Wisse van Engelen

When sectors meet: conservation, biosecurity, agriculture and the emergence of commodity-based trade in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area

Department of Science, Technology, and Policy  Studies, Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social sciences, University of Twente

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Esther Turnhout, Prof. dr. Michael Bollig, dr. Andreas Weber


Wisse graduated in 2021 with a MSc degree in “Forest and Nature Conservation” from Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Building on his prior experience in the African tourism guiding industry, his MSc thesis research concerned the politics of conservation-tourism partnerships in a nature park in South Africa. His research interests lie broadly in conservation social sciences and the environmental humanities, with a theoretical orientation that focusses on exploring and rethinking politics in the Anthropocene. Wisse started working as a doctoral researcher in the ERC REWILDING project in February 2022, and pursues a PhD degree at the University of Twente.


My thesis research focusses on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), a landscape where the aspirations of conservationists to restore long-distance wildlife movements meet longstanding veterinary concerns about FMD transmission from wildlife to livestock. Particularly veterinary cordon fences, which have been erected in the region since the 1950s to separate buffalo from cattle populations, pose a challenge to realization of the KAZA vision. Tracing how buffalo have become seen as the disease reservoir for FMD, as well as how disease control efforts have been instituted in response to this knowledge in a wider (post)colonial epistemological context and political economy, my research studies the underlying assumptions of animal health interventions and connects these to contemporary challenges issued by KAZA proponents. Of particular interest to this project is the emergence of ‘commodity-based trade’ (CBT) approaches to disease risk management, which proponents say may facilitate fence removal or realignment. Currently, policy discussion about CBT are ongoing, while projects piloting cattle husbandry and processing in compliance with CBT standards are well on their way. My thesis research will draw from ten months of fieldwork and archival research in Botswana, engaging with policy-makers, scientists, NGOs, veterinarians and farmers. A substantial time period will be spent in Habu, a small village at the edge of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, to produce an ethnographic account of the experiences of people at the frontline of FMD control and CBT piloting developments. The research is expected to contribute important insights to the development of CBT in relation to conservation, and for conservation and animal health concerns more generally.



Van Dam, A., Van Engelen, W., Müller-Mahn, D., Agha, S., Junglen, S., Borgemeister, C., & Bollig, M. (forthcoming). Complexities of multispecies coexistence: Animal diseases and diverging modes of ordering at the wildlife–livestock interface in Southern Africa. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space.