Topic Area: Conservation

Geographic Area: Botswana

Focal Question: What are the effects of conservation policies on local communities?


  1. Hitchcock, Robert K., "Centralization, Resource Depletion, and Coercive Conservation Among the Tyua of the Northeastern Kalahari", Human Ecology vol. 23 (2) June 1995
  2. Hitchcock, Robert K, "African Wildlife: Conservation and Conflict," in Life And Death Matters: Human Rights and the Environment at the End of the Millennium Barbara Johnston ed. (London: AltaMira Press: 1997.

Reviewer: Matt Huber ’01


People who claim to be environmentalists will often support any conservation policy that is put into practice. However, these policies can often have adverse effects on local people who live on the lands where conservation measures are enforced. These policies can lead to human rights violations, greater resource depletion, increased poverty, and stratification among local communities.

In this study, I will examine the effects of conservation policies on the Tyua Bushmen of the northeastern Kalahari, which is located n the northeastern section of Botswana. The area supports a variety of large fauna from elephants to bush squirrels. The Tyua are former foragers who are now agropastoralists and wage laborers. They live in small villages of 10-120 people and subsist off a combination of crops and livestock products. They also still hunt and gather to supplement their diet, which makes hunting an important part of their livelihood. However, the Botswana government has made it illegal to hunt in certain areas in an attempt to preserve the wildlife. Preserving the wildlife has become increasingly important, not because Botswana government officials have had an altruistic revelation that they want to preserve biodiversity, but because revenues from the tourist industry based around sightseeing of African wildlife have recently skyrocketed. However, local people such as the Tyua have yet to benefit economically from this tourism boom.

In 1980, some Tyua people were hunting illegally in the Wankie National Park and there was a violent confrontation with some Botswana game scouts who were killed because of their violent attempts to disarm the Tyua. This bloody affair led the Botswana government to increase their patrolmen who enforce conservation policies. The last 20 years have been marked by an increase in the enactment of conservation policies. The government placed restrictions on access to Special Game Licenses, which, beforehand, were important for the Tyua people who subsisted on wild animals. The government also established a new conservation areas near the Tyua villages called the Nata Sanctuary. The region used to be an important salt source for the Tyua people as an exchange and income generating resource. This area was also used by the Tyua for foraging and grazing purposes. However, no compensation was offered to the Tyua people for the loss of this area. Therefore, the Tyua people have received non of the economic benefits associated with tourism in the Nata Sanctuary and have in turn lost a great deal of their means to an economic livelihood. This has led their people to put extra pressure on the resources in other areas and therefore has led to further resource depletion in those areas. Policies that spur conservation in one area at the expense of others can hardly be seen as productive. Furthermore, when local communities are forced into a situation of greater resources scarcity the harmful effects of poverty and inequality are certainly amplified.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) in Botswana have markedly increased the amounts of search and seizure tactics on the Tyua people. In fact, there have been extensive accounts of human rights violations against the Tyua people by personnel of these conservation enforcement agencies. Tyua people have been arrested and tortured if found hunting in restricted areas. There have also been cases of DWNP personnel shooting and killing people found in these areas. The DWNP takes a rather hard-lined approach at these ‘poachers’ and sees them as ‘armed men crossing borders’ that must be taken on ‘aggressively’. Often times it is found later that these ‘poachers’ were not even hunting wild game but merely collecting wild plants, collecting water, or even visiting friends. Some accounts have suggested that as many as 96 people were killed in 1992 alone. Most of the victims have been women and children. These practices should not lead one to question whether or not conservation is a good idea, but it should cause us to question whether or not it is being carried out in the best fashion. As one Tyua women puts it, "Just because these people say they are helping preserve the environment does not mean that they should be able to violate our human rights".

There have been attempts to link conservation with economic benefits for local people such as the Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). However, local people are rarely involved in the decision making process on issues of resource management. Most all conservation policies are decided on and enacted by a very centralized bureaucracy that fails to hear the voices of the local people actually effected by these policies. Well-intentioned international NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International promote and help implement such policies that are framed by centralized governmental institutions. It is important for these NGOs to understand the far-reaching effects of the policies they promote. Lack of participation in power over conservation policy should be seen as the main reason local communities, such as the Tyua, are adversely affected by it. Conservation policy should take a less coercive and more cooperative approach when dealing with local populations. Since people like the Tyua have a heritage of preservation, interaction with, and knowledge of the landscape, it is nonsensical that they do not have, at least, some of the power to effect decisions that alter it. Ultimately, until local people are empowered in conservation policy its efforts will be counterproductive.