Conservationist Map Ives’s story is a classic tale of character and calling. At its core is the belief that each of us is called to a certain destiny. Plato and the Greeks called it a daimon, the Romans saw it as genius while the Christians likened it to a guardian angel. In Map’s case, it was unequivocal and asserted itself from an early age.
‘I spent my childhood in the wilds of Francistown,’ says Map, whose name is an acronym for Martin Antony Paul Ives. Back then in the late 50’s, Botswana had a population of 400,000 compared to the 2,2 million people that live there today, and so Francistown was no more than a few hundred people. ‘It was a magical place,’ he recalls. ‘There were wild animals in close proximity to the village and I was lucky to learn firsthand from local bushmen about plants and animals, not to mention the art of tracking and living off the land.’
A defining moment for Map came in 1964 when he saw a short black and white documentary about a wildlife rescue mission called Operation Noah in what was then Rhodesia. ‘A wildlife catastrophe had ensued after the damming of the Zambezi floodplain to create Lake Kariba, with thousands of animals taking refuge on ever-shrinking islands of land in the Kariba Gorge,’ explains Map. ‘I became fascinated by legendary game ranger Rupert Fothergill, who led the mission to save more than 6 000 animals, 44 of which were rhinos. I remember watching spellbound as he and his team captured a rhino by tying it down and floating it on a raft to safety. From that moment on I wanted to be him, I still do.’
But then such vicarious aspirations are wholly unfounded, for Map is a full-blown legend in his own right. With more than 40 years in the field of conservation, his greatest passions, namely the Okavango Delta and the plight of rhino, keep him busy. Not only was he instrumental in conceiving the development plan for the Okavango Delta (an Unesco World Heritage Site) but in 2014 he was made the National Rhino Coordinator for Botswana. He is also Environmental Director for Wilderness Safaris.
Map’s view has always been that if the Delta can be utilized on a sustainable basis for the benefit of Botswana, then it can be protected for the long term. ‘I’m glad to say that our low-volume, low-impact, non-consumptive tourism model has kept the Delta pristine and wild,’ says Map. His work with rhinos is no less impressive. What started out as a rhino reintroduction project has developed into a sophisticated joint operations mission with Botswana the safe haven for the critically endangered black rhino.
‘My passions are inextricably linked as when I first went to the Okavango Delta as a game ranger, I set out to document as much of the natural world as possible.’ This manifested in him making lists of everything from plants to mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and of course insects. After ten years of research Map realized that while the Okavango was one of the most pristine environments on earth with its biodiversity inventory close to intact, it was missing one critical species: rhinos. ‘I knew from writings that rhinos had occurred here in large numbers and so it became my mission to make a place on Earth that was complete, and in so doing help to heal the souls of those who visit.’ And therein lies the nub. ‘As a species, we are so addicted to comfort and have been so seduced by the concept of money that we have not paid heed to our links to the natural world and its importance to both our physical and mental health.’ Map’s role coordinating the repatriation and protection of rhino is no mean feat when pitted against the enormous sums of money made from the sale of rhino horn. Not to mention the sophistication of the poaching syndicates and the vast funding at their disposal. But with the support of the Botswana government and the military, and men like Map who have made conservation a way of life, there is every reason for hope.