This is part of a series of posts leading up to our big Botswana road trip, which will begin from Johannesburg on 24 March 2018, just shy of three weeks from now. For information on what we’re doing, see the first post here.
Botswana has often been considered one of the most stable countries in Africa, with one of the longest running multi-party democracies on the continent. In 2016 it celebrated 50 years since gaining independence from Britain. It is the largest producer of diamonds in the world and is considered a ‘middle income’ nation.
The country’s population of around 2 million people is sparsely spread across its vast area of 582,000 square kilometres (224,000 square miles). For comparison purposes, Texas is roughly 270,000 square miles and its population is nearly 28 million. So yes, there is a lot of wide open space in Botswana for adventure and wildlife!
Botswana still battles with the third highest HIV/AIDS prevalence of any country in the world. At last measure the rate was 22%, but effective medical programmes have dropped the death rate noticeably.
Despite its political stability, growing economy, sparse population, quality education and healthcare systems, life in Botswana has not measured up on the ‘Happy Planet Index‘. In 2016 it ranked 126th out of 140, a small shift from its place dead-last in 2012. Hopefully things like life expectancy and wellbeing will continue to improve overtime in this naturally beautiful nation.
A land-locked country, Botswana is bordered by Namibia to the west and north, Zimbabwe to the east and South Africa to the south. The Okavango Delta is the most iconic water source in the country. It floods seasonally, creating dramatic and stretching wetlands. The semi-arid country experiences warm winters and hot summers and its terrain is mostly flat with rolling hills.
There are more elephants in Botswana than anywhere else on the planet. The country plays host to an overwhelming number of mammal (160), bird (600), reptile (150), insect and spider species (8000!!).* It is also home to over 2500 plant and 650 tree species. In short, the country is vastly rich in natural resources and beauty.
Despite this natural wealth, just like its southern neighbours (and indeed, all African countries), there are serious issues facing environmental conservation. Over time the government has erected thousands of kilometres of fencing to prevent intermingling of wildlife and livestock. While the motivation was clear, the outcome has been mixed. The main problem, of course, is that fences prevent wildlife from migrating to water sources and mating grounds. I will get more in to this and other wildlife-conflict issues in a later post.
On a positive note: poaching is not as much of an issue in Botswana as it is in neighbouring South Africa. This is largely because of a stable economy, which decreases the draw of dangerous, high-risk wildlife crime. This does not mean poaching is non-existant, but it certainly provides lessons for anti-poaching efforts elsewhere.
I’m going to stop this post here because I could go on and on about the different elements that make Botswana so intriguing and exciting and equally complex and curious. But some of that I must save for later posts 🙂
All of this research on Botswana is getting me more excited for our trip. Countdown: 17 days to go!
*As you might imagine, while keeping an eye out for lions and leopards, I will keep extra eyes on the 50x more species of creepy crawlies I’m likely to see than mammals. Yikes!