Elephants For Africa http://www.elephantsforafrica.org Elephant conservation through research and education. Elephants for Africa is a charity that is committed to protecting the endangered African elephant through research and education. Fri, 12 Jan 2018 16:06:30 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.8 The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park Burns – Dr Rebecca Dannock 31st August 2017 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/makgadikgadi-pans-national-park-burns-dr-rebecca-dannock-31st-august-2017/ Thu, 31 Aug 2017 20:48:26 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3124 It has been less than a month since I took charge at EfA’s Makgadikgadi Research Camp but there has certainly been excitement. First, two leopards decided […]

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It has been less than a month since I took charge at EfA’s Makgadikgadi Research Camp but there has certainly been excitement. First, two leopards decided to hang out, not 5m from Hayley’s (our Scientific Officer’s), tent one night. Upon seeing them she called me out to lend extra torchlight and guide her back to my tent, where we sat for nearly two hours. Waiting. Eventually, we heard the leopards’ calls moving further off. So, with anxious steps, we crept outside to find the coast was clear and Hayley could go to her tent. An impromptu sleepover was avoided. But the next night was even more exciting*.

*for lack of a better word

On Friday, August 25th, Makgadikgadi started to burn. This was thanks to a combination of tinder box-like

Fire in the park on Friday night – R. Dannock

conditions and tourists who claim their car was sparking, an unlikely story, but the only one we’ve got. At 2pm the fire started 800m from our camp. By 5pm more tourists, the DISS (the Directorate of Intelligence Security Services, who were called in to help fight the fire), DWNP (the Department of National Parks and Wildlife), SKL (the local campsite operator) and EfA were on the scene. By this point, the fire was out of control, and still just 500m from the tourist camp site. But it was moving northeast, directly away from all infrastructure, including our camp, so things seemed ok. Despite this, I organised for the EfA team to pack the car and then spend the night rotating watch to make sure we were ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. By 3.30am, during my watch, the fire had died down and moved far from camp and danger seemed to have passed, at least for the time being. But being August, the month of strong winds in the Makgadikgadi, the fire had picked up again by morning. Danger still seemed remote, with the fire still moving north, but any chance of danger was not worth taking. So, I made the call to evacuate EfA.

Driving to Maun I felt a little bit silly. An overreaction, I thought. But within 35 minutes of leaving, reports came through that the fire had turned and was heading straight for camp. At which point I realised how poor my packing was – I’d only packed to spend a few days away from camp (dresses, travel toiletries, some shoes and pyjamas) with a couple of vital items of equipment (hard drives, laptops, tents, cameras and petrol that may have exploded if left behind). Having thought camp wouldn’t burn and having no sleep the night prior, my packing was substandard. But to be honest, no matter what we packed it wouldn’t have been enough – 5 people in one car didn’t leave a lot of room for all of our earthly belongings! We did, however, have the whole team safely out of the fire’s reach.

By the time we got to Maun, the fire had been through camp twice and the SKL staff, that had stayed behind, also decided to evacuate. But unfortunately, by the time they evacuated, one of their cottages had been burnt and two of their buildings were destroyed, as fire brought down their roofs and turned the buildings to rubble. Their kitchen and dining room were destroyed – all they could salvage was the fridge and a gas bottle. Yet, despite all this, and their pending evacuation, they continued to call me with updates and pick up the phone when I called. What troopers. By this point, I was starting to realise just how lucky I was to have chosen to evacuate the team. By Saturday evening, SKL had left the Park and so we were left without updates until it was safe to re-enter on Tuesday. It was a tense few days as we waited, unknowing. We swayed between denial (it’s fine, our camp may have been missed) and trying to make light of the situation (at least the mouse plague should have been dealt with!). But deep down the anxiety was building. While we were safe and had a small bag of belongings each, the thought of our lives and camp being destroyed played on our minds. Perhaps our safety, and reports that no-one (or at least no human) had been harmed allowed us to think about more trivial matters – homes, furniture, clothes and equipment (and in my case, a newly replenished stash of food from Australia!). But there was nothing to do but wait.

The drive back to camp on Tuesday (which was only 2 hours) seemed to be one of the longest drives of our lives, excluding the drive out which was full of dire updates about what we had left behind us. The ferry across the Boteti, to get into the Park, seemed to be going backwards. And my stomach was in knots. As we drove from the gate to our camp we saw destruction on either side of the road for kilometres. The silence was palpable. I felt like I was living a news cast of an ‘aftermath’ special. As we entered camp we saw the destroyed buildings of SKL and the blackened earth between our still standing office and where our tents would hopefully be. It wasn’t a great welcome home.

First, we saw our store cage that had been burnt- the frame damaged, the rear jump seats from our cars burnt, and spare tyres melted. But the cage was still standing. From there, instead of moving as individuals to our tents, we moved as a group with each person breaking off as we got to, and surveyed, their tents. The first stop was our newly renovated shower. Still perfect. Then we came across the supplies for the community and school chilli plots that we were about to build. Unfortunately, we lost a number of gum poles and mopane poles and will need to replace these so that we can continue building chilli plots to promote self-reliance amongst the community.

Then we got to the tents. Our research assistant’s tent was perfect, if a little smoky. Then our store tent – half fallen down but only because the ropes that held it up had burned away. The tent itself had no fire damage. The visitors’ tent – fine (still mouse ridden, but not fire affected!). But, the next two tents were worse for wear and unfortunately, both were only a month old. Their windows, made of a plastic-based gauze had melted. Some have shrunk as though the tent has been through a shrink wrapper, and others had melted away completely. But despite a couple of old mattresses becoming unusable and a smoky aroma clinging to everything, all personal belongings were safe! The next tent was the worst though. The shade netting was destroyed, the charging solar lantern had melted into a non-working mess, one window was gone and the other had shrunk into half its original size, scrunching the whole tent into a twisted mess. And the roof was shredded from falling embers. But still, no damage inside. We went to another tent and found more missing windows. But still no loss of items inside. