Conserving five endangered vulture species and African wild dogs

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You can contribute to Denver Zoo's conservation efforts in Botswana.

About Botswana

Botswana boasts low human density coupled with vast, remote areas containing an abundance of wildlife. Major ecosystems include grasslands, savannas, deltas, and the Kalahari Desert, which covers over 70% of the country. Over the years, as Botswana has coped with an increase in drought and desertification, local communities are utilizing more ground water, increasing numbers of livestock, and traveling farther to graze their herds, bringing people into direct contact with predators. The resulting conflict presents a growing challenge to both people and wildlife—especially predators and scavengers.

Why Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, wild dogs, and vultures?

While much wildlife conservation interest in Botswana is focused on the lush Okavango Delta to the north, the central and southern portions of the country are critical habitat for substantial populations of large carnivores and vultures. These areas contain critical refugia for threatened species and also offer new opportunities for addressing the conflict between human livelihoods, especially livestock ranching, and wildlife. So this is where Denver Zoo supports partner, Kalahari Research & Conservation (KRC),  in leading research and awareness work on wild dogs and five species of endangered/critically endangered vultures.

Answering Key Questions

Denver Zoo and KRC work together to develop a more complete and science-driven program to reduce the rapid decline of vultures and African wild dogs, and ultimately restore viable populations in Botswana. Begun in 2009, our research suggests wild dog populations in and around Botswana are declining and that key threats include habitat fragmentation and the damaging impact of intentional and unintentional poisoning, which people use to retaliate against predators, especially wild dogs. Such poisonings are the principal causes of vulture mortality across Africa, including Botswana, as vultures feed on the baited carcasses. In order to understand the direct threats to vulture populations in Botswana, Denver Zoo supports KRC to carry out research on key aspects of vulture ecology, ranging, and poisoning patterns.

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Conservation Approach in Botswana

Denver Zoo has been working to advance knowledge and conservation action in Botswana since 1998. Currently, our work focuses on two key issues: carnivore conservation and addressing human-wildlife conflict. We promote coexistence between people and animals by raising awareness about the importance of key species and their habitats and promoting conflict mitigation measures to reduce the retaliatory killing.

Having supported the launch of KRC as an official local NGO, Denver Zoo now works in partnership with KRC to prioritize, fund, and implement critical conservation and research efforts related to these issues. As the organization grows and engages new students and staff in research and outreach projects, Denver Zoo aims to contribute to a growing cadre of local wildlife conservation professionals through funding, mentorship, knowledge-sharing, and career opportunities, ultimately supporting Botswana’s ability to secure a future for its endangered wildlife.

Community Engagement

Together with KRC, Denver Zoo implements community engagement programs that:

  • Help target communities appreciate vultures and wild dogs and their ecological importance, understand key threats and positive actions they can take to protect these species.
  • Work with teachers to develop wildlife conservation educational activities to supplement the Botswana National curriculum; implement inquiry-based activities to help youth gain knowledge, and build positive attitudes and pro-conservation behavior towards Botswana wildlife.
  • Foster positive attitudes towards Botswana’s vultures by creating opportunities for learning experiences by taking educational field trips to CL Woolcott Vulture Resturant, a safe haven where clean, lead-free carcasses (usually livestock that have died of natural causes) are provided to wild vultures and where people have the opportunity to view them from a safe distance.
  • Build the next generation of conservation leaders through the establishment of a wildlife ambassador program for Botswana youth to inspire intergenerational learning and conservation action.
Conservation Botswana Image Gallery

Capacity Building

Building conservation capacity around the world is one of the major goals of Denver Zoo.  We believe successful conservation requires local leadership and deep community involvement to be sustainable.  Denver Zoo is working to advance the professional development of native Batswana scientists, managers, and educators, and build capacity in a local non-governmental organization (KRC) to strategically implement holistic conservation programs.  To date we have provided financial and technical support to two Batswana students who completed their Masters’ degrees with our programs on wild dogs and lions and a third Batswana student about to complete a PhD on wildebeest. Denver Zoo funds scholarships and field research needs, such as equipment, for student researchers.  We provide additional “on the job” training in several areas, including conservation strategic planning, writing funding proposals, drafting reports, giving presentations, curriculum design, and more. These skills are critical if students are to succeed in their future work on behalf of Botswana’s wildlife.

Conservation Botswana Wild Dog Research Team


Conservation cannot be done alone, and Denver Zoo is thankful for our strong network of collaborators that contribute to the conservation of wildlife in Botswana:

  • Kalahari Research & Conservation
  • Kanabo Conservation Link
  • CL Woolcott Vulture Restaurant
  • Association of Zoos & Aquariums
  • AZA SAFE SMS African Vulture Committee
  • Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks

Conservation Success in Botswana

Highlights of conservation success in Botswana

  • In partnership with North Carolina Zoo and San Diego Zoo Global, Denver Zoo established the African Vultures SAFE Program Action Plan, a collaborative approach to strategically align resources and goals to help protect vultures in Southern Africa. SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) is an initiative of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
  • Supported Batswana student researchers to complete 2 Masters degrees and 1 PhD on wild dogs, lions, and wildebeest, and are currently supporting 2 Masters and 1 PhD candidates researching springbok, Cape vultures, and wild dogs through provision of equipment, data transmission, and student researcher travel costs
  • Partnered with Kanabo Conservation Link and CL Woolcott Vulture Restaurant to open the first ever vulture restaurant in Botswana in 2015, helping to provide healthy, lead-free carcasses to Botswana’s endangered vultures
  • Organized first ever “mega-spoor survey”, leading over 70 conservationists in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to monitor wildlife populations in 2012, a feat that was repeated in 2013 and 2014
  • DZ & KRC were the first team to research vulture movement in Botswana, placing the first ever satellite transmitters on white-headed and lappet-faced vultures, and the first to study and publish on the effects of elevated blood lead levels in African vultures