On Safari: Wells to Protect Game?

On Safari: Wells to Protect Game?

For a very long time throughout southern Africa wilderness areas have been supported by manmade wells to provide year-round sources of water for the game. It’s absolutely necessary.

And so different from East Africa, for example, where this level of intervention in the wild hasn’t yet occurred.

I visited Nxai Pan national park in Botswana, which is very similar to the nearby and probably better known Makgadikgadi Pan to its south. Together they represent the largest salt pans in the world, ancient lakes that if connected would have been among the largest fresh water lakes in the world.

Although technically salt pans are incapable of any vegetative growth, there are vast grassland and scrubland areas on the periphery which bloom in this rainy season.

And today, thanks largely to the manmade water wells drilled in these peripheral areas, considerable game can reside year-round. True, the vast majority appear during the rainy season (November – March) but the “borehole” ecology is creating a year-round big game ecosystem.

I was there as the rains ended in March, together with hundreds of zebras which only a few short weeks before were thousands of zebra. There were also lots of wildebeest, elephant, and the springbok and oryx are resident year-round.

By the park’s principal water hole reside the park’s only lion pride. They don’t have much work during the dry season, because the animals in the area during the dry season will have to come to drink at some point. So the lions just hang out around the water hole.

At this time of the year there’s a bit more of a challenge, and we found the pride of 8 lion wandering some distance away into a dense forest, stalking impala. Shortly thereafter, we saw a magnificent male leopard strung (it seemed quite uncomfortably) atop the stick branches of a dead tree in the middle of that forest. Clearly, he had been chased up there by the lion.

The true Nxai pan is an amazing salt flat with raised islands of vegetation. Nxai’s most famous is “Baine’s Baobabs”, a little forest of 8 remarkably sculpted baobabs in an area that couldn’t be more than a half-acre large. It creates one of the most scenic landscapes in Africa that I’ve ever seen.

When boreholes for game reserves were first contemplated in the early part of the last century, there was some considerable debate about whether it was appropriate. The debate no longer exists.

I suppose as an East Africaphile I have an innate aversion to this, and many other similar management techniques employed in the south. Such as carrying capacity land management and culling.

But in the end, is it any different than the bird seed in my feeders at home, or the heated bird bath on my deck in the winter?