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Forget elephants, are we the West's footstool?

The BBC's takeaway from a week of high-level discussions in Kasane on elephant overpopulation in Southern Africa was that President Mokgweetsi Masisi gave his fellow heads of state stools (chairs) made from elephant legs as parting gifts.

Forget the long hours of intense debate over highly complex issues, the tomes of reports made and the resolutions hammered out in long drawn out, sometimes emotional discussions, the story of the day for the BBC was what happened right at the end of the summit. That Masisi gave his counterparts parting gifts made from elephant legs.

Where the President intended to demonstrate the enduring value of wildlife, how elephants that have died naturally can still have a commercial use, the BBC sought to paint a gruesome picture of African savages hacking the legs of living elephants to carve crude gifts for bloodthirsty leaders.

This type of racist storytelling and framing is sadly symptomatic of many Western media’s approach to reporting on Africa and its wildlife management.

Indeed, British indigenous rights campaigner, Stephen Corry argues that for decades, the BBC, which is the world’s biggest producer of wildlife films, has presented a “single, unshakable view of wildlife and conservation”. This view involves “a pristine wilderness full of photogenic beasts whose existence, we are told (usually by David Attenborough), is endangered by loss of habitat, human overpopulation, and of course “poaching” – such threats apparently emanating from Africans or Asians”.

The animals rights campaigners crawling all over social media now, hissing at Botswana and other African states’ plans to address elephant overpopulation, have been born and raised on the BBC’s narratives and

are indeed the ideological progeny of Attenborough and ilk. “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people – or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more,” said Attenborough in 2009.

This type of thinking is what informed a horde of social media keyboard warriors to recently launch waves of attacks on Botswana in which many said Batswana should be “culled” instead of the elephants! For this type of animal rights activist, an elephant’s value for the community can only be via the animal being viewed/photographed during a safari. That value ends when the elephant has died. When a villager finds an elephant that has died naturally and extends the value, either through its meat or producing curios such as stools, the BBC finds this repugnant and something primitively savage.

Who dictates how value is extracted from wildlife? Certainly the tourists paying top dollars to traverse the globe and see the elephants have a say. The villagers who have lived and cared for these elephants, attaining invaluable indigenous knowledge along the way, certainly also have an inalienable say.

That is what was being discussed in Kasane, the complex matter of sustainable wildlife management.

If there had been any need to talk of stools, it would have been to point out the odour reeking in the BBC’s nakedly racist coverage of Southern Africa’s elephant debate.




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