We have come a long way since the days of the unregulated ivory trade and, although the decimation of Africa’s rhinos has hurtled to the forefront of environmental concern, there are slivers of light visible in the darkness that poaching has thrown over our continent. Find out more…
For years we faced the murder of Africa’s elephants, until two-thirds of the population had disappeared. The elephant was the first member of our Big Five to be brought to the brink of extinction by the greed of humans. Thanks to the undying commitment of many individuals and an outraged, yet proactive community of people, the elephant population once again stands proud. Yet, as our troops of conservationists, researchers, warriors and supporters face the quandary of the fight against poaching, we can all find encouragement in the progress being made by Elephants Without Borders, Peace Parks Foundation and the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area) in the development and rediscovery of elephant migration routes.
Being natural travellers, elephants walk long distances in large herds led by the oldest and wisest female – the matriarch. Before the demarcation of boundaries and borders and the settlement of humans, elephants followed worn and trusted migration routes in search of greener pastures and more productive waterholes as the rains moved on from their current location. The development of national parks and game reserves and the governments of various countries over the years has simultaneously stunted the ranges of these terrestrial giants and put an end to their natural migratory behaviour. The problem with elephants being restricted to these man-made borders (particularly in the hugely-populated Chobe Enclave of Botswana) is that due to the size of the herds and their insatiable appetite for vegetation, resources run out, while their sheer weight can destroy the land.
Human expansion over the years has, of course, encroached on elephant ranges. Political boundaries, farming and poaching have grown with the expanding development of human settlements, and elephants have been forced to alter their innate routes in order to avoid conflict and to seek unrestricted homes. Drought and fire pose natural threats to elephants and also necessitate migratory movement. Simply, the concern has extended to the preservation of Botswana’s landscape, the survival of other species dependent on those regions, and the livelihoods and safety of people living within elephant ranges.
The Elephants Without Borders research programme has revealed that elephants are rediscovering ancient pathways and their historical corridors from Botswana to Angola. The cessation of the civil war in Angola a mere 10 years ago has provided the safety vital for these ambling giants to reclaim their original ranges. Then, with the formal establishment in 2011 of the five-country-wide KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area, the elephants of Chobe National Park were able to resume their ancestral routes from eastern Angola to western Zimbabwe, spilling into Zambia’s illustrious Kafue National Park. Since KAZA’s establishment and the relinquishing of borders, a great number of elephants have followed their magnetic compass into Angola, giving the wetlands of the Okavango a lighter pachyderm footprint.
A 444 000 square kilometre TFCA, KAZA has already demonstrated the enormous impact it will have on southern Africa’s fundamental environment, and has addressed the critical urgency to safeguard the elephants’ newly identified corridors. Of course, as this is a conservation area (as opposed to a park), its enormously spread-out borders incorporate occupied villages. Care is needed to protect the villagers against the impact and possible dangers presented by free-roaming elephants. KAZA TFCA and the Peace Parks Foundation have implemented structural defences and educational programmes designed to enhance a realistic, harmonious existence between our largest land mammal and our human communities.
I am among those Africans who are devastated at the plight of a species as armoured and mighty as the rhino, and I stand up in arms against the terrorisation of our wildlife. However, when I catch sight of something as spectacular as the transformation of the African elephant population, I delight in that glimmer of hope. With one of the richest accretions of carnivorous and herbivorous mammals in southern Africa, Kaza TFCA encourages the natural circle of life and the survival of the fittest to flourish. The largest contiguous population of elephants in Africa, at around 250 000, makes this almighty, tusked legend the flagship species of the TFCA. What an astounding and congratulatory turn-around!