On September 3 – 5, 2018, Round River, with its partners Natural Selection Conservation Trust, Botswana Predator Conservation Trust and the Okavango Research Institute, conducted the Makgadikgadi/Nxai Pans Conservation Initiative Charting Connections Workshop. A summary report of this workshop is available for download at this link— Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans Conservation Initiative Charting Connections Workshop Summary


Restoring Southern Africa’s Greatest Wildlife Migrations

For millennia, great herds of wildlife, from the Zambezi, Linyanti, Chobe, Okavango Delta and Hwange, traveled to reach the nutrient-rich grasses of the Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans and the Central Kalahari. Our goal is to reestablish these largest and longest of southern Africa’s large mammal migrations and to instill mechanisms to maintain this essential ecological process to sustain Botswana’s great wildlife populations.

Summary of Specific objectives focusing on the Makgadikgadi Nxai Pans and their associated communities included the establishment of:

(1) Community and science-informed land use plans and Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) strategies that recognize and support wildlife, community and economic values;

(2) Commodity-based livestock trade that links a ‘Wildlife Friendly’ brand and certification of adherence to the land use and HWC strategies and guidelines, with nascent industries;

(3) A reliable market for ‘Wildlife-Friendly’ beef based on commitments and support of the regional tourism operators to purchase locally-produced and certified products;

(3) Long-term community support mechanisms developed in cooperation with tourism operators and international donors to support on-going transitions to and maintenance of wildlife-friendly practices, with strategies for these in place;

(5) Improved or re-established regional and transfrontier connectivity of the region’s wildlife populations;

(6) Capacity for long-term adaptability through monitoring of plan effectiveness, supervision of agreed land use compliance and monitoring of wildlife movement, numbers, and distributions.

Based on conservation science and traditional knowledge a conservation assessment will identify wildlife core and connectivity areas, community settlements, agricultural areas, water developments, sustainable livestock stocking levels and associated range management practices; tourism use; and assess key climate and human use drivers underlying future land use and landscape change and conditions.

Paramount to gaining community support is their meaningful inclusion in the development of land use plans that reduce wildlife conflicts and provide for sustainable economic opportunities that recognize wildlife as a valuable component of community well-being and self-identification. At present community livestock management practices are resulting in untenable stocking levels, degraded range conditions, restricted livestock and wildlife movements, elevated HWC, and threats to the viability and expansion of tourism opportunities; while also not meeting the economic needs of the communities. Moreover, Botswana’s national livestock industry seeks international markets that favor larger producers resulting in greater alienation of wildlife populations due to their commercial production-oriented management.

In conjunction with the community-based land planning activities, a local commodity-based livestock industry will be developed and implemented that links a ‘Wildlife Friendly’ brand or certification to adherence to conservation agreements for land use, HWC strategies and range management guidelines. A reliable market for locally-produced and certified ‘Wildlife-Friendly’ beef will be built upon commitments and support from the region’s tourism operators. To better ensure and grow long-term community participation, funding mechanisms must be developed in cooperation with tourism operators and international donors to support on-going transitions to and maintenance of conservation agreements for wildlife-friendly practices, with strategies for these in place.

The restoration and conservation of resident and migratory wildlife populations will require the removal and realignment of barriers to critical seasonal movements and habitats. The conservation assessment will identify wildlife movement corridors and impacting barriers. Management action to mitigate these barriers must be approved at several levels and departments within government and by communities potentially affected by the actions. The community involvement in the commodity-based ‘Wildlife Friendly’ beef and the resulting adherence to improved land use practices helps significantly to provide needed justification to successfully engage with all stakeholders to re-establish regional wildlife migrations and corridors.

Long-term capacity and project adaptability are critical to the success of the effort. Partnerships with regional tourism operators and institutions will provide commitments to monitor plan effectiveness, supervise agreed conservation agreements for land use compliance and monitor of wildlife movement, numbers, and distributions.



The Makgadikgadi Pans and Nxai Pans are a depression within the Kalahari Basin that once held a lake covering most of the present day northern Botswana. The Zambezi, Okavango and Chobe Rivers fed these waters until various faults along the East African Rift Valley altered their flows. Today, the only major collection of waters remaining from this great lake is the Okavango Delta. Various saline communities ranging from wetlands to seasonally flooded grasslands are scattered throughout this region, including the largest saltpan complex formed by the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans.

