This study analyzed changes in livelihoods before and after tourism development at Khwai, Mababe and Sankoyo villages in the Okavango Delta. Specifically, it analyzed how people interacted with species like giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) and thatching grass (Cymbopogon excavatus) before and after tourism development. This analysis was expected to measure the effectiveness of tourism development as a tool to improve livelihoods and conservation. The concept of social capital, sustainable livelihoods framework and the Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) paradigm informed the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were gathered through field-based research, using tools of participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and key informant interviews. Results indicate that local customs and institutions at Khwai, Mababe and Sankoyo ensured the conservation of resources in pre-colonial Botswana. However, British colonial rule (1885-1966) affected traditional institutions of resource use hence the beginning of resource decline. The British colonial rule and the first 15-20 years after Botswana’s independence from British rule saw an increase in resource degradation. Results also indicate that since CBNRM began in the 1990s, tourism development has positive and negative effects on rural livelihoods. On the positive side, tourism development in some ways is achieving its goals of improved livelihoods and conservation. Residents’ attitudes towards tourism development and conservation have also become positive compared to a decade ago when these communities were not involved in tourism development. On the negative side, tourism is emerging as the single livelihood option causing either a decline or abandonment of traditional options like hunting and gathering and agricultural production. Reliance on tourism alone as a livelihood option is risky in the event of a global social, economic and political instability especially in countries where most tourists that visit the Okavango originate or in Botswana itself. There is need, therefore, for communities to diversify into domestic tourism and small-scale
enterprises. On the overall, tourism development through CBNRM indicates that it is a viable tool to achieve improved livelihoods and conservation in the Okavango Delta.