‘How can you have a stone-age creature continuing to exist in the time of computers? If the Bushmen want to survive, they must change, otherwise, like the dodo they will perish,’ so said Festus Mogae when he was Botswana’s vice president back in 1996.
Unusually for a politician, Mogae was as good as his word. By 2002, four years into his ten-year term as president, Botswana’s San people – often known as the Kalahari Bushmen – were evicted from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a project that was meant to protect their way of life.
‘I sit and look at the country. Wherever there are Bushmen there is game. Why? Because we know how to take care of the animals. We know how to hunt – not every day, but by season,’ said Dauqoo Xukuri, a Bushman from Botswana.
Since then the Bushmen have made do with cattle herding and running often-unlicensed bars called shebeens, according to a new report from Survival International. The health impacts for the Bushemen, and other indigenous peoples were highlighted in a 2006 Lancet report, which pointed to a possible increased risk from HIV/AIDS.
Noel, a member of the Baka, an indigenous people in Cameroon, told Geographical’s Jane Labous, ‘My culture is my identity; without this I can’t live... I’ve told you what the forest means to us – we are its caretakers, its guardians... When it is destroyed it hurts us beyond imagining.’ The difficulties facing the Baka are covered in Edge of the Road (Geographical, December 2014). According to Survival International, Baka men and women were tortured last year by anti-poaching units that act ‘with impunity.’
Indigenous groups might be the natural environment’s most confident custodians, but that’s not how many governments see the situation. Often economic pressure leads to indigenous groups being squeezed out, but protected land can make a difference. The Xingu people in Brazil have seen a three per cent increase per year in population in the Xingu Indigenous Park, according to a 2007 report in the Brazilian Journal of Public Health. Outside the park, logging continues to encroach on the forest.
Survival International’s report highlights several models for success, such as Parque Nacional de Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco in Bolivia. Here the Ayoreo and Izoceño Guarani people enjoy a protected section in the park, and outside commercial activity is discouraged.
Models like Bolivia’s, the report claims, show that indigenous peoples can benefit from wildlife reserves. Reserves must not be human-free, if wildlife management is to be effective.