most penetrating of terms:
• Besides employment, how do local people benefit from this camp?
• How much of this camp's revenue goes directly back to the local people?
• What are you doing to help the people living near this reserve?
• How much control do the local people have in what goes on in the area in which these safaris are operated?
If more visitors did this, it would make a huge difference. If safari operators felt that their clients wanted them to be involved with community development, then they would rapidly get more involved.
Big-game hunting, where visiting hunters pay large amounts to kill trophy animals, is practised on a number of private reserves and concessions. Just like photographic tourism, this is a valuable source of revenue in the long term for people living in the country's concessions.
In practice, there is room for both types of visitors in Botswana: the photographer and the hunter. The national parks, and some of the private reserves nearest the parks (eg: NG23, NG27A and B), are designated for photographic visitors; here no hunting is allowed.
Around there, controlled sustainable hunting is allowed in many of the private reserves, although a few of these maintain a policy of no hunting (eg: the concessions run by Wilderness Safaris, like NG15 and NG26).
Most of the others have divided their concessions into areas where hunting is allowed, and places where it is not. Any photographic camps are usually built in the non-hunting areas.
Integral to this approach is that the concessions provide a buffer between the pristine national parks and the land around where sustainable hunting is allowed. This would protect the national park's animals from any incursions by poachers, whilst the park acts as a large gene pool and species reservoir for the private concessions.Poaching
Having just mentioned 'poaching' it's perhaps worth commenting that Botswana has very, very little poaching. There is always a little small-scale poaching of game 'for the pot' by local people … but large-scale commercial poaching operations are virtually unknown here.
Occasionally there's a complaint about poachers coming across the river from Namibia – putting the blame on poachers from neighbouring countries is a very usual tactic in this part of the world. However, the Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe rivers, and the rest of the country's borders, are so well patrolled by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) that this seems unlikely.