The TrACKS Project
(Transferring Ancient Culture, Knowledge, and Skills)

A Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) initiative to preserve the traditional knowledge and skills of Botswana's San Bushmen and to generate economic benefit from these skills

The TrACKS (Transferring Ancient Culture, Knowledge, and Skills) Project, as its name suggests is about preserving the traditional hunting/gathering skills and knowledge of the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. The project's goal is to preserve our hunter/gatherer heritage and provide economic benefit to these indigenous people in Botswana.

As a continuation of Botswana's Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) policies, the project would be to establish a cultural/community resource center consisting of a game farm and large vegetation reserve area within a Bushmen and other Remote Area Dwellers (RAD) community. The purpose would be to provide food through hunting and gathering as a means to retain the San Bushmen culture and knowledge as well as perhaps offering language classes.

Botswana recently ended commercial hunting on public lands. Hunting is heavily regulated and managed with Controlled Hunting Areas (CHA). The communities living within these CHA's benefited financial, either directly by fees paid by safari operators, or with employment opportunities and free game meat. With the ending of hunting, many of these communities have no way of benefiting from their surrounding environment. Most of the areas are not suitable for photographic safaris or agriculture.

By developing a game farm with animals native to the area, the land can produce a benefit to the community with minimal on-going expense provided the farm is large enough to meet all the ecological needs of the animals. A large area surrounding the game farm would be designated a vegetation reserve and be livestock free and would allow for gathering traditional plant foods and medicines.

The project would raise money for the initial development of the farm and then provide ongoing technical expertise and oversight to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the farm. The Kalahari is a harsh environment with poor natural resources. The San Bushmen communities there are extremely poor with few ways to earn a living. It has been over 50 years since the last San Bushman lived a true hunter/gatherer life style. Therefore, the transition to today's cash economy has been difficult. During this struggle to integrate into the modern world, these communities still rely on some level of subsistence use of their natural surroundings. During this transitional period, the wildlife populations and the San Bushmen's access to them for subsistence hunting has been greatly reduced. In fact, recently all hunting has been stopped in Botswana, except for on registered game farms. With this lack of access, there is no need for ancient knowledge and skills.

But we do need it. Saving this wealth of knowledge is not just about helping the Bushmen today. It is for all of humankind. As a link to the past, to our oldest culture, these skills are what made us. As a way forward, we still need this ancient knowledge and spirit of how to live sustainably in our environment, to care for it, to find what we need from it without harming it. This essential human element is being wiped out when we need it the most. And when it is gone, it will be gone for good, and the world with be all the sadder for it.

The TrACKS project's goal would be to provide a way for a San Bushmen community to legally hunt and gather allowing the older generation to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. The game farm and plant reserve would provide a means for the community to gain a subsistence level of economically benefit. The goal is not to make money but to provide food directly to the members of the community on a subsistence level. Equitable access and sharing of the resources would be arranged. If the project is successful, it could be replicated in other San Bushmen communities around western Botswana.

The project is the idea of Peter and Cecilia Durkin. Peter Durkin started his involvement with San Bushmen in 1984 as a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to Ghanzi, in the middle of the Kalahari, to work with these remote communities. Mr. Durkin returned to Botswana in 2003 with his family to run a nonprofit game reserve. The Durkins subsequently left the game reserve to move to Ghanzi to again work with San Bushmen communities.The subsequently moved back to the US to establish a market for Bushmen made crafts ( and view the TrACKS project as their next step.

Making Fire

The project also proposes to partner a university in the USA and the University of Botswana with the San Bushmen community to facilitate research into this traditional ecological knowledge base. The fields of research could be natural resource management, ethnology, language, genetics, medicinal uses of plants, wildlife biology, and more. The project will require some form of income to cover operating expenses. This could include income from craft production, commercial use of plant resources, tourism, and possibly from intellectual property rights from the discovery of economically valuable pharmaceutical uses of plants.

The first step in developing the project would be to do a feasibility study. This would involve investigating legal issues, speaking with various governmental departments in Botswana, identifying a project site by meeting with potential Community Trusts and talking with University to discuss partnerships.

Two masters and an apprentice

Shorty, Xanate, and Peter, "The happy hunters"


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