April 2, 2003

San Bushmen launch ecotourism project

One of southern Africa's most ancient and vulnerable communities, Botswana's Bukakhwe San Bushmen, have launched a community-run ecotourism project built on preserving their traditional values and protecting the region's declining wildlife. Working in partnership with Conservation International and Wilderness Safaris, the Bukakhwe Cultural Conservation Trust recently inaugurated the new venture called Gudigwa Camp. The ecotourism project is fully owned by the Bukakhwe San and all proceeds will be funneled back into community development projects. The initiative aims to reduce pressure on wildlife in Botswana's Okavango Delta by providing alternative sources of income that respect the San's cultural heritage.

"This integrated and socially-responsible approach to tourism will help deliver important local benefits," said Ms Pelonomi Venson, Botswana's Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. "The community will be able to maintain their ancient customs, tourists get to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Bukakhwe San Bushmen and the region's endangered wildlife is protected."

Hunting, increased human settlement and livestock encroachment have had a negative impact on some of the region's most endangered species like the African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus). Gudigwa's cheetahs, Wattled cranes, lions and leopards are also under pressure. This new project gives the 700 members of the Gudigwa community sustainable alternatives to livestock grazing and incentives to protect local fauna.

The Bukakhwe San of Gudigwa live in northeastern Botswana in the upper extremity of the Okavango Delta. Tracing their roots back to Namibia and southern Angola, they have maintained their cultural heritage for thousands of years, amid their unique wetland surroundings. Gudigwa Camp will host up to 16 guests at a time in comfortable grass huts modeled on traditional Bushmen shelters. Through walking tours, community members will teach guests about San cultural heritage including the use of medicinal plants, gathering water in the dry season, traditional storytelling, song and dance. (Conservation International, Washington, DC)

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