An Interview with Map Ives, Founder and Director of Rhino Conservation Botswana

March 27, 2020  By: Beth

We recently spoke with Map Ives, Founder and Director of Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB). RCB is one of Africa Adventure Consultants’ preferred charities, which we support with yearly donations. Read on to learn more about Rhino Conservation Botswana’s important work and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Map personally, as well as RCB’s work on the ground in Botswana.

AAC:
Would you give a little background on who you are, your current position and what you do with Rhino Conservation Botswana?

Map:
I am the Founder and Director of Rhino Conservation Botswana. I started Rhino Conservation Botswana about 5 years ago to address a situation where there were insufficient resources available to the government of Botswana to monitor the wild rhino populations which had been returned to the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana. I have lived in the Okavango Delta for about 40 years and understand it very well. I was part of the team that started returning rhinos back in the year 2000 actually.

AAC:
Why the focus on rhinos for you personally?

Map:
I first saw rhinos, believe it or not, in a black and white movie when I was about 9 years of age when they were rescuing them during an operation called Operation Noah. The more recent connection is that I’ve studied the Okavango in some depth and I realized that the biodiversity inventory is very complete, except the rhinos had been poached to extinction through the course of the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s. I always harbored a dream to bring them back and to breed them up to significant numbers – not only to bring them back to the Okavango but also to be part of the Southern African and African populations of both species of white and black rhino and that’s where my personal passion for them comes from.

AAC:
You’ve mentioned that you’re based in Botswana, but you are talking to me today from South Carolina. Will you share why you are in the US right now?

Map:
I have to back up to explain why I’m in the United States today. We translocated rhinos back to Botswana for a few years and we were doing very well. The white rhinoceros, for example, was having a calving rate of close to 8.5% until 2018 when a highly-organized syndicated rhino poaching organization came across our borders and started to attack our rhinoceros. Although the Botswana authorities fight back, we continue to lose them. For example, we lost another 3 rhinos just yesterday. We’ve lost over 50 rhinos in the last 2 years so it’s a very, very serious situation. We realized our resources were too small and running out very fast.

AAC:
I can imagine the work you’re doing is quite expensive. Will you elaborate on some of the costs associated with protecting rhinos in Botswana?

Map:
Yes, it is very costly. Rescuing and relocating just one rhino costs about $65,000. But we’re doing a lot more than just relocating the animals. We’re monitoring, reporting, protecting, rescuing, researching and working with local communities. All those activities require funding. A digital camera to photograph and ID rhinos in the field costs about $100 and one surveillance flight over the Okavango Delta costs about $500. As you can tell, the work we’re doing is expensive, but vitally important.

So about 6 months ago I started to put together a tour of the United States to seek funding, establish partnerships and raise awareness. I had about 16 cities with close to 40 events lined up. I was in Florida when things started to go ‘corona shape’ and the trip came to a screeching halt. I took refuge at my brother-in-law’s place in South Carolina. Botswana had shut its borders, and international flights had been called off, so now I am stranded in the United States. The guys back at home are fighting the poachers, because the poaching hasn’t stopped. I feel very helpless here. I have a very good team and the guys are carrying on with the work very well, but I’m unable to raise funds for them to continue to do the work.

AAC:
What are people reporting from Botswana?

Map:
We don’t have a single case of coronavirus in our country at this time, but they have locked it down trying to prevent it from spreading. However, because no tourists are traveling, the second biggest industry in our country – tourism – has collapsed to zero. So the situation is not good. With the number of tourists, the number of aircraft flying and the number of game drive vehicles reduced to zero now there’s even fewer eyes looking for poachers and signs of poachers. It’s just the poachers and the anti-poaching units out there in the bush now. There’s a massive set of eyes and ears missing. That’s a huge loss to our general disincentive to poaching presence on the ground.

AAC:
The impact on wildlife is monumental, as you’ve mentioned. If our clients in the United States want to help protect rhinos and support the work you’re doing, what’s the best way they can help during this crisis?

Map:
We have a website – rhinoconservationbotswana.com. Go read more about what we’re doing and tell others. If you can donate, it doesn’t matter how small, it will help. I am also seeking a large foundation or corporate partner that is willing to come on board and help Rhino Conservation Botswana fight back against this poaching scourge. Our job is to protect the animals on the ground, assist the Botswana government in their efforts and to monitor these animals effectively to pass information on to the security forces. All that takes a lot of money. We have the manpower and the expertise, but we need financial help.

AAC:
Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Map:
The week I was traveling throughout the US, I found the American people very concerned with what’s going on. I appreciate the generosity of the American people for hosting me here and certainly for caring about the African wildlife. I am very grateful for all the help I am getting and I look forward to coming back.

Interested in learning more about Rhino Conservation Botswana’s work?

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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