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The Elephant In The Room

PAMELA DUBE KELEPANG
Instead of being a blessing, our 130, 000 plus elephants are proving to be the elephant in the room- a serious problem. With elephants, we are in a catch 22 situation. Maybe we need to step back and understand things, from a simplistic point of view.

I may not agree with tactics of elephant conservationists, but I understand. You see, I am a dog lover. A crazy one, who no matter what will see or hear no evil about my four-legged babies. Not surprisingly, living amongst my people, Batswana who most times would kick a dog at first sight, I have always found that my biggest area of conflict with family, friends and neighbours is my dogs.

I have no problem keeping up to five massive breeds at a time. Wherever I am, in or outside the house, my beasts are next to me. I get nervous when there is visitor, and my dogs sit at my feet, facing the ‘intruder’. A sudden rise or pick in the voice is enough to provoke reaction, as my dogs take it to mean I am under attack. They react badly, dangerously.

Of course I feel bad and rebuke my dogs when they attack people. But I find myself always giving an excuse. Up until late last year, my favourite was a four-year old Boerebul called Mustafa. Once in a while, he would go on the attack, leaving visitors he wasn’t fond of with a few cuts.

Because his vaccinations were always up to date, and the attack always within the confines of my home, police reports would not result in anything but a warning to keep him under control. It took one major attack, which left the gentleman who had been a regular visitor and helper, hospitalised with a broken hand and many wounds that forced me to give Mustafa away. It was either Mustafa was put down or passed to a person with better handling skills to unpredictable dogs. But to this day, I yearn for him.  Crazy? Could be.  That is what animal lovers can be. No matter how bad the situation is, we will find excuses for such a behaviour. To justify Mustafa’s behaviour, I would even blame the victims for speaking too loud, walking too fast, or wearing a sportie. But the fact remained, the more I kept these dangerous beasts, the more I was isolated. Visitors were far in between, and even family members were threatened. What has this to do with the elephant story? Everything. You see elephants lovers are a crazy lot, like all of us animal lovers. When they see this massive beast, all they see is a big teddy bear to cuddle in dreamland. Try all you can to give them scientific evidence of what over-population of elephants do, and why there is need to hunt to reduce the numbers, and all they hear is slaughter.

Statistics on human-wildlife conflicts are read to be nothing but justification for legalised massacre of

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innocent voiceless four-legged friends. It doesn’t help that our own leaders are divided on the issue and speaking to the world about it. Unlike my neighbours and I, caught in the dog-human conflict small space, activists fighting to stop Botswana from implementing the lifting of the hunting ban, are out there, worldwide. They are connected, monied and influential. They have the potential to hurt us, bad. With tourism being our second biggest source of income, the fight between our government and wildlife conservationists can lead to us losing that much needed revenue. The issue of who benefits from tourism is a matter for another day. For now we need to look at the elephant in the room, a massive drop on tourists. Not just income to the tourism sector, but increase in unemployment.

There is more. It is not rocket science to understand why President Mokgweetsi Masisi led the delegation to the diamond trade expo in the United States of America, and became the first president to ever open such a conference, last week.  Our government knows that negative publicity has potential to damage our diamond market, our number one contributor to the economy. We cannot ignore the fact that our livelihoods are very much dependent on the Western markets, in tourism and diamonds. So what the President did last week was critical, but more needs to be done, and should be done.

With a conservationist president in Ian Khama, our government missed a great opportunity in the 10 years of his reign. He failed us, in that he did not take on board those that could today be in a position to speak to the world better, Batswana.

These are not only people who live with these big babies, villagers in close proximity to game reserves, but also the nation at large. To speak to the nation, the government should have engaged, in a concerted effort, to educate the local media in conservation at every level. I doubt if many of us today can confidently deal with these issues.

We find ourselves having to rely on information from the opposing ends, and at times take patriotic stand with nothing or little to back us.  All is not lost though. Amongst the few journalists with knowledge and greater understanding of the elephant, is colleague Tlhalefang Charles. This is a young man, our government can engage to speak to the elephant story. Just a thought.  We cannot afford to let egos and conflicts in leadership to lead us down the destructive path. We need to get the “crazy” animal lovers to our corner. To understand and help us find the solution. Otherwise we are all but fighting a losing battle.



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