Botswanan elephant conservation

Human-elephant conflict is a major conservation challenge in Botswana. BBC Wildlife meets Makata Baitseng from the Ecoexist Project. 

African elephants, Botswana.

In the April 2015 issue of BBC Wildlife you can read all about a project to protect elephants and people in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This film by Richard Hughes highlights some of the key problems.

Q&A: Makata Baitseng from the Ecoexist Project

What is your role?

My role is to gather ideas and perspectives about the potential for community-based tourism and helping build an elephant economy in the Panhandle. I also work closely with the farmers to help reduce human and elephant conflict through crop raiding.

What are the problems?

In this region, the populations of people and elephants are nearly equal - about 15,000 each. In a shared space of just over 8,000 square kilometers, people and elephants compete directly for access to water, food, and land.

At certain times of the year, elephants in the region move southward and east from seasonal waters in the pans near Namibia to the waters of the Okavango Delta. Along the way, they pass through villages and settlements of the Panhandle, using distinct pathways remembered and followed by elephants for generations.

Some of these pathways have become restricted or even blocked where farmers have been allocated fields for planting that sit directly on top of these pathways. It is inevitable that elephants will use all the resources available to them. This means elephants are at risk of being killed by farmers who are just trying to protect their crops.

How does this create conflict?

Elephants come in contact with farmers fields over the period of harvest, which lasts three months or so. The elephants enter the fields at night and eat, trample or destroy parts, if not all of the cropped field.

This is all the farmers have to feed to their families and is often their only source of income.
The farmers move away from the village and live in small watch huts next to the edge of the their field for this three month period to protect the crop.

What are the solutions?

In the short term, we empower farmers with practical, affordable, and effective tools to deter crop-raiding and reduce conflicts with elephants. These include chilly mitigation, electric fences and conservation agriculture. We are also trying alternative crops to allow us to harvest before the elephants arrive.

Long-term, we collaborate with local, national and international groups to create an enabling environment for a range of policies and programs that tackle the root causes of conflict.

Film-maker Richard Hughes says:

“It’s not every day you get a tweet from someone you’ve never met inviting you to come and film elephants in Botswana.  One film permit, two aeroplanes, a helicopter, one 4x4, and a macorro later, I found myself in a tent on edge of the Okavango Delta Pan Handle.

My closest neighbours were two boisterous young hippos, and as night fell we were joined briefly by large herds of elephants heading further into the Delta for water.  Making a solo production on solar power had it’s own challenges. The field workers did a bit of sound recording and the farmers took on acting parts with great enthusiasm much to the entertainment of their children.

The film has been made voluntarily to help support the work of The Ecoexist Project and local government agencies, who are helping to reducing conflict between humans and elephants in the region.”

The full documentary will be release on the 24 April 2015 on the Ecoexist website.

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