It’s an elephant’s life

19 Jun 2019

BY CALISTUS BOSALETSWE

A Kazungula native had long dismissed the global north comprised of animal rights organisations from the West and the global South debate on the Kavango Zambezi Transfronteir Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) partner states such as Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe as a farce.  plight, This is Chobe. The sounds of fireworks or gunshots welcomed journalists who crammed into a mini bus trying to locate their lodging. We are in Kazungula about 8 kilometers east of Kasane. The fireworks and gunshots give a rude awakening to the sleepy village.

As the mini-bus grinds to a halt next to a house where we were trying to locate our lodging, a woman who was pushing a toddler warn us that the gunshots or firework sounds were in fact a warning that elephants in the proximity before she dashed to her house.  We located our lodging in Chobe Marina where we are warmly welcomed.

There are no sounds of gunshots or fireworks. This is where most of the tourists sleep before they sample wildlife scenery in the Chobe Game Reserve. Some opt to take a boat cruise in the Chobe river which is the lifeblood of tourism in Kasane.

No leaflets have been dropped through a helicopter to advise Chobe natives not to leave their houses in the evening.

There is no war that is taking place, but when the sun sets one has to remain indoors only to leave a house when the sun rises, but that does not mean you will not encounter herds of elephants during the day as they walk about.

“We are lucky to be alive. We always keep our eyes open and ears on the ground because you are not sure when the jumbo is likely to trample on you,” says Ronny Taziba.

Taziba works for African Jungle Travel and Tours.

“If you have a car you are safe to traverse Chobe though you will still feel the presence of elephants as they roam around,” adds Taziba. He never takes a risk but hibernates in his room if his employers do not give him a key to drive home or if he has no money to catch a taxi.

His sentiments are what everyone around this village would almost narrate to anyone foreign to this village still mourning the demise of a Chobe native who was gored to death by an elephant, an incident widely publicized, after the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila observed a moment of silence when he officially opened a HATAB annual conference in Kasane two weeks ago.

Chobe is, not by choice, a no go area during the night. The natives take to the streets during the day while mean wildlife steal the night.

The elephant summit coincided with his burial. Kazungula native Rukuzu Dikawana who works as a gardener at  Mowana Safari Lodge had no hope on Kasane elephant. But who could blame him? The summit got off to a start with connotations bordering on racism

Dikawana a Mosubiya native had pinned her hopes on a resolution that would have kept elephants away from her homestead.

She woke up one day early in the morning to find that her screen wall that she struggled to erect with her meager salary turned into rubble by destructive elephants.

She moved on with her life as all what she toiled for was turned into a rubble. Her question that she put to me when I met her during a short break after introducing myself to her was:  “Are there any tangible outcomes at the ongoing meeting? We would like to know. If they don’t have any solution they should take their elephants to Gaborone. We are tired. The problem is that those who are debating these issues are those who speak from their comfort zones. They don’t have any clue as to what we are going through because they work in offices,” cried Dikawana.

Dikawana has been pondering on a number of solutions to elephants roaming the streets. She remarks that if she had means she would poison the elephants. In her idealistic world, the poisoning would result in elephants dying in masses so communities would be safe from the agony that they have been going through.

“Those people who are debating this issue no nothing about co-existing with elephants. For years we have never leaved under this constant fear. What are they saying may be they should take this elephants to Gaborone,” added Dikawana.

After my response that the meeting had not taken any resolution yet she throw her hands up in the air. Elephants move freely in residential areas in Chobe.

An encounter in Kazungula was a testimony that those who have been saying they leave in consent fear were not making up their story when a head of elephants came face to face with us while journalist were waiting at Kalrose Tours offices. While other journalist sped off in a car I had to lock myself in the office and the constant fear enveloped as I seek refugee under a table.

When the debate ensued the University of Botswana, Okavango Research Institute, Professor Joseph Mbaiwa posed a question to those who graced the meeting.

His question was why is it that the global north is always dictating to the global south how they should manage their own resources.

He was quick to give the looming trophy hunting return as an example that the global north comprised of animal rights are hell-bent on dictating what Botswana should hunt or not.

Mbaiwa was quick to point that out that the global north should know this countries are run by government that have structures in place in managing their own resources. In his ideal world there is a need to start hunting wildlife that encroaches into different land use such as homestead and agriculture to reduce conflict that has resulted in deaths and damaged to properties.

“ If we start hunting elephants within homestead and agriculture land use this wild animals will be pushed back to their ranges,” added Mbaiwa.

Namibian President, Hage Geingob also joined the chorus when he hit back at the global north questioning whether they have elephants in Europe. With almost half population of African elephants in southern Africa this shows success on how the people here in the global south are able to manage their resources properly. Geingob told the global north off that they should be humble and come for a lesson on how to manage elephants.

Geingob was the biggest threat to the elephant population in Namibia is a loss of habitat as the country declare drought prior to Kasane meeting.

He prided himself with the formation of KAZA TFCA which is envisaged to ease the movement of elephants between the five member states.

Meanwhile other SADC member states natives castigated the west for trying to dictate to them on how to manage their elephants.

One of the speakers stood up and castigated the animal rights group Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) for not forming groups that represent people who are killed by elephants asking why the west was only interested in speaking on behalf of elephants. The speaker went to state that they will not allow to be colonised and told the West to go to hell.

“What we want is trade not aid. We are against the Western idea of trying to suppress the African race, ” added the speaker.

Meawhile the NGO, Deputy Chair of IUC-AFESG, Dr Benson Okita – Ouma would not want to comment on KAZA partner states proposal submitted to CITES to open up ivory for southern African countries such as Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Ouma further noted that the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora eighteen session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18).

“They will have to justify why they want ivory trade regulation to be relaxed to allow countries to trade at CITES COP 18. They have to also lobby the international community because every vote counts if they want ivory trade market to be opened,” he added.  Traffic, Senior Advisor, Elephants and Rhinos Tom Millken feared that opening up ivory trade has a potential to increase poaching on African elephants.