Tracks of Giants is a five-month, field-based nature conservation expedition following in the tracks of ancient elephant migration routes through six countries across southern Africa.
The Tracks of Giants team passed the 1 700-kilometre milestone on 1 June 2012 at Guma Lagoon in Botswana, which marked one-third of the journey that had been completed successfully. The team of Trackers includes conservationists, media, a back-up team and various sponsors and supporters who join the core team along the way.
One of the aims of Tracks of Giants is to rekindle the rapidly declining indigenous knowledge base of the human–animal interface and also indigenous solutions to conservation challenges and issues.
Specialist wilderness guide, photojournalist and naturalist Ian Michler and medical doctor, psychiatrist, writer and conservationist Ian McCallum are two of the core members of the Tracks team. They are undertaking the entire journey without the use of mechanical transport. In order to track the journey via GPS, the backup team is carrying an elephant collar that is linked to a tracking device. The collar acts as a symbol for the Tracks of Giants journey as well as a valuable part of the backup team’s equipment. It will be donated to Elephants Without Borders at the end of the expedition.
The 5 000 kilometre, 20-week journey through six countries kicked off in Namibia on 1 May, with the core team and Wilderness Leadership School guides travelling on foot through the Skeleton Coast National Park facing temperatures of up to 45 °C in the shade. Switching to bicycles at the end of the first leg, the team cycled from Puros to the Botswana border post, which was reached on Tuesday, 29 May. From the dunes and spectacular desert landscapes of Namibia to the more wooded flora-filled region of western Botswana, the team has encountered wildlife and nature at its most untouched. Sightings of desert elephants, oryx and springbok were not uncommon in Namibia, while the Botswana leg has included encounters with hippos and crocodiles.
Along the way, the team is investigating various examples of corridor and transfrontier park conservation, and are documenting successful human–animal relationships within communities across Southern Africa. To date, they have been impressed by Namibia’s Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) policies which, together with the work of local NGOs, have led to the establishment of more than 70 conservancies in the area covering 135 000 square kilometres and home to nearly a quarter of a million people. According to Tracker Ian Michler, the three San-managed conservancies around Tsumkwe are notable success stories. ‘Given the global recognition and praise for these policies, Namibia’s approach must surely hold something for other states across Africa grappling with similar issues,’ says Michler.
According to Frank Raimondo, director of the Peace Parks Foundation and a member of the backup team, there is evidence of an enormous amount of good work being done in Botswana. ‘We have seen great efforts by many people, including poorly funded NGOs.’
One of the major threats to the conservation of the area is the invasion of unscrupulous mining companies. ‘It is imperative that a coordinated approach be adopted to tackle these problems as soon as possible,’ says Raimondo.
On 4 June, the team reached the Okavango Delta and traded in their well-travelled bicycles for traditional dugout canoe’s called mekoros. ‘Of all the stages, these next few weeks are undoubtedly going to be the most adventurous,’ says Michler. ‘The terrain is isolated and filled with wildlife of all shapes and sizes.’ Michler lived in the Okavango Delta from 1990 to 2004, and felt a certain sense of homecoming upon arriving in the region. ‘Some of my life’s most special memories and work experiences come from here.’
To date, the team has encountered crocodiles, hippos, and plenty of elephants, but all its members remain in good health and high spirits. Throughout the journey they have documented the age-old conflicts that exist between humans and wild animals – including accounts of harvestable crops trampled by elephants, baboons devastating newly planted seedbeds, and humans getting killed by predators, elephants or hippos. ‘There is a wide range of opinion as to how best these conflicts should be managed. While removing the offending animals remains a popular option, it was heartening to hear many conservancy members and farmers reject this option on the basis that the wildlife should not always bear the direct blame,’ says Michler.
They switched to Kayaks at Seronga and are heading down the Savuti Channel. The team is expected to reach the public Savuti Camp site on 24 June.
On reaching the one-third landmark, Ian McCallum says that thoughts of his wife, children and grandchildren fuel his sense of purpose, as well as the efforts of the backup team. ‘I am very grateful for these men who range in age from 20 to 71. Things are working well between us because of one important reason – we all know what this journey is about, and that it is not about us.’
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