Solving Botswana’s Donkey Problem.

After a few nights at Ngepi Camp I would have to bid goodbye to Namibia and cross my fourth African border into Botswana, the least densely populated country in Africa. And while human population density may be minimal, I discovered that meant more room for donkeys. I’ve never seen more donkeys anywhere — including Mexico. They started roaming the highway just after crossing the border and their population seemed to grow by the km after passing through Shakawe.

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Leaving Ngepi Camp and heading for the Botswana Border. Photo by Ronnie Borrageiro.

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Botswana Driving = Donkeys

Riding a motorcycle through Botswana one quickly learns why the term Jack Ass is so apropos. Unlike goats, cows, dogs, pigs and penguins, donkeys just don’t move. You can honk, rev the engine, head right toward them but they won’t move. Actually, they will move. But that’s from the side of the road into the middle of your lane when you have barely enough braking room to stop. If you get them angry enough they’ll start bucking their hind legs. And watch out.

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Ronnie found this chameleon in the middle of the road so we decided to try him out on Doc and my riding jacket.

I rode more than 400km to Maun, a small settlement once the stomping grounds to graziers, hunters and poachers but now serving as the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Along the way I must have passed several thousand donkeys. What’s so odd is that they don’t seem to belong to anyone.

“Yes sir. Dawnkees. Yes sir, no I don’t know who own doze dawnkees,” one gas station attendent revealed.

“Okay Big Man,” another driver filled me in, “yes we have much dawnkee problem here.”

I made it my personal goal to learn about the donkeys in Botswana and what the local people thought about it.

“The government must do it,” the parking lot security guard told me. “They must move all the dawnkees somewhere.” And it seems that to most people I chatted with the government was the solution. I heard many stories about these donkeys. They destory motor vehicles, cause fatalaties and are a general nuisance. In downtown Maun on the main drag donkeys criss cross the road in search of fresh grass to graze.IMG_3853_2.jpg

One of the owners of Audi Camp outside of town told me that the easiest way to find a donkey’s owner is to run into one on the road. “You’ll never find the owner of a donkey so fast, and it’s funny the value of a dead donkey seems to be about four times that of a live one.”

Another local speculated that the donkey population got out of hand because during the late 80’s and early 90’s foot and mouth disease infected nearly the entire cattle population of Botswana. He told me that many cows had to be exterminated otherwise the the cattle industry, the second largest export product in the country, could have been crippled. He said that in restitution the government provided donkeys to those who lost their cattle.

At a checkpoint a couple hours outside Maun I had to ride my motorcycle through a pool of muddy water and walk over a soggy mat — all supposedly treated with agents that would stop the spread of foot and mouth disease. I carry a simple pair of sandles strapped to one of my bags. They made me put these through the soggy mat. Even as Ronnie and I went through this seemingly ridiculous exercise I notice Donkeys milling about behind the ad-hoc tent camp that was set up roadside to serve as quarters for the military personnel working this outpost.

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The bugs do a number on my faceshield and the petrol attendants sure get a kick out of how I clean it!

“Whose donkey is that?” I asked. At first I was ignored. But I caught the ear of one of the officers. “Who owns that donkey?”

“Sir?” He looked at me with serious eyes but with several teeth missing and dishelved uniform and horribly broken English and bad grammer he hardly exuded the image and security of a protector of libertiies. “This dawnkee we no know who owns.” I explained the hazards these donkeys posed on the highways. “Maybe no has owner dis dawnkee.” I was getting nowhere.

In Maun at the auto parts store where I was lucky to find a new valve for my portable air compressor, the clerk agreed that the donkey problem causes many problems for people in Maun. “Dee gubbermint must fix problem,” he surmised. “They must take zee dawnkees somewhere and make zee who owns dem come git dem.”

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Often my enquiries about donkeys were met with smiles, giggles, laughs or sighs of desperation. “There too many donkeys,” the clerk at the hardware store agreed. “I don’t know what to do.” Everyone around smiled and laughed. The topic of donkey population must not make the water cooler chatter often. I’m happy I was able to offer some midday thought and entertainment.

One thing is for sure. Botswana’s donkey problem won’t be solved anytime soon. If you find yourself making tracks toward the Okavango Delta, watch out for the donkeys. They can kill you.

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