“We are talking about an animal that eats 250kg of food a day”, says Mike Chase. The Founder of Elephants without Borders is trying to drive home his point: Botswana has been mobbed by giant gluttons, eating us out of house and home. Well, maybe not exactly eating us out of house and home, but Botswana’s huge elephant population is decimating the country vegetation, destroying crop fields and escalating conflicts with communities of Northern Botswana.
Not once, however, does the phrase elephant cull come up during the interview as he explained how the problem can be resolved once and for all. In Chase’s vocabulary, “cull” is a four letter word. In fact, in his vulgar-o-meter, culling probably ranks up there with poaching and other forms of slaughter.
Chase who has been studying the ecology of elephants in Botswana for nearly 15 years has a simple solution: Resolve political conflicts in Africa and deal decisively with poaching. With poachers and guerillas’ guns finally quite [sic\, Botswana’s elephant overpopulation problem will fizzle away with the smell of gun powder. These are not crazy rumblings of a tree hugging zealot, far from it. In fact, Chase who in 2007 became the first Motswana to read for a doctorate specifically in elephant ecology, has been continuously searching for novel and creative ideas for progressive research, which will impact conservation in a timely and meaningful way. In the process, he has created a body of knowledge on how poaching and civil wars impact elephants’ migrations and populations.
By his account, Botswana is “bearing the brunt of poaching in Africa. 40% of our elephants, about 80 000 are political refugees.”
Angola’s intermittent 27-year civil war decimated wildlife populations. During the 1980s, African elephants in Angola drew international alarm with reports of 100,000 elephants killed. Luiana Partial Reserve (PR), a conservation area in south-east Angola, was the military operations centre for UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), which used elephant ivory to pay for arms and meat to feed the troops.
Following the end of the civil war in 2002, aerial surveys of Luiana PR indicated that elephant numbers were increasing rapidly, from 366 in January 2004 to 1827 in November 2005, and expanding their range in the Reserve. Concurrently, elephants tagged with satellite collars in northern Botswana and the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, moved into Luiana PR. The animals were returning in ever-growing numbers to the vast south-east Angolan landscape in which thousands were massacred during the country's protracted conflict and only some were able to escape into Botswana and Namibia. Since the end of the civil war, it seems that the elephants had begun to sense that it was safe enough to go back to the Luiana Partial Reserve that takes up a major portion of Angola's sparsely populated 199 049 square-kilometer Cuando Cubango province that borders southwest Zambia and Namibia's Caprivl. Arial surveys also showed a corresponding decline in Botswana elephant populations. More....