Friendly fences or fences of death!

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 18 July 2018   |   By Ricardo Kanono
Friendly fences or fences of death!

As you go through the article ask yourselves these policy issues. What is the ecological and economic significance of fencing in Botswana? How has fencing affected pastoralism and mobility in northwest Botswana? What social and economic changes have occurred within Tswana society since their re-pastoralisation and expansion in Botswana especially northwest? Are our policies for Batswana or to satisfy rich people in Europe?

When weighing the merits of installing a fence to restrict animal movements, the cost relative to potential savings the fence was never considered. Have wildlife diseases been reduced after the erection of these fences? Has barrier fences not affected pastoral production, morbidity and curtailed wildlife movement?

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A variety of fences have been used throughout history to control the movements of animals and reduce the damage they might cause. In the early 1970's the European Union stipulated that Botswana had to control the movement of wildlife into its beef herds in order to control diseases such as foot and mouth disease from infecting the cattle. As beef was the country's largest export at the time the government of Botswana embarked on a policy of erecting fences in strategic places across the country this quite notable on Setata fence and Makgadikgadi game proof fence. Veterinary fences are erected to control the spread of livestock diseases in order to protect the European Union beef market where Botswana s beef is largely exported. The use of cordon fences that separate livestock from areas inhabited by susceptible wild animals and livestock to control the transmission of infectious diseases is a common strategy in Botswana and southern Africa in general, recognized by the OIE for establishing disease-free zones in beef-exporting countries. In southern Africa, communal pastoral rangelands continue to be enclosed and dissected by large-scale barrier fences designed to control livestock diseases and protect lucrative livestock export agreements.

Most of these fences were erected without a feasibility study being carried out with the result that the migration routes of a number of species have been cut off and tens of thousands of animals have died in the past two decades from the denial of a route to water and new grazing.  Migratory wildlife species such as wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, buffalo, and tsessebes have their migratory routes blocked by veterinary fences and hence die from dehydration and entanglements in the fence. Those that get trapped by the fence often become easy kill targets for poachers. Populations that were once contiguous and interbreeding have been severed by fences. Fencing is believed to be a causal factor in the long-term decline of wildebeest, hartebeest, and eland in the Kalahari. Confinement of herbivores by VCFs can lead to habitat degradation, depressed primary production and, eventually, decreased carrying capacity. Restriction of springbok, kudu, wildebeest, and giraffe by VCFs to areas of very high grazing and browsing are blamed for population declines in the Caprivi.   Observations from People in the northern Botswana  state that there has been a decline in wild herbivores, particularly since the CBPP fences were constructed. This is unsurprising given that veterinary cordon fences represent impermeable barriers for most species and are associated with large-scale declines in water-dependent species in the Kalahari.

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While proving effective, game-proof fencing comes at a financial cost (construction, maintenance and patrol) which may prove prohibitive in some countries and continue to meet mounting resistance from conservationists due to its detrimental ecological effects. This is where the dilemma come  is to play to fence or not? However, in the design of veterinary regulations and associated administrative arrangements, the trade-off between veterinary control and mobility was not taken into account for both cattle and livestock

The use of park and veterinary fences to separate wildlife, people and livestock is increasingly threatening greater disintegration of African rangelands. However, the curtailment and eradication of wildlife borne animal diseases has necessitated the use of fencing as a blunt instrument. For the purposes of disease control, particularly foot-and-mouth disease which remains endemic in wild buffalo, Botswana is dissected by a network of veterinary cordon fences which divide the land into four: an export zone, buffer zone, vaccination/surveillance zone and a wildlife/foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) zone. Within these zones over 80% of livestock reared for the commercial sector are grazed on communal land The remaining cattle are reared on fenced tribal lands (tribal grazing lands policy, TGLP) or freehold farms, with the privatised land of the latter covering a meagre 6% of the country's total land area. The dilemma inherent in the removal of fences to make way for large contiguous transfrontier conservation areas is that wildlife reservoir disease vectors may spread and cause hardship to rural communities and harm national livestock exports. Fences have adverse effects on wild mammals at the individual, population, and species levels, and alter community structure and ecosystem productivity. They disrupt individual daily movements and may lead to death by starvation, dehydration or entanglement. Fencing can divide populations, prevent recolonization and render sub-populations prone to the risks faced by small populations.  In Botswana, an increasingly popular strategy to mitigate these effects has been the erection of fences to separate protected areas from surrounding human populations, although fencing protected areas to promote conservation is a contentious issue. On the one hand, there is much support for fencing as an effective solution for reducing human–wildlife conflict

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Fencing is an integral part of land management. Fences delineate legal boundaries, restrict stock movements and often provide access routes for land managers! In Botswana fences have been used to curtail the mixing of wildlife and cattle. The delineation of rangeland, promulgated by fencing policies, into ‘biodiversity friendly’ versus ‘human and livestock’ dominated landscapes has significant economic implications, and has been center of broadcast with the government not maintaining such fences. Veterinary cordon fences remain the property of the State and are legally protected from damage/vandalism due to anthropogenic activities (accidental or not) and penalties exist under the Diseases of Animals Act. However if you transverse along these fences the department of animal health is not maintaining it, and hence the outbreak of diseases that result in extermination of cattle leaving pastoral farmers poor.

There should be sufficient and reliable prior information on the damage caused by wildlife especially by elephants to justify both the considerable expense of constructing a fence and the commitment to continual maintenance that any fence requires. Carefully planning the layout and design of fences, for example, is especially important for non-target species. The local ecology and movement pattern of elephants must be reasonably well known since disregarding established movement routes may put a fence under such severe challenge that the maintenance demand cannot be met. Commercial fencing contractors or people with relevant experience should always be consulted when erecting wildlife fencing.

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In conclusions, we should develop  policy-marketing pathways which require less fencing and offer more flexible resource access such as a commodity-based trade within communal pastoral areas.



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