Weekend Post (Botswana)

Publishing Date : 30 April, 2018

Author : BONIFACE KEAKABETSE

A certain old man at Batawana main Kgotla once joked that he prays that one day the elephants destroy the state house so that government begin to take the problem of the high elephant population in Botswana seriously.

The elephant issue is one of the highly divisible conservation topics for communities that share boundaries or live side by side with wildlife. In 2015, Okavango Research Institute Professor of tourism studies, Joseph Mbaiwa made a power point presentation during Botswana symposium on Wetlands and Wildlife at Maun Lodge which was titled, Environmental Threats to the Okavango Delta and Mitigation Measures.

One of the presentation’s slides described communities’ response to the elephant’s incursion at various villages in Botswana. At Khumaga, a 91 year old man noted: “since that devil called elephant came to our land no one has ever harvested here in Khumaga…we are dying of hunger because of elephants crop raiding, we have grown without that creature on our land since it came we are always on fear and scared of walking on our own land”.

At Gudigwa, an old lady remarked: “we plough, elephants harvest.” Another 36 year old woman at Kumaga noted, “How can I like something that is not created by God. God cannot create something of that kind. Elephant was made by Satan.  According to Great Elephant Census (GEC) undertaken by Mike Chase of Elephant Without Boarders, Botswana is home to roughly 130,000 elephants. This figure represents a third of Africa’s entire elephant population.

The survey of Elephant populations in 18 countries found that compared with historic data, elephants population decreased by an estimated 144,000 from 2007 to 2014. Populations are currently shrinking by 8% per year continent-wide, primarily due to poaching. The study observed that African elephants in nearby countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia are migrating to Botswana where there are stringent wildlife policies.

In a previous interview, Tshekedi Khama, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, conservation and tourism, has accused some South African Development Community countries of failing to meet their obligations for the establishment of Kavango-Zambezi Trans-Frontier Park (KAZA.) Khama accused neighbors of failing to fulfill their obligations in the development of KAZA, which is a regional initiative meant to promote the free cross-border movement and conservation of wildlife in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola.

“We have some partners, like Zambia and Zimbabwe, who fail to pay their subscriptions and putting up requisite infrastructure for essential services, such as water, in their countries. That results in many elephants crossing into Botswana because we have those provisions. Our neighbors need to drill boreholes and provide water to stop their animals from coming to Botswana,” Khama said.

KAZA is aimed at safeguarding free movement on animals in the five countries, but Khama says he is worried that some of the partner countries have still not finalised their land use plans to convert some lands in to wildlife areas. “As Botswana our land use is ready. We have the Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve which are already demarcated as conservation areas. However our neighbors have a different land use in areas to become part of the park. They are taking long to finalise the conversion.” he stated

Khama further bemoaned that Botswana is under extraordinary pressure from the pro-hunting lobby in the European Union and regional neighbours to lift the hunting ban imposed in 2014. He stated: “Botswana remains resolute in supporting the ending of the ivory trade. We have stopped hunting (since 2014), but our neighbors still undertake trophy hunting and practice captive animal breeding.
“Our policy against wildlife hunting is working, that is why wildlife is relocating from neighboring countries to Botswana. But now, the pro-hunters want to follow the wildlife here. As Botswana, we supported the ending of the ivory trade because we believe that getting rid of the trade will wipe out the markets too.”

However a massive opposition from communities has emerged as elephants begin to spread throughout Botswana. Another concern has surfaced of elephants attacking and killing humans. Last week, British national, Irene Sunagan (57), was attacked and killed by an elephant in Boro area.

Dr Comfort Nkgowe, wildlife principal veterinary officer in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks this week told the media that the deceased and her 67-year old partner, Lawrence Murtosh were attacked outside their camp site in Boro. The surviving told the authorities that prior to the incident, the elephant had invaded their yard, which is situated along a river bank, but they managed to chase it away with their vehicle. A protective trench has been dug around the yard, save for the entrance portion.

Thinking that the elephant had gone the couple took their dogs out for a walk. To their surprise, the elephant charged on them, the husband ran away but the deceased was not that lucky as she was attacked by the giant mammal. Sunagan sustained serious injuries and was pronounced dead upon arrival at Letsholathebe II Memorial Hospital in Maun.

Last week, Superintendent Goitsemodimo Molapise of Shakawe Police Station further expressed concern about escalating cases of animal attacks in the Okavango sub district. Molapise said in the first police quarter January- march, there had been four incidents leading to deaths and one survival. He said in the same quarter last year, no cases were reported.

Another police officer speaking on condition of anonymity said they have been instructed not to divulge the true extent of deaths caused by elephants as government fear this is sensitive information. In an interview, Professor Mbaiwa blamed the rising cases of human-elephant conflicts to the 2011 hunting ban. Mbaiwa said when hunting was still on in Botswana; elephants were not a problem as it is the case.

Mbaiwa suggested for the introduction of selected hunting targeting the elephants before the situation goes out of control. This view was supported by Keakgametse Katisi, Chairman of Nokaneng Community Trust who said elephants are a danger to members of the public if they are not hunted to stop their encroachment.