The late Prof Thomas Tlou in his book: A History of Ngamiland 1750 to 1906: The Formation of an African State published in 1985 by Macmillan Botswana documents extensively the introduction of European trade in wildlife in Ngamiland District. Significant in the documentation is that the traditional wildlife utilisation and management systems in Ngamiland were severely affected by the arrival of Europeans and their trade expansion in the region.
In the 1850s, European traders arrived and introduced ivory trade as the main commodity of the trade. Ivory was being exported via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to India and Europe. Prof Thomas Tlou and Alec Campbell in yet another volume, History of Botswana argue that in the next 50 years after the introduction of trade by European traders in Botswana, the country saw the destruction of vast numbers of animals and the elimination from the whole of Southern and Eastern Botswana of species like elephants, rhino, giraffe, zebra, and buffalo. Northern Botswana especially in Ngamiland District became the next target of European ivory trade.
The commercialisation of wildlife in the form of trade in ivory and the introduction of the monetary economy changed local communities’ attitude towards wildlife resources in general on which they previously depended for their livelihood under a regulated system of usufruct and shared rights access.
Local Kings began to see profit in the commercial activities of hunting by foreigners, turning a blind eye to the subsistence needs and even those values that were so important to their local communities. The European trade expansion marked the involvement of Batswana in external trade which involved the export of ivory, ostrich features, karosses and hippo teeth. European trade in Botswana and Ngamiland introduced and spread the use of guns at an alarming rate in the area.
An example is that, by 1874, Kgosi Moremi of Ngamiland District personally owned more than 2, 000 modern rifles, which he dished out to his people to hunt on his behalf. It is estimated that, there was a total of about 8, 000 rifles in Ngamiland District at that time, all these subjected wildlife to terrific pressure (White, 1995). By the 1870s, when guns had been introduced into the Okavango Delta areas, not only hippos suffered from severe hunting but elephants as well.
The ownership of guns introduced the spirit of individualism amongst the local people. The European trade changed hunting from being a collective activity done for subsistence purposes to a commercial enterprise carried out mostly for personal gains. The collective responsibility in hunting and sharing of meat collapsed.
Wildlife species were no longer used only for consumptive and religious purposes, but for commercial purposes as well. The commercialisation of wildlife resources led to the over harvesting of species since the trade was driven by profit making without any consideration for the ecological aspects. The continued destruction of wildlife resources in Ngamiland necessitated the creation of Moremi Game Reserve.
The idea to create a game reserve in Ngamiland and the Okavango first originated in 1961. It was approved by the Batawana at a kgotla in 1963. The area was then officially designated as a game reserve in April 1965 and was initially run by the Fauna Conservation Society of Ngamiland. Moremi was then extended to include Chiefs Island in 1976. In the next issue will discuss the introduction of tourism development in the Okavango Delta.