Two principal rivers are important to this saltpan complex, the Boteti, and the Nata. The Nata River originates in Zimbabwe, empties into the Nata Delta and provides for wildlife through the dry winter months. Flowing from the Okavango Delta, the Boteti River, which for many years only produced infrequent flows, now provides significant waters as a result of heavier seasonal rainfall in the Angola Highlands.

During the dry season, the salt pans are unsuitable for most wildlife due to extreme temperatures, scarce vegetation, and little water. However, following the rains the nutrient-rich grasslands surrounding the pans attract and support a diversity of wildlife, such as the red hartebeest, oryx, springbok, steenbok, kudu, giraffe, Burchell’s zebra, blue wildebeest, black-backed jackal, brown hyena, spotted hyena, lion, cheetah, wild dog, elephant and numerous common and rare bird species. The Pans host migratory ducks, geese, and Great White Pelicans, as well as one of only two breeding colonies of Greater Flamingos in southern Africa. In addition, the Nxai Pan is one of the few places where springbok and impala coexist due to the overlapping Acacia savanna, preferred by impala, with the desert grasslands for springbok.

For over 65,000 years, the greater northern Kalahari region sustained the livelihoods of the autonomous hunting and gathering Basarwa or Khoi-San Bushman. Approximately 2,500 years ago, the northern Bantu of the Bakalanga, Banabiya, and Bangwato migrants, with their cattle, goats, and sheep, arrived, further shaped these open savannahs that supported over 20 species of ungulates and the highest concentration and movement of wildlife in Southern Africa. During the pre-colonial period, areas out from the village fields were where selected families with granted grazing rights utilized different blocks of land. The management, through an appointed overseer, ensured adequate spacing of cattle-posts and that only settlement members used the designated land. In the wet season, with water available in riverbeds and pans, cattle were moved out to graze, returning to perennial waters in the dry season. The range conditions within reach of perennial water, disease and drought incidences determined the number of cattle that survived to the next season.

The pre-colonial Ngwato Kingdom (Botswana) system of holding cattle, characteristic of Tswana and Sotho societies, was a mafisa system whereby the ruling class loaned cattle to clans or families, who became herdsmen holding royal property. The mafisa system suggests that cattle in Ngwata were the significant economic commodity with cattle being a production good for transport and calves, a consumer good for milk, meat, and hides and as an investment for the future.

Pre-colonial range management based upon the overseer has all but disappeared, but the system of mafisa has not only transformed to wealthier individuals loaning cattle to families instead of the chief alone owning all cattle. Mafisa contracts perpetuated small farmers, without purchasing power, to operate as subsistence farmers, while the cattle owner increased his cattle numbers, as calves born were his possession. The early colonial period also brought more groundwater to the surface and expansion of perennial grazing to previously unexploited lands.

Only the greater Okavango Delta effectively escaped the influences of livestock grazing, primarily due to the abundance of tsetse fly and trypanosomiasis. European colonization brought more diseases, as well as high levels of wildlife exploitation across much of the region, yet wildlife concentrations in the Delta remained relatively high primarily due to the lack of livestock, associated human land uses, and the ability to freely move to and from seasonal grazing areas without encountering barriers.

Livestock diseases resulted in increasing prohibitions on exporting livestock products from the region, and the management of livestock diseases carried and transmitted by wildlife became a paramount concern. These actions resulted in management focused on removing wildlife from large areas, limiting their movement and physically separating them from livestock. This period of Botswana’s livestock industry was marked by the construction of several major “disease control” fences. In the 1950’s the colonial government erected the Makalamabedi, Red Line, cordon fence to separate the northern Ngamiland livestock herds and wildlife where diseases limited the marketability of the livestock, from the southern Ganzi and Central Districts livestock considered disease-free. Fences were also constructed surrounding the Delta in the early 1980s and 1990s to maintain the central Okavango Delta as cattle-free zone and efficiently severing major wildlife migration routes. In 1996 additional fences were built for disease control and over time, some drift fences were also constructed in efforts to exclude predators from livestock and community areas.

