Earlier this year, a great thing happened – a local man called Kane Motswana decided to walk the length of the Okavango Delta for rhino conservation.
As a professional guide, Kane has seen the benefits that the return of wild rhinos to Botswana has brought in terms of increased tourism and international interest. But he was aware that the people who are living closest to the rhinos did not know as much about them.
In order for Botswana’ rhinos to be kept safe, it’s essential that local communities are informed about, and involved in, their conservation – and that they receive tangible benefits from the presence of this large and potentially dangerous wild animal close to their villages.
Kane decided to do visit all the villages along the northern and eastern side on the way to talk about rhinos. But he couldn’t do it alone, so he ran the idea past Map Ives, RCB’s director. Map loved it and helped secure the support of regional wildlife officer Tim Blackbeard and the Director of Wildlife Major General (retired) Othisitse Tiroyamodimo. It was all systems go!
Kane assembled a team of keen walkers – including representatives from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and some determined members from local community trusts – and invited other people, including tourists, to join him along the journey.
Walk for Rhinos started on 5 November 2017 at Shakawe village in the northwest panhandle of the Okavango Delta. At a large meeting (‘kgotla’), the Chief and other members of the community offered their guidance and support for the walk. Here, Map was the keynote speaker, ably supported by representatives from Rhinos Without Borders, Wilderness Safaris, Eco-Exist, the DWNP and Safari Embassy. Even though it was a desperately hot day, Shakawe village gave Kane and his walkers a rousing send-off!
The first leg of the walk took Kane and his crew to Mohembo and across the Okavango River to Ngarange and other panhandle villages. Eventually, they arrived at the village of Seronga, where Map flew in to attend the morning kgotla.
He found Kane and his team to be in incredibly high spirits, their enthusiasm undimmed, despite the fact they were tired and sore from walking more than 100km in just one week. Map gave an inspiring speech and the Chief and his people were really supportive. They sent the walkers on their way with singing and banner waving.
The next leg of the Walk for Rhinos was extremely challenging. The route headed east through Gunetshoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa villages, where the trail became increasingly wild. There’s no human habitation between Gudigwa and the next village, Khwai, so the walkers had to carry their gear and food, and camp out in the bush.
The terrain was unrelenting with thick bush and loose, deep sand, and wild elephants were (safely) encountered on several occasions. After weeks of long days and long distances, many walkers really began to suffer from their blisters and exhaustion.
When Map joined Kane and the team at Khwai for another village kgotla – at which he was speaking with Dorian Hoy of Rhino Without Borders – he was full of admiration for their commitment to the cause.
It’s important that local communities living alongside Botswana’s wild rhinos know what to do if they ever see a rhino – and how important it is that we all work together keep them safe. So RCB produced a rhino poster to leave with the communities, giving plenty of useful information, including our phone number.
RCB also donated several footballs to each Chief to give to local teams of his/her choice. These proved very popular and it was great to see our local premier league soccer team, the Bushbucks from Sankuyo village, taking part in one leg of the walk.
A few days later, Map joined Kane and the walkers at Shorobe kgotla with our own Kyle Burger. Here, the Chief and his people discussed the issue of wild animals conflicting with their crops and cattle, and Map reiterated how important it is that local communities see some benefit from the rhinos’ presence, as otherwise there’s no incentive for protecting the animals from poachers.
At the end of this truly epic walk, which took 19 days and covered no less than 470km, all the participants gathered at the main kgotla in Maun. This is the seat of the kgosi (Chief) of the Batawana people and the meeting was presided over by Kgosi Kealetile Moremi.
Map gave a speech encouraging local people to take ownership of the rhinos – which belong to them and Botswana, afterall – and to help RCB grow numbers of these iconic animals into an internationally important population. Speakers from Rhino Without Borders, Eco-Exist, Wilderness Safaris and the DWNP all supported this theme, and local leaders responded by endorsing our message and asking their people to support us.
RCB is in awe of Kane and the other walkers, whose enthusiasm never waned despite the challenging conditions, loss of weight and incredibly sore feet. We would like to thank everyone who collaborated on this project, and congratulate and thank Kane for helping to raise awareness about rhinos among local communities in this unique and inspirational way, and sharing the message that’s at the heart of Botswana’s rhino conservation efforts – “by Batswana for Batswana”.
Photos courtesy of www.facebook.com/walk4rhinos