Monday, November 09, 2009

Botswana: More water, less irritation for Kalahari wildlife

Monkagedi Gaotlhobogwe
Mmegi
6 November 2009

It is about 2:30pm in the wildlife-rich wilderness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) on this hot Tuesday.

The soaring desert temperatures are taking their toll on the group of visitors to this spot, forcing everyone to use their handkerchiefs time and again to wipe off the buckets of sweat.

Under the thorny bushes tens of well-fed springboks can be seen cooling themselves, a stone's throw away from a water hole known only as Sunday Pan,-one of the few artificial waterholes able to hold water for the entire dry season keeping the desert wildlife happy throughout this dry spell. Here a variety of wildlife includes lions, cheetahs, leopards, gemsboks and springboks, according to Ntshebe, the park manager in the CKGR.

The waterhole has not been operational since 2001, when its diesel operated borehole dried up. The new facility, according to a report by the Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS), will reduce mortalities of migratory species along the fence, especially during the dry season as they attempt to move towards the Boteti River in search of water. The borehole is in a prime area used by migratory water dependent species like wildebeest and hartebeest. This area is also a prime tourist game viewing area and lack of water has resulted in negative comments from tourists, says the KCS report in part.

There is something special about this waterhole of late that has attracted VIP visitors from Gaborone, amongst them KCS chairman Joe Matome, and the president of Tiffany, a jewellery manufacturer from New York, United States of America (US). It is one of the new models whose boreholes do not use diesel pumps, whereby the engine roars polluting the environment with its noise, and possibly polluting the water source with its diesel, in cases of spillage, that is.

Water from this particular waterhole is pumped using solar energy. No engine noise to irritate the wildlife. No possibility of the water or the surrounding being polluted by diesel fuel. The solar panels have been placed atop well-raised structures to keep it away from any destructive elements like baboons and thieves.

The waterhole has become the centre of attraction on this day. Here the animals would no longer have to go for days without water just because the borehole has run out of diesel, or because the engine has to be repaired. KCS chief executive officer (CEO), Felix Monggae, says in the past, the wildlife would suffer as it took long to fix the engine or to get the diesel and transport it to the boreholes. Now those hassles are a thing of the past.

In fact, over eight boreholes in the CKGR have not been operational for decades because the engines needed repairs, while some ran out of water completely. This model of borehole just requires the sun, to pump the water for the wildlife, and there is no place as hot as the CKGR to provide the required amount of sunlight. Interestingly though, when the sun gets covered by the clouds, or night time approaches, the borehole immediately stops pumping water, until there is enough sunlight to get the solar panels running. Monggae says this solar activity also helps conserves water as the rare commodity is not just pumped on and on, resulting in wastage.

A similar facility was being finalised at another location in the CKGR on the same day. The Passarge Pan, about 50km west of the Sunday Pan, was undergoing refurbishment when the borehole stopped working in 2001. A new borehole has been drilled, and equipped pump water into the pan, originally a natural drinking hole for the wildlife. It has also been equipped with solar panels too. According to the consultants, this enhanced waterhole would be ready by next week, watering the wildlife in the desert.

Since last year 10 boreholes and waterholes of this type have been constructed in the CKGR thanks to a P14 million funding from the Botswana government, and a further $US 500, 000 from Tiffany, a New York based jewellery manufacturer.

Monggae says besides the 10 boreholes in the CKGR, four more boreholes and waterholes have been constructed at Khutse Game Reserve, while a further 13 are already operational at Makgadikgadi Pans. KCS are managing the project for the government. The CKGR project involved the rehabilitation of eight boreholes long abandoned by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, as well as the drilling of six new ones, in the CKGR and Khutse Parks. The already existing boreholes in both the CKGR and Khutse have also been installed with solar operated pumps, to replace the diesel engines.

Tiffany president, Fernando Kellogg, was in the CKGR for two days to see for herself the conservation project funded by her company. " I think water is precious. We are giving the wildlife the most precious thing, water. There is nothing more important we can do than help wildlife get water.

"Tiffany is a jewellery company and we understand precious and we think water is precious, and what a wonderful gift Tiffany money can make to provide water to wildlife,"she said on her first-ever visit to Botswana.She was also in Chobe the previous day, where she witnessed another conservation project Tiffany is supporting.

She tells Mmegi that in the Chobe, her company has released $US 250, 000 to help reduce conflicts between communities and wildlife, especially elephants and lions. The project, she says, would see the farming communities enabling elephants and lions to roam freely across the Zambezi into Zambia and back, without any human disturbance. The cooperation by the communities would enable the wildlife to find proper crossing on the river and safe places to.

The project entails putting in place agreements with local communities in the Chobe and Zambia sides of the borders, as well as increased staffing of wildlife department with 20 new scouts, starting on the Botswana side, according to Kellogg.

The Tiffany president says she also supports a related programme in Sierra Leone, where abandoned diamond mines are being rehabilitated and turned into agricultural fields. The Sierra Leone project, also started two years ago, and was funded to the tune of $US 250, 000. Boreholes have been drilled for irrigation purposes.

In China, Tiffany is involved in the rehabilitation of an ancient village called Ping Yao, whose rich cultural heritage is under threat from commercialisation.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200911091071.html

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