This article was published on: 07/19/19 9:32 AM
By Kayla East
During my first weekend at CARACAL (Center for Conservation of African Resources: Animals, Communities and Land Use) an emergency call was brought in of a baby elephant that had been abandoned at a nearby gas station by its herd. The elephant was in an extremely poor condition due to neglect by the herd. According to Dr. Alexander, founder and CEO of CARACAL, this issue is becoming more and more common. Abandonment of calves occurs because the elephants are beginning to give birth at much younger ages than before, and therefore the mothers are not as experienced on how to care for their young, and many kits are suffering as a consequence. Not only does overpopulation harm Botswana’s elephants, it also has negative effects on the people who live in close proximity with elephants.
After our first month working at the conservation center we got news of the elephant hunting ban lift, which caused quite a commotion not only locally, but worldwide. The first thing I noted when it came to this legal action was the duality of opinions between those in Botswana, and the people in other nations.
What many, including myself, often thought of as a black and white issue turned out to be more complicated. I had this preconceived notion that people in Botswana were the ones fighting the hardest to protect elephants. Elephants after all are some of the most charismatic megafauna and people come from around the world to visit Botswana and see the elephants in their natural habitat. However, to my surprise this wasn’t always the case. Many citizens of Botswana walk miles to work and school, with the fear of elephants at every step. Not long before I arrived here in Botswana, a local had been killed by an elephant when walking back to her home from the store. Within a week of being here, there was a second incident where the only thing that saved a woman from the elephant charging at her was the swift move to hide behind a gravestone in the nearby graveyard. Yes, elephants are a symbolic creature of Botswana, and the entire continent of Africa; but they are also seen as an encroachment on human safety, crops, and other landscapes.
A large misconception is that elephants are endangered everywhere. Botswana proves this to most definitely not be the case. Just on my 1-mile drive from the airport to the village, we had to stop multiple times for the passing of elephants and elephant herds. Looking back, I imagine if I was less fortunate, and happened to be on foot, instead of in a safari car, the outcome could have been much different.
The distance from where I work and the village where I stay is less than half a mile, but I would never dare walk to and from these places. Each day on the journey to the center, we pass elephants, leopards, buffalo, kudu, baboons, and many other creatures that all have the potential to be a threat to my life. One cannot even begin to understand the day to day fear that the locals of Botswana endure here due to the ever-growing population of elephants.
On the contrary, there are also people here that are completely against the lifting of the hunting ban. Tourism is one of Botswana’s largest financial contributors. Personally, I think the issue of international perception will make more of a difference in the tourism world than the lifting of the ban itself. Botswana may lose financial support and tourism when other countries see they are allowing their wildlife to be killed.
While there may be a plethora of elephants in Botswana, they are still endangered on the continent of Africa. Therefore, many argue that because there is such a threat to the population elsewhere, Botswana should remain a haven for these large iconic creatures.
As with almost all political initiatives, there will never be an action that is completely supported by its people. It is easy oppose the idea of hunting elephants from our western perspective in the United States. However, it is not fair to critique the Botswana government or its people without taking the time to understand the impacts elephants have on the daily lives of Botswanans. As humans, we must work to preserve wildlife but also prioritize the lives of people.
Kayla East is an ambassador for Earth Day Network’s MobilizeU program. MobilizeU is a program that unites college and university students to organize activism around environmental and sustainability issues. Kayla is currently abroad in Botswana studying wildlife conservation through Virginia Tech University.