Botswana Has Largest Elephant Population In The World
With more than 150,000 elephants, Botswana hosts the largest elephant population in the world, thanks to decades of heightened legal protection. This was said by Dr Chris Brooks, biodiversity coordinator at the Southern African Regional Environmental Program (SAREP), presenting on behalf of EcoStars at the handing over of the rehabilitated Shakawe Community Training and Craft Centre recently.
Brooks said while these gains paint a positive image for the future of the species, rural communities reliant on subsistence agriculture are often less than enthusiastic about the sight of elephants. “Crop raids, property damage, and even human attacks have made elephants an unwanted pest, threatening food security and human safety hence mitigation a necessity in the conflict,” said Brooks.
Brooks said the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is responding to these challenges by providing funding and technical assistance to EcoStars, a local organization out to conserve Botswana’s wildlife. He said EcoStars and USAID will employ innovative strategies to minimize human-elephant conflict, including the use of solar-powered electric fences and the cultivation of chili powder, a plant known to be a major irritant to elephants. He further shared with the participants, among them commissioners from Angola, Namibia and Botswana OKACOM, that the chilli pepper technique, which has seen positive results in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, will afford farmers a low-cost option to deter elephants from raiding crops and human settlements.
“These techniques will allow communities to enjoy increased food security, while also protecting elephants that have been historically shot and killed or injured when encroaching on human settlements,” he said.
Meanwhile, EcoStars and USAID will explore opportunities for communities to employ elephants to their advantage as part of a strategy to mitigate human-elephant conflict.Brooks says EcoStars will also conduct a feasibility assessment of the potential of elephant tourism that will allow tourists to stay in camp sites and possibly lodge adjacent to trails and watering holes. He further said elephant tourism would provide diversified livelihoods for low-resource communities.