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Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world, a country the size of France but with just over 2 million people.
Though its population may be scant, the southern African country has no shortage of wildlife. Home to 40% of Africa’s entire elephant population, the country sees a larger number of tourists coming each year than its entire population.
“The number of visitors we have into Botswana is between 2.6 and 2.7 million, which is more than the population of Botswana,” said Tshedidi Khama, Botswana’s Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Tourism.
In terms of the country’s economy, tourism ranks second in Botswana after the diamond industry. An African success story, Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of $17,700 in 2015.
Though it’s still early days, ecotourism in Botswana is said to contribute 4-5% towards the country’s GDP.
“We have made a deliberate decision to grow tourism in this country and become imaginative in the way in which we’re doing that,” said Khama.
In 2002, the country adopted a national ecotourism strategy aimed at conserving Botswana’s natural resources and wildlife, explains Khama.
Conservation started in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, which is often referred to as the “Jewel of the Kalahari” by locals, one of the largest inland deltas in the world.
The Delta springs to life several months each year, when the rains from Angola reach its neck, transforming it into a rich wetland attracting wildlife including zebras, hippos, impalas, lions and leopards.
All the concessioners who operate in the Delta are now encouraged to have solar lighting and to recycle water, said Khama. “I believe we are probably the best destination in the world with ecotourism.”
Luxury with a reduced footprint
Chobe Game Lodge on Botswana’s northern border is one of the country’s luxurious facilities which prides itself on an environmental focus. “We’ve cut down our waste footprint by about 95%,” said Johan Bruwer, general manager of the lodge.
One way of doing this is by using solar-powered boats and electrical vehicles for game viewing. “Our goal is to, in the next 18 months to 24 months, to offer our guests a total emission-free, carbon-free game viewing experience,” said Bruwer.
Another lodge further south in the Okavanga Delta called Sandibe Okavango is proud of its eco-credentials. All water is treated and recycled onsite and 70% of the lodge’s power comes from solar panels.
“Most of the operators run on generators still but everyone is changing over to solar power. It allows us to keep power in the lodge 24 hours a day, and also allows us to greatly reduce our footprint in this area,” said lodge manager Greg Davies-Coleman.
For a small population, the fast-growing economy of Botswana is blessed with wildlife and hopes to capitalize on its mission at being one of the most eco-friendly countries too.