Fences remain an influence on the current distribution of cattle and human settlement, as well as on wildlife numbers, distribution, movement and migration patterns in northern Botswana. Despite this heavy-handed management of wildlife distribution to serve the creation of an international market for Botswana livestock, the livestock industry of northern Botswana has failed to supply more than subsistence level incomes for residents. In contrast, Botswana’s nature-based tourism industry has grown steadily, and represents 12% of Botswana’s GNP and 7% of total employment and is predicted to increase by >5% per annum. However, this growth potential will eventually be limited by pressure on wildlife populations from restricted movements and conflicts associated with encroaching settlements.

Today Botswana’s agriculture meets only a small portion of national food needs and contributes less than 3% to the GNP primarily through beef exports. The Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) maintains a firm monopoly on the industry and controls the majority of beef sales. The BMC caters primarily to southern Botswana commercial farmers, and small community-based farmers in northern Botswana, particularly those north of the Red Line, are at a strong disadvantage when marketing and selling their livestock.

For example, from 2007-2014 the entire beef production sector was closed by the government in the NW District to protect the commercial beef industry in the South due to failure to control for FMD. Livestock, however, remains a social and cultural touchstone for these rural peoples often representing family wealth and community standing. Consequently, sustainability in the KAZA TFCA initiative, essential for biodiversity conservation and rural development, cannot depend singularly on tourism and will only be assured if land use can also accommodate the traditional agriculture livelihoods of the indigenous people. Growing antagonism by rural communities increasingly impacts wildlife perceived to be the cause of the unreliable beef market owing to the EU conditions imposed on international beef exports and ultimately results in continuous erosion of the natural resources on which the broader regional economy is based. Traditional livestock farmers need to be able to derive benefits from coexistence with wildlife and to link these with increased value for their livestock to reduce the present levels of poverty in Northern Botswana and reduce the conflict with wildlife.

Recent development and promotion of an alternative market for small farmers focus on commodity-based beef. Commodity-based approaches market attributes of a product such as quality, safety and social values to develop niche products. In this case, adequately matured and deboned northern beef poses no health risks and virtually no threat to disease transmission. Additionally, branded niche products such as Farmer’s Choice of Kenya, Farm Assured Namibian Meat, and Kalahari Kid Corporation, promote local products, engage in branding and quality assurance and build the capacity of emerging farmers. Working with the economically stable and ecologically conscious tourism industry provides an excellent opportunity to elevate social well-being through fostering a commodity-based wildlife friendly branded product that is linked to conservation agreements to foster both wildlife population and rural community development and sustainability.


The Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans

Internationally recognized as a core wildlife dispersal areas (WDA’s) within the Kavango Zambezi TFCA, today the Makgadikgadi Nxai Pans are sparsely populated with people from different backgrounds and cultures. However, the livelihood challenges are very similar. Households depend on many livelihood sources, the major one being livestock and agriculture undertaken primarily for subsistence purposes. Poverty is widespread and wildlife, in particular, large carnivores, are viewed as a hindrance rather than a benefit. The most significant threats and land use incompatibilities present are direct wildlife/livestock/human conflicts, unsustainable livestock stocking levels resulting in loss of wildlife habitat and grazing areas, restricted wildlife movements from control fences, and low human social well-being.

To date, there has been a lack of local community inclusion in land management for the area. Additionally, there are no significant economic incentives to promote wildlife-friendly practices. Wildlife and wilderness tourism is the principal business activity supported by outside sources and represents the most viable potential opportunity for economic growth. However, the viability of building the tourism industry to the benefit of the local economy is dependent upon improving the local communities’ perceptions of the value of wildlife.

The Makgadikgadi Nxai Pans possess the conditions, whereby in cooperation with government, communities and safari operators a commodity-based livestock industry may be successfully linked to a ‘Wildlife Friendly” brand, a conservation trust and to conservation agreements for sustainable land use. Conservation guidelines within the agreements will require appropriate livestock stocking levels, elevated range management practices, and innovative interventions to reduce HWC in livestock and agricultural production areas. Community adherence to the conservation agreements, in turn, is necessary for continued beef sales, as well as access to the established community trust fund. Together these actions will provide greater community economic well-being, wildlife acceptance, and a favorable scenario to promote the return of large-scale wildlife migrations. Such measures will also benefit both resident wildlife populations and the associated tourism industries of the Makgadikgadi Nxai Pans, as well as those in the Hwange and Chobe National Parks, Okavango Delta, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.