From vast desert and savannas to flowing waters and flooded plains, our Botswana program offers an exciting opportunity to gain hands-on experience in wildlife conservation while exploring the diverse ecosystems of the Botswana landscape. Together we will examine the wealth of biodiversity in each of the region’s unique biomes and learn about the threats to Botswana’s wildlife and challenges facing conservation practitioners. We will delve into the complexities of human-wildlife interactions and closely examine their impacts on the region’s wildlife, natural resources, the indigenous peoples of Botswana, and the nation’s economy.
As we traverse the landscape, we will study the biodiverse inhabitants of a variety of unique ecosystems from the semi-arid Kalahari Desert to the rivers that support rich aquatic life and salt pans that transform from barren expanses to flooded havens for flamingos. At the edge of seemingly endless savannas lies an oasis: Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest inland delta systems and home to an incredible array of species. Named as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site, this regional biodiversity hotspot hosts 1061 species of plants, 482 birds, 130 mammals, 89 fish, and 64 reptiles and is home to thriving populations of some of the world’s most iconic endangered species, such as the cheetah, white and black rhinoceros, lion, and African wild dog.
Botswana is not only rich in biodiversity, its cultural history and economic development is intimately tied to the land. People from the region’s many ethnic groups depend on the country’s natural resources for their livelihoods, and the country’s economy is bolstered by ecotourism opportunities provided by the natural beauty, charismatic wildlife, and wilderness ambiance of this remote destination. Throughout our course, we will explore the complex interface of human-wildlife existence and examine struggles in balancing local livelihoods and economic growth with wildlife conservation. Further, we will gain skills needed to conduct scientific research and directly observe wildlife conservation practices on local to international scales.
Program Goals and Activities
The Botswana program strives to illustrate the interconnected fields of biological, physical, anthropological, and political sciences in the context of wildlife conservation. The following topics are interwoven throughout the program as we engage with researchers, government officials, local communities, and ecotourism operators to examine first-hand the biological and ecological characteristics of Botswana’s diverse ecosystems.
1. Ecosystems, ecosystem functions, flora, and fauna: Our field studies will take us to a variety of diverse ecosystems in Botswana, where we will learn about the ecology, geology, climate, and other natural processes that have shaped Botswana’s unique landscape; examine how seasonal variation affects wildlife migrations; and gain an understanding of threats to the Okavango Delta ecosystem and biodiversity.
2. Wildlife conservation and management: Together we will learn about a wide range of wildlife management and conservation efforts in Botswana and meet stakeholders involved in research, decision-making, and implementation of conservation projects and policies. We will engage with scientists, government agencies, wildlife managers, farmers, ranchers, and indigenous communities to explore community-based conservation efforts, past and present government wildlife policies, and diverse perspectives in wildlife management and research.
3. Botswana culture and people: Throughout the course, we will be introduced to the diverse cultures, languages, and peoples of Botswana (called Batswana). Through interactions with village chiefs (dikgosi) and local residents, we will gain insight into the ways in which Batswana interact with the natural environment; the impacts of wildlife management on local communities; and strategies used to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
4. Human-wildlife interaction: Throughout our program, we will examine historic and present human-wildlife interactions in Botswana and study how these interactions have influenced cultural traditions, hunting, ecotourism, farming, ranching, urban development, and conservation.
5. Field skills: On-site our team will learn and practice various methods of conducting scientific fieldwork and gain skills in observing, recording, and reporting environmental data. Please note that prior field research experience is not required, and all necessary field methods and data gathering skills will be taught on-site in Botswana. We expect participants to arrive excited and prepared for a rigorous yet rewarding field study experience.
Students will receive 15 quarter credits/10 semester credits from Western Washington University. Our staff will be happy to explain the program in further detail to the applicant’s advisor, if necessary. This field studies program gives credit in three courses:
ESCI 437A, Environmental Wildlands Studies (5 quarter credits/3.35 semester credits)
ESCI 437B, Environmental Field Survey (5 quarter credits/3.35 semester credits)
ESCI 437C, Wildlands Environment and Culture (5 quarter credits/3.35 semester credits)
Students will be evaluated on the basis of: 1) active participation in our learning process and activities; 2) examinations and other graded assignments; and 3) presentation of an independent research project.
Team members are expected to conduct themselves in a mature and responsible manner. Wildlands Studies reserves the right to require any student to withdraw from the program if their conduct is detrimental to or incompatible with the interests, safety, or welfare of any course participants. We ask all students to read the Student Program Manual before joining the program on-site.
Participants will fly into Gaborone, Botswana and meet the instructors at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (GBE). If you are traveling in advance of the program, you can arrange to join the group in Gaborone when the recommended flight arrives at the airport. At the close of the program, students can choose to remain in Botswana and travel independently or return home from Gaborone.
All reasonable efforts will be made to follow the activities outlined above. However, please understand that travel arrangements can remain tentative until the traveling actually takes place. Weather conditions, road closures, and other considerations may affect our plans. Wildlands Studies has put together an innovative, unique program in Botswana, and team members need to be flexible, patient, and prepared to adapt to unexpected situations. Being flexible also allows us to take advantage of unique opportunities that can produce some of the program’s most memorable moments.
Participants are required to bring their own camping and backpacking equipment (tent, sleeping bag, backpack, etc.). A complete, detailed packing list will be provided to all participants prior to the start of the program.
We will be primarily tent camping. Most campgrounds will have facilities such as restrooms and showers. However, some locations will be primitive with no facilities.
A valid passport with at least six months remaining before its expiration date is required. No visa is required for U.S. citizens for travel up to 90 days. Non-U.S. citizens should consult their country’s embassy to determine visa requirements.
This program is taught in English. Setswana or another local language may be spoken at some locations we visit. However, students will not be expected to have any prior experience with these languages. Translators will be available as needed. During the program, students will learn introductions and basic phrases in Setswana.
Detailed information regarding travel and visa information, equipment requirements, food costs, meeting plans, payment of group expenses, medical and vaccination requirements, and academic preparations will be sent to all team members in a logistics email about 8-10 weeks before the program begins.