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OUR STORY

 

A bit of background

BirdLife Botswana (BLB) origins were established millions of years ago when birds started evolving during the Jurassic Period from theropod dinosaurs named Paraves.   It seems several current BLB members were born at the same time.  In 1980 the Botswana Bird Club (BBC) was established as a branch of the Botswana Society by a group of expatriate birding enthusiasts, under the leadership of Mrs Janet Barnes.  Early enthusiasts were Wendy and Remi Borello, Huw Penry, Nigel Hunter, Chris Brewster and Don Aspinall.  The expatriate community has always been a transient one, so, leading lights in the nineties were Marc Herremans, Richard Randall, Sue Major, Anne Kerton, Dave Gibson and Stephanie and Lindsay Tyler.

 

Marc Herremans was employed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks as an ornithologist, and that was when BBC was at its peak in terms of avian research.  We have not reached those giddy heights since.  We affiliated with BirdLife International in 2000, under the chairmanship of Peter Viner for two years, and changed our name to BirdLife Botswana.  Major role players were then Mike and Daphne Goldsworthy, Doreen McColaugh, Chris Brewster, Pete Hancock, Mike Barclay and our first Motswana, Kabelo Senyatso.  Harold Hester was Chairman for twenty years until 2018, when he was succeeded competently by Ian White.

 

Research & publications

At our formation as BBC, there was only one publication in existence dealing with the avifauna of Botswana as a national entity. This was A Checklist of the Birds of the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Caprivi Strip by R H N Smithers published in 1964.   Our scientific journal, The Babbler was started in 1980.  The Babbler published member’s notes of excursions, unusual birds seen and unusual behaviour of birds.  

Interestingly, in those early days, the total number of indigenous species was given as 560.  Today this number has grown to over six hundred, owing mainly to more species seen by sharp-eyed birders and the sub-division of other species into two categories.   The Birds of Botswana was published by Kenneth Newman in 1989.  Huw Penry published Bird Atlas of Botswana in 1994, after ten years of fieldwork by resident and visiting birders from 1980 to 1990.  Birds in the Gaborone area and where to find them was published by Steph Tyler and Wendy Borello in 1998.  

 

One of Dr Steph Tyler’s babies has been the bi-annual water bird counts at major water bodies over the last nearly thirty years. She has published two ten-year reviews of these counts.  Doreen McColaugh published the first edition of her enormously popular Bird Activity Book in 2007.  A second edition of this book has been published in 2023.   This has been invaluable for schoolteachers in encouraging children to become interested in birds.  There are not too many publications these days as modern people don’t know how to write without emojis.

A big step forward was taken in the late nineties, when, together with BirdLife International we identified and proclaimed twelve Important Bird Areas (IBA) around the country; these included the vast Okavango Delta and the tiny Cape Vulture colony at Manyelanong Game Reserve.

Promoting birding in Botswana 

Initially Batswana were not attracted to birding and club membership was exclusively expatriate.  Those were the days before we employed any staff.  Since 2004 this situation has changed dramatically.  We employed our first Conservation Officer, Kabelo Senyatso, in April 2004.  Six years later he was awarded his doctorate in conservation biology by the University of Ipswich and was appointed Director of BLB. 

We have only employed Batswana citizens as members of staff.  Virat Kootsositse followed Kabelo as Director in 2017 and TT Busang was employed in 2023 following Virat’s resignation.  The big step forward among citizen ranks has been their growing interest in birds and birding.  Our present Education Officer, Puso Dimapo, is an avid birder with a keen interest in spreading this pastime among Batswana colleagues and children.  One of our staunch members, Stone Muzila, qualified as a bird guide this year and is now employed in that capacity at Muchenje outside Chobe National Park.  Several guides in the Maun area have organised themselves into a flourishing, dynamic WhatsApp group.  Our future is bright indeed.

Our flagship projects

BLB has been involved in two major citizen science projects for many years.  The first was the afore mentioned Water bird programme run by Dr Tyler.  We have also been running a Bird Population Monitoring Programme for about fifteen years.  It is a very useful project, as in these times of climate change, it indicates to us which common species are becoming less common.  In the early days it was the largest citizen science project in Africa.   

The future of BLB

In the last few years, we have suffered a substantial departure of people who used to take part in these two programmes.  We are looking for volunteers to take the place of those recently departed.  One of our failures has been the inability to establish permanent branches in major centres like Kasane, Maun and Francistown.  For a while under the leadership of Pat Nurse in the nineties, Francistown did have an energetic and enthusiastic branch.

Financing BLB has been a huge problem ever since we first established our Society, mainly because we are funded totally from within the country, not having foreign resources available to us.   Furthermore, most donors restrict us to allocate overheads of five per cent to various projects which clearly makes BLB unsustainable.  Consequently, we must operate like a reverse Ponzi scheme where we have had to allocate new funds to cover old costs, which is thoroughly bad practice.  We have new feminine blood on our board, and we are confident that we will be able to attract fresh funds and turn the ship around. 

With increasing enthusiastic Batswana interest in birds and birding and greater youthful feminine influence on our Board, the future for BLB is looking bright as younger members take the baton from doddering old men struggling to climb mountains.

- Harold Hester       

Former Chairman 

MEET THE TEAM

Get to Know the Faces behind Birdlife Botswana

THE BOARD

The Board of Directors that guides the vision of Birdlife Botswana

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Chairman

Ian White 

Vice-Chairman

Mike Barclay

Director-(PT)

Mpho Williart

Treasurer

Mrs Cristi Smith

Secretary

Mrs Virginiah Parker

Member Records Sub-Committee

Chris Brewster

Members

Marks Ditlhogo (University of Botswana Representative)

Kenosi Nkape (Government Representative - DWNP)

Ms Lauri Kubuitsile

Mr Baboloki Tlale

Mr Peter D'Arcy

Harold Hester

Mr Kosala Wijesena

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