KASANE: Two weeks ago, Merafhe “Cappie” Shamukuni was attacked and killed by a herd of elephants here in the north-western border resort town.
His death, which happened on the sidelines of a major tourism meeting, made local headlines. It did not even raise a blip on the radar of Western media that is perpetually trained on Botswana and her elephants.
Kasane sits in the heart of a five-country area known as the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), a 520,000 square kilometre region of forest, swamps and huge river systems. KAZA has approximately 250,000 elephants or 60% of the continent’s pachyderms, with Botswana holding most of these at about 130,000.
Kasane is amongst the hardest hit areas for elephant-human conflict, with residents living in fear of giants that roam unchecked throughout the town. Previously known to only happen in rural areas, human/elephant conflict around the iconic Chobe National Park is now increasingly felt in Kasane.
Two weeks ago, a herd of those 130,000 met 54-year-old Shamukuni in an area called Plateau in Kasane. He was just about 700 metres from his home and had spent the evening with friends at Plateau.
According to reports, at about 10pm Cappie stumbled across the herd by accidents. His vision was not good and also elephants are dark in colour, which made it even more difficult for him to realise that he was amongst them. His relatives say the moment he realised his situation, he attempted to flee, but was too late. The elephants attacked and killed him instantly.
Cappie’s father, Charles Shamukuni says Kasane does not have a history of elephant attacks on humans.
“The fact that we are now being attacked and killed by elephants in town suggests that there is elephant overpopulation problem in the nearby Chobe National Park,” he says.
“I used to like elephants before. I now hate them. They did a cruel thing to me and I hope we will be compensated better when our loved ones and breadwinners are killed.”
He says his son used to talk about how elephants were restricting people’s freedom of movement in Kasane.
“I feel very painful about the loss of my son.
“My son was not sick, he was as lively as anyone.”
Shamukuni will never forget the day when Kasane police came to his house and broke the “saddest” news.
“When you hear that your son has died instantly, it is painful.”
Kasane councillor, Boitumelo Kanye says attacks on residents are increasingly frequent.
“Human elephant attacks never used to happen before in Kasane but for the first time since Kasane town was built, three people have so far been killed by elephants.
“We are worried and unhappy.”
The Chobe National Park is part of KAZA, which is larger than Germany and Austria combined and nearly twice as large as the United Kingdom. It lies in the beautiful Kavango and Zambezi River basins where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge.
Leaders of those countries were in Kasane this week to find solutions to the overpopulation and to speak
The loss of a loved one to an elephant attack can cause little-appreciated social problems.
For Shamukuni, the loss of his son means that no one will be able to take care of him. Shamukuni is wheel-chair-bound and needs assistance to go to the toilet, including bathing and dressing himself.
A teacher who turned journalist and is now retired, Shamukuni sits surrounded by mourners at the time of this interview. The group includes his two sons who work in Gaborone. Sadly, he will soon be left alone when they go back to work.
“I know that the reason why elephants continue to uncontrollably over-populate Chobe National Park is because over the past five years we have not been able to thin out their population size following the ban on hunting in Botswana,” says Shamukuni.
“If I have to meet these Westerners having power also, I would talk to them to stop interfering with the hunting programmes of Botswana because we used to hunt elephants and when elephants saw you they would run away.
“Today, when the elephants see you they don’t run away, they come to you.”
As elephant populations in Southern African countries continue to increase so is human and wildlife conflict, limiting freedom of movement, opportunities for agricultural production, and causing social and economic crises through deaths of loved ones, including breadwinners. Elephants are also destroying people’s properties. Neighbouring Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is also facing an elephant over-population problem. There Biggie Shoko recently survived an elephant attack and tells the harrowing story of when an elephant almost trampled him to death early in the morning while going to work.
“I believe it is God who saved me from being killed by that elephant,” says Shoko.
“I thought I was going to die as the elephant kept on trampling on my leg and I started screaming saying hey you elephant please leave me alone.
“The elephant miraculously left me, but I can longer perform difficult tasks and provide for my family like I used to do before the elephant attack.”
The loss of a loved to an elephant attack can cause little-known social problems.
For Mr Shamukuni, the loss of his son who was affectionately known as Cappie has meant that no one will be able to take care of him because he is wheel-chair-bound and needs assistance to go to the toilet, including bathing and dressing himself.
*About the writer:
Emmanuel Koro is Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa