Birdlife Botswana weighs up impact of elephants on threatened bird species


Arnold Letsholo, The Sunday Standard

Date Published

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The statistics are quite astounding. For one poisoned elephant carcass, five hundred vultures perish. 

For years now, Birdlife Botswana, an NGO that deals with protection of birds in order to prevent any extinction of bird species in the wild has been using different means to sensitise the government and other stakeholders on the issue.   

Birdlife Botswana Project Manager, Virat Kootsositse, revealed that his NGO has requested for finances that would fund a project titled; “Assessing elephant impacts on key bird species and habitats, and mitigating elephant poaching and concomitant vulture poisoning through mobilising citizen scientists”.

“The objectives of the project are to assess the impact of elephants on the status and trends of biodiversity in Botswana’s Important Bird Areas through Management Oriented Management Systems (MOMS), field based and remote sensing methodologies, with emphasis on the direct and indirect impacts of elephants on globally and nationally threatened bird species and suggest remedial actions,” explained Kootsositse.

He also said they intend to evaluate the extent to which elephants impact on habitat specialist birds, and establish which species of birds best serve as environmental indicators of the status of habitats subjected to varying degrees of elephant density.

“We would like to develop a website through which wildlife poisoning events would be reported by the public; and state agencies, with a back-end system – not open to the public – through which statutory law enforcement agencies and technical departments would have access to the poisoning events so that they could track their agency,” he says.

He said the project is expected to run for three years with the first quarter starting in the year 2018 and will be spearheaded by BirdLife Botswana and it will be based at Chobe District and Makgadikgadi area.

He emphasised that the project is of utmost importance because amongst other benefits it will lead to a better understanding of direct and indirect impacts of elephants on globally threatened birds and their habitats, conservation of birds and even facilitate partnerships between different stakeholders.

“BirdLife Botswana has collaborated with other departments like Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) to monitor the biodiversity status and trends at protected areas and Important Bird Areas. 

Assessments were summarised in Annual Protected Area Status reports, covering the period 2008-2011. Results from those years show that elephants were considered a key biodiversity threat, notably through habitat modification,” he said.

The project will be implemented in collaboration with the Royal Society for the protection of Birds (Birdlife in the UK) who will train BirdLife Botswana, DWNP, Department of Forestry and Range Resources (DFRR), and other partners as required. The Department of Environmental Science at the University of Botswana will provide technical back-stopping and lead on much of the remote sensing data analysis and interpretation.

BirdLife is aware of the Japan International Cooperation Agency inventory of forest resources through remote sensing -working with DFRR, but the understanding of the project is that it does not do detailed – or fine–scale level of wildlife and habitat monitoring and trend and analysis as proposed in this project.

He said there is urgent need to undertake species-specific analysis of elephant impacts on threatened birds, so that remedial actions could then be instituted. 

Therefore in that regard, BirdLife Botswana seeks funding from the Conservation Trust Fund to strengthen their Important Bird Areas programme within parts of the elephant range, and with an emphasis on the direct and indirect impacts of elephants on globally and nationally threatened birds.

Kootsositse said that the majority of the Conservation Trust Fund grant would be used towards among other things: training field counters -non-scientists with an interest in BPM, DWNP staff, Community Based Organizations (CBOs) members and to individuals around parks and Wild life Management Areas (WMAs), and in unprotected areas within the sampled elephant range to improve the robustness of the data.

“The project would also help with compilation of bird checklists and development of a monitoring framework and protocol for several sites like parks, forest reserves, WMAs and so on, and help link elephant density and distribution to key biodiversity features especially habitats, threats, and livelihoods, MOMS, all on the basis of population trends in birds,” he says.

As for the benefits to be generated by the project, Kootsositse explained that, there will be better understanding of direct and indirect impacts of elephants on globally threatened birds and their habitats; with suggestions to mitigate damage – unacceptable elephant induced environmental change prevented, reduced or reversed. There will be conservation of critical sites for threatened birds that need protection.

“Local communities (CBOs) will be organised and directly leading on site level natural resource monitoring (MOMS, IBA and BPM monitoring) and conserving their own environment,” he says.

There also will be data collection and conservation action on globally and nationally threatened birds of Botswana and meeting obligations to international conventions and multilateral environmental agreements. Annual reports on the status of Important Bird Area (IBA) will be published-leveraging and profiling wildlife and natural conservation in Botswana.

“Civil society will be strengthened through the further development of BirdLife Botswana and participating CBOs. There will be training of government staff in biodiversity monitoring and assisting them with tools to address the negative impacts that elephants have on co-occurring species, including vultures poisoned in connection with elephant poaching-strengthening of public service. Communities, local and central government, NGOs, private sector will be working together facilitating partnerships between different stakeholders,” he said.

The benefit distribution, he said will be in the sense that expected direct financial beneficiaries from the project are members of neighbouring communities participating across the project site. 

The project will develop community-drive businesses through trainings for bird guide and trainings/ short courses for biodiversity monitoring, business management as well as for tourism. The training opportunities should be equally assigned to all members of the participating CBOs as per CBO’s benefit distribution policies.

Furthermore, Kootsositse explained, the benefits for the project visibly outweigh the costs.

“The project is visibly both feasible – given the expertise within BirdLife and collaborating partners, and justifiable-development of pro-wildlife constituent, and reduction of wildlife poaching and associated poisoning, with at a minimum reduced negative perceptions to elephants and wildlife,” he said.

Moreover, the sustainability that that is in-built into the project further makes the benefits outweigh the costs.

“For instance, in terms of institutional sustainability, involving CBOs as the lead implementer on many of the project activities will help ensure the sustainability of the programme,” he said.