Local Legend: Botswana

Having grown up in the wide-open spaces of Botswana, Map Ives has lived in and been obsessed by wildlife his entire life. After being raised in Francistown, he worked as a guide in the 1960s in Zimbabwe and South Africa because at that time, Botswana barely had a tourism industry. In the years since, however, he has been hugely instrumental in shaping Botswana’s approach to sustainable tourism. Ives was fortunate enough to study with scientists but also to learn about the Okavango with Pete Smith, known as the Okavango Man. Smith “spent over two decades in the 1970’s and 1980’s traveling the waterways and islands of the Okavango.” Ives has said, “his ability to observe, collect and document the natural world was unmatched in my travels.” Nevertheless, Ives founded the Botswana Rhino Management Committee, worked on the Okavango Development Plan and served as Wilderness Safari’s Environmental Officer. This year, he was appointed to Botswana’s National Rhino Coordinator.

What was it like growing up in Botswana? It is always difficult to answer this question, simply because I have nothing really to compare it to. It was during the late 1950’s and 1960’s when the total population of Botswana was less than a million people and there were miles and miles of wild space. Other than being sent to school, it was freedom personified—my brothers and I ran truly free in the surrounding bush of Francistown.

What do you feel are Botswana's most unique attributes? Again, even today Botswana has enormous space. The wild areas of Botswana are really enormous, which is something very rare and special in the modern world. Our people are also extremely friendly, probably because they have not yet had the pressures of massed humanity. The large wild areas also benefit biodiversity in that there are no restrictions in this open system.

What have been some of your most amazing experiences in Botswana?

There have been many. But I have been extremely lucky to have had the ability to spend much time in the Okavango Delta and the Kgalagadi thirstlands. The Okavango, in particular, has been a thirty year–adventure and is an ongoing experience. This might sound a bit macro, but the complexity and delicacy of the Okavango system is such that finding out about the many aspects of it has taken a lifetime and is beyond an amazing experience.

What about the Okavango still surprises you after decades of studying it? I often say “I have lived here for over thirty years and have never seen two years the same.” This is absolutely true. The dynamic nature of rainfall, temperature, sediment loads, animals movements, tectonics and abiotic factors such as fire make the Okavango so very different every year. In fact, it is so dynamic that each month is different each year, and I have come to realize that this is what makes it so very special. It has cycles of life so imbedded in the ebbs and flows of water, light and vegetation that I am constantly surprised by the subtlety of the system.

How have the wildlife challenges facing Africa changed in your lifetime? I would need to write a short book to describe the changes, but the most fundamental issue has been the rapid population growth of people, who are placing an increasing load on our natural resource base. Africa, it is well documented, has a high level of rural poverty (how you measure that is unknown to me) but as the demand on them to compete for comfort and luxury with the urban populations increases, they increasingly are turning to the natural environment to find means of making money. Wildlife’s best defense is going to increasingly be creating opportunities and generating jobs and cash for the governments of those states.

What about in Botswana in particular? And what are Botswana's unique advantages in addressing them? Education. If the rural population can get access to better education and bring themselves into a more urban earning society, they will understand the importance of wildlife to the future of their nation and that of our Earth. Botswana has been doing an excellent job of improving education over the last three decades, and I can foresee that it will continue. The only problem may be foreign organized crime turning to corruption to get our people to use wildlife as a means of illegally generating huge amounts of money.

What do you hope to accomplish with your new appointment as National Rhino Coordinator?

My main thrust will be to re-establish trust between Botswana and other rhino range states, which has been strained in the past through inefficient management of our rhino populations. I hope to also implement a new National Rhino Strategy and to try and forge partnerships with international donor agencies so that our rhino populations can enjoy sustainable management.

What do you think are the places that a first-time visitor cannot miss on a Botswana trip? This will probably sound like a bite from our own national Botswana Tourism Organization’s material, but besides the Okavango and Chobe areas, I would recommend that people consider the unbelievable wide open spaces and wilderness of the Kalahari. You have to go there to appreciate the sheer magnificence of the space available to wildlife and the unbelievable adaptations to living in a thirstland. Make an itinerary that includes both desert and delta.

What are the most important ways that a safari in Botswana is different than one in other southern African countries? I repeat the space theme. We have a national tourism policy which stresses a low environmental impact from visitors, so our wild areas have lodges and camps that are all very small and are surrounded by hundreds of square miles of wild land and thousands in some cases. If you appreciate that biodiversity and wildlife need massive areas in which to be viable, Botswana is for you.  After all, what can beat a safari in which you feel so wild yourself.

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