Mmegi Online :: Searching for solutions to co-exist with elephants
Last Updated
Saturday 17 February 2018, 10:00 am.
Searching for solutions to co-exist with elephants

While the population of elephants is dwindling elsewhere in the forests of the world, Botswana, particularly the Chobe region, has seen an unprecedented explosion of their numbers. This has led to a difficult human-wildlife conflict that calls for urgent attention. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES travelled to Chobe and met the communities and conservationists battling to find solutions to co-exist with elephants
By Thalefang Charles Fri 16 Jun 2017, 17:08 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Searching for solutions to co-exist with elephants

To western tourists and many conservationists, an elephant is an iconic and elegant animal with feelings, which has to be protected. But to Mozwaze Moeti, a farmer at Seriba village along the Chobe Enclave, an elephant is a destructive animal that keeps condemning her into abject poverty.

For ages Moeti and her community of farmers have been employing various strategies to chase away the elephants from destroying the crops in their small fields.

“We have used drums, fires, whistles, torches, plastics, cans, chillies, and guns to chase away the elephants. But nowadays elephants are so many here. We are not allowed to use guns anymore. Elephants are smart animals too, they quickly discern all our old scare tactics and come for our crops,” Moeti says.

Farmers say if a herd of elephants gain just a single access into a field it will be the end of the season for that farmer. The elephants will not leave anything for the famers to salvage from their long season of hard labour. Farmers describe the experience as traumatising.

“Our farms are our source of life. These crops are our food and source of income,” Duncan Mogopolo from Mabele village says.

Farming is not just growing crops for these farmers, but it is also therapeutic.  When they lose their crops to wild animals, this does not only take away their food but also their soul. It hurts them in many ways.

The situation is worse in these recent years because all the elephants have found refuge in Chobe. Due to Botswana’s conservation strategies that, according to farmers, put animals before poor people like Moeti, Chobe has become a haven of elephants. They have fled from the west of the river in Namibia and Angola to Botswana’s side where they roam freely under the strict protection of the heavily armed and ruthless Anti-Poaching Unit.

The farmers say when these animals come and graze through their fields, the government takes forever to compensate them, but if the troubling animal is shot, soldiers with automatic guns will be on the scene in a blink.

This situation has created a warring human-wildlife conflict that has left farmers secluded and alone, battling against an increasing wildlife population supported by conservationists, tourists, and government.

Elephant Without Borders (EWB) a charitable conservation organisation dedicated to conserving wildlife and natural resources has, however, identified the need to assist in tackling this conflict with innovative research to find inventive ways for people to live in harmony with wildlife.

Dr Tempe Adams of EWB is leading research funded by the Environmental Fund from the Ministry of Environment, Natural


Resources,  Conversation and Tourism, on using what she terms ‘disco lights’ to stop elephants from destroying farmers crops.

“These lights are still in (a) trial phase. We have started with 42 farmers from the villages along the Chobe Enclave and almost all of them have reaped great crops without any elephants invading their fields,” Admas reveals.

She adds: “Although it might be too early to conclude that the lights have worked, they seem to be very effective in stopping elephants from getting into the farms”.

The lights use solar energy and flash various colours at night. Elephants did not enter any of the fields that had the lights installed during the trial phase.

Duncan Mogopolo and his wife Kgomotso from Mabele village in Chobe have just yielded 20 bags of sorghum and maize respectively. They speak excitedly about the benefits of the lights.

“These lights helped us a lot. Before we got our yield, we had a large herd of elephants that threatened to graze in here, but they surprisingly stopped before the lights and later ran away,” Mogopolo says.

Moeti from Seriba also concurs: “I don’t know whether it is God or these lights, but this year something kept the elephants away from my field”.

Dr Adams says since they are working with very intelligent animals, farmers are encouraged to use other effective ways of scaring away animals from their crops. She stresses the point that while conservation researchers continue to search for best solutions to mitigate the human-wildlife conflict, farmers should continue to use the effective methods they have been using.

EWB projector leader, Dr Mike Chase says although he is an ecologist who has been working tirelessly for the preservation of the African elephant, he also understands that conservation is about people.

He posits that if conservationists could find ways for people to co-exist with wildlife, then half the job of conservation would be done.

To this end, Dr Chase has roped in Dr Adams to lead EWB’s community co-existence programme. Chase says the expanding population of elephants has presented new challenges to wildlife conservation.

“EWB’s study on the movement of elephants in Botswana has confirmed that elephants spend much of their time outside protected areas and are expanding their range in northern Botswana, where there are agricultural fields, grazing lands and human settlement, posing significant challenges for wildlife conservation,” Chase says.

He says the mixed land-use pattern points to the critical need to provide for an extensive network of wildlife corridors and to promote a sustainable management strategy for both people and wildlife, to co-exist in the same place.


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