When Rebecca Klein moved to Botswana in 2001 to work at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, she cared for two orphaned cheetah brothers who had lost their mother due to conflict with farmers. Upon discovering that there were no conservation efforts underway to protect Botswana’s cheetahs, Rebecca decided to take action and develop solutions for farmers and cheetahs to coexist.
Moving to Botswana felt like coming home for Rebecca. Born in the UK, Rebecca left at age two and traveled the world with her adventurous parents. They lived in many parts of the world, including East Africa. Rebecca has a degree in Wildlife Biology from Leeds University and experience working with a wide range of conservation projects.
In 2003, Rebecca teamed up with Dr. Kyle Good and Ann Marie Houser to found Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB). Through research, community outreach and education, they work with rural communities to promote coexistence with predators. The CCB staff has spent time at Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and gained invaluable experience in the various aspects of a successful cheetah conservation program.
Due to conflict with humans, cheetah numbers have plummeted by 90% in the last century. Botswana has one of the last free-ranging cheetah populations in the world, making it an essential stronghold for the future of the species. Unable to compete with healthy populations of more powerful predators in reserves, Botswana’s cheetahs are forced to live closer to villages where human/predator conflict jeopardizes their survival.
Rural communities in Botswana are almost completely dependent upon livestock farming for their livelihoods. Farmers trap and kill cheetahs that they believe are a threat to their animals. Cheetahs are usually more interested in wild prey, but as a daytime hunter, they are much more readily spotted on farmland. Despite the fact that cheetahs are endangered, many are still being killed, and the struggle to find a common ground for humans and cheetahs is ongoing.
Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) cultivates a conservation ethic among farmers in Botswana while contributing important scientific data to the international cheetah conservation effort. Demonstrating predator-proof farming techniques in local workshops, live theater and video production, CCB empowers farmers to secure their livelihoods while sharing land with cheetahs. CCB is developing "demonstration farms" that highlight sustainable and innovative techniques.
CCB is based at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve near Gabarone in southeastern Botswana. Its programs include habitat preservation, research, environmental education for local people and visitors, and sustainable use of wildlife and other natural resources.
CCB is actively engaged in raising awareness through education to enhance the status of cheetahs and predators in the perceptions of local communities. Initially, community perceptions are often very negative and the cheetah is viewed as a pest of no value to be eliminated when possible. There is a strong need to foster appreciation of both the plight and value of cheetah and other predators. CCB’s programs explain predators’ roles in healthy ecosystems and the reasons to preserve these species and the overall biodiversity.
Resolving Human/Cheetah Conflict
Community outreach teams from CCB travel throughout the countryside to farms, cattle posts and villages to survey and investigate incidents of conflict between cheetahs and their human neighbors. Through studying these encounters of threatened or actual livestock predation, CCB is able to map “hot-spots” and learn which stock management techniques were in use so that new measures, both more effective and predator-friendly, can be devised.
CCB then distributes this information to local communities through farmers associations and village networks. It conducts workshops for farmers to discuss new, improved husbandry techniques. Often the methods they share are simple but effective, such as turning the thorns on bush-constructed fences outward to prevent cheetah attacks on their livestock. In this way, the local populace is engaged not just as a source of information, but also as a resource for new ideas and creative approaches.
CCB staff teach farmers how to identify different predators and signs so that appropriate management methods, such as kraaling (corralling), herding, and the use of livestock guard dogs can be employed to decrease the likelihood of future conflict. To encourage widespread implementation, CCB uses media, such as radio, video and print, to distribute information and successful methods and to further encourage active involvement from the community in generating new solutions.
Livestock Guarding Dogs
CCB helps farmers train their own locally-raised dogs to protect livestock against predators. When farming in a wild landscape like Botswana, which is rich with a diversity of predator species, it is essential to keep livestock safe. Used in conjunction with other non-lethal livestock protection techniques, the use of livestock guarding dogs has reduced or eliminated livestock losses to predators, as well as consequently, retributive killings of predators.
The program has been even more successful than anticipated. In just three years, the livestock guarding dog program has grown to over 250 members. Farmers endorse its effectiveness to their neighbors, and the word spreads. CCB offers hands-on training for farmers and their dogs, information and advice for predator issues, and workshops that bring farmers and experts together to network and learn.
Each year CCB holds the Livestock Guarding Dog Competition. Farmers travel great distances to attend this event, which has become an important competition in the region. The event is advertised in national media and through local channels. The day offers CCB the chance to talk about predators and conservation, and the friendly but serious competition among the farmers and their dogs builds a sense of pride and dedication to the mission.
To encourage more participation and collaboration among farmers, CCB created a livestock guarding dog demonstration area in the Ghanzi farmlands, a productive area with a large number of predators. This demo camp provides visiting farmers and other guests the opportunity to see best practices for protecting livestock in non-lethal ways, attend workshops, and participate in hands-on learning.
CCB was able to leverage the pioneering work in the use of livestock guard dogs by the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, led by Dr. Laurie Marker.
A vital aspect of awareness-raising as well as perpetuity of predator-friendly farming techniques is the school education program. CCB’s staff educators visit schools to teach local youth the importance of predators and encourage them to see cheetahs as a national treasure and part of the “spirit of the Kalahari.” Complementing the school outreach efforts of the CCB education staff, the Mokolodi Education Center serves over 12,000 children each year. Teacher training workshops instruct teachers in how to use predators as a learning tool in environmental education.
Video Project: “Spirit of the Kalahari”
CCB embarked upon an exciting creative project with Lobone Creations, a group of performers who use traditional dance, song and theater to address pressing contemporary social issues in Botswana. Together they created a live theater and DVD production, entitled 'Spirit of the Kalahari – sharing the land with predators,' which highlights the consequences of human/predator conflict and the benefits of coexistence. The production demonstrates appropriate farming techniques and responsible actions that can help Botswanans conserve their wealth of natural resources in a way that benefits both rural communities and wildlife. Produced in traditional language and format, the DVD has been distributed in Botswana to schools, government agencies, and local and regional television stations. CCB is presenting the DVD at its farmer workshops and hosting tours of the live theater production throughout the country.
CCB takes in orphaned cheetahs when no other reasonable option is available. Because cheetahs easily habituate to people, great care is taken to keep human contact to a minimum. Noise levels are kept low, shade cloth prevents visual sighting of people, and feeding devices are employed so they do not see food coming from humans, the goal being to help them attain self-sufficiency in the wild. Mokolodi also serves as a safe haven for “problem” cheetahs that have been trapped by farmers, to be released later into suitable habitats and monitored to learn more about their habits and behavior.
In the spirit of collaboration and community participation, CCB has also joined the effort to protect cheetahs in all of Southern Africa. The scientific data collected by CCB is helping to create trans-border management strategies for the welfare of the southern continental cheetah population as a whole.