Conservation of the Makgadikgadi wetland ecosystem and Flamingo habitat, Southern Africa, Botswana

Botswana’s Makgadikgadi salt pan complex is one of Africa’s largest ephemeral wetlands and provides water and other natural resources for many local African communities, as well as habitat for threatened migratory bird species. It also comprises the most important breeding site in southern Africa for Greater and Lesser Flamingos, both of which are in decline in the region.

However, despite the area’s importance to both birds and people, increasing anthropogenic pressure on the area, in combination with a lack of any long-term monitoring or attempt to conserve the ecosystem, is threatening the integrity of this great wetland.

Heavy overgrazing along the inflowing rivers is affecting soil fertility and water quality, leading to concerns about the sustainability of the subsistence agriculture on which locals depend for income. In combination with pollution and disturbance from local tourism and domestic activities, and the existence of a large soda ash mine operating on the shores of Sua pan, it is feared that the integrity of the lake ecosystem is being undermined.

Wetland ecologist, Dr. Graham McCulloch, has  studied the ecology of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and its migrant flamingo population since 1998, and is committed to the protection of the wetland’s integrity, biodiversity and status as one of the most important breeding sites for flamingos in Africa. Through detailed scientific analysis, Graham has sought to understand the ecosystem’s characteristics and functional processes, and has also established annual surveys of the flamingo population to monitor their status and breeding success rates.

Building on this initial three year study, Graham and his local team are now establishing a Makgadikgadi Wetlands Working Group comprising of further community and stakeholder participants in order to initiate the long-term monitoring and conservation of this important wetlands ecosystem.

Through involving local people in ecological monitoring of the wetland and other conservation activities, the working group will foster a sense of responsibility and ecological awareness amongst communities utilising the wetland that will help ensure the wetland’s long-term survival. Outputs from the Working Group’s discussions include ideas for sustainable income generating activities, as well as effective and practical conservation management strategies and the development of a strong local environmental education programme emphasising the importance of the wetland.

Through building local capacity, Graham is improving the ability of locals to assess the impact of the activities around the wetland, which will lead to the more sustainable utilisation of the water resources.

Graham would ultimately like to expand the project in collaboration with experts and community groups from the region in order to develop a regional wetlands conservation network with a cohesive strategy for the protection of flamingo habitat across southern Africa.

Full winners list