After kayaking almost 350 kilometres down the waterways of northern Botswana, dodging hippos and crocs, walking 125 kilometres through the Chobe National Park from Savuti Marsh to Goha Gate, and then kayaking another 232 kilometres on the mighty Zambezi river, the Tracks of Giants team reached the waterfront on the edge of Livingstone, Zambia on Wednesday, July 11. This marked the end of the second kayak leg as well as the 2,500 kilometre half-way mark for the entire Tracks of Giants journey.
Specialist wilderness guide, photojournalist and naturalist Ian Michler, and medical doctor, psychiatrist, writer and conservationist, Ian McCallum, are two of the core members of the Tracks team. They are joined by a backup team, and various sponsors and supporters along the way in this epic 5,000 kilometre journey to raise international awareness of the importance of corridor and transfrontier park conservation and the understanding of the human-animal interface in southern Africa.
They are travelling along ancient elephant migration routes, and are carrying an elephant collar donated by conservation organisation, Elephants Without Borders (EWB). “It is a symbol of how we’ve learned from monitoring elephants and how that knowledge has become our path, leading us towards positive conservation efforts,” says Kelly Landen of EWB. Landen and Dr Mike Chase, also from EWB guided the Tracks of Giants team through Chobe and the Linyanti Floodplain in Botswana. This elephant collar will be deployed onto an elephant in the Chobe area after the expedition has been completed.
According to Michler, “The last few days of the kayak leg in Botswana ended in a multitude of magnificent elephant sightings – family herds or groups of bulls around almost every bend!”
One of the aims of Tracks of Giants is to rekindle the rapidly declining indigenous knowledge base of the human-animal interface, and indigenous solutions to conservation challenges and issues. Guided by EWB, the team were impressed by Botswana’s low impact tourism policies and the fact that up to 40% of the country is maintained under some form of environmental protection. “This gives the country the template to become the best managed and most impressive wilderness region on the continent in years to come,” says Michler.
He also pointed out that the country is taking steps to phasing out consumptive utilization land-use options such as trophy hunting. “I’m a firm supporter of non-consumptive options, or what is generally known as photographic ecotourism, being a more effective and sustainable way of managing wildlife resources. However, the end of trophy hunting provides the government, large conservation agencies and the photographic sector with a new challenge – possibly their greatest at the moment – how to fill the void left in what will be the old hunting concessions. In the long term, the viability of any business plan will depend on the ecological health of the greater region, and if this is not recognised, the risk is that in time, the ecological integrity of the prime areas will become compromised.”
In stark contrast to the prolific wildlife sightings whilst kayaking in Botswana, the Zambezi river trip has been filled with “scene after scene brimming with village life,” according to Michler. However, the vast floodplains are packed with birdlife including open-billed storks, black herons, various species of egrets, ducks and geese. “The lack of big game sightings is likely due to decades of hunting in the region,” says Michler.
The team met with Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta, traditional ruler of the Shisheke Chiefdom in the Western Province of Zambia. According to Michler, “his knowledge of transfrontier conservation, and the manner in which he is attempting to re-empower his 70,000 or so constituents was both refreshing and exemplary. To have leaders of this calibre so deeply involved in the process gives us much hope.”
They have also met with two other chiefs from the area, and attended a meeting on transfrontier conservation hosted by Solly Tevera of Wilderness Safaris. The meeting was attended by members of the Zambia Wildlife Authority, Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife.
After a night at the Painted Dog Sanctuary headed by renowned conservationist Dr Greg Rasmussen, the team is currently in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, in the Wilderness Safaris concession of Makololo where they will spend two days clover leaf hiking. They will then cycle north through the Park to reach the Pandamatenga Border Post with Botswana on July 21.
At this second entry into Botswana at Pandamatenga, they will be met by family and friends for a week’s cycle southwards via the Makadikadi Pans and Kubu Island to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary outside Serowe.