Botswana secretly sold fracking rights to more than half of one of Africa’s largest conservation areas, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Drilling for shale gas may have already begun, according to evidence found by the Guardian, although government officials claim that isn’t the case. Scientists and conservationists are worried about the imminent impact on local wildlife and ecosystems, and their concerns are elevated by the fact the government kept the sale a secret for over a year.

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The Botswana government quietly licensed access to over half of the 13,900 square mile wilderness preserve, which spans the border with South Africa. The sale took place in September 2014 but top park officials and conservationists weren’t privy to the deal until just recently, adding to their concerns about the environmental impact of fracking activities in such a delicate ecosystem. The park is home to a variety of unique creatures, including the gemsbok desert antelope, black-maned Kalahari lions, and pygmy falcons.

Related: Film exposes fracking in world’s second largest wildlife preserve

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At the time of the sale, the UK-based buyer was known as Nodding Donkey and has since changed its name to Karoo Energy. Although park officials have said no drilling has taken place yet, the Guardian reports finding oil residue near a popular camp site, as well as noting a recently drilled hole with a strong smell of tar and drill stem protruding from it. Whether this is evidence of fracking or not, the reality is that fracking brings destructive infrastructure. The areas covered by the drilling licenses are sliced up throughout the park, making up more than half of the total protected land but dispersed in such a way that fracking activity could easily impact other park lands.

Via The Guardian

Images via Jeffrey Barbee / Alliance Earth