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Tracking the troubled blue wildebeest

Tracking the troubled blue wildebeest

Blue Wildebeest
Blue Wildebeest
Moses Selebatso



Kalahari Research and Conservation Botswana


The blue wildebeest are one of the largest water-dependent ungulates resident in the Kalahari environment. They adapt to the aridity of the area by migrating between wet and dry season ranges or by opportunistic movement to access patchy and erratic forage and water.

However, their historic ranges have been drastically diminished or lost due to an increase in the human population and its associated land use demands, including expansion of the livestock population, settlement expansion, farm fences and physical infrastructure development.

Veterinary fences, particularly in Botswana, have cut off the southern Kalahari wildebeest population from access to water in the Lake Xau, Lake Ngami and Boteti River systems. These water bodies used to be critical resources, especially during drought years. These changes have been associated with the devastating loss of more than 90% of the wildebeest population since the 1980s.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) and the Kalahari Transfrontier Park (KTP) still hold some of the remaining Kalahari wildebeest populations. These formerly meta-populations* are believed to be ecologically isolated, or approaching isolation, from each other.

The CKGR is the second largest game reserve in the world at 52,000km2, but the boundaries of the reserve are not enough to naturally accommodate the ecological needs of the wildebeest. Provision of artificial waterholes in both CKGR and KTP was one of the management interventions intended to address the devastating effects of the erection of veterinary fences.

However, the population, especially in the CKGR, continues to decline and is actually at the brink of extinction in the reserve. Today there are likely less than 500 individuals left in the CKGR; but if water is provided, and the CKGR is so huge, then what is the problem?

*Meta-populations are a group of spatially separated populations of the same species which sometimes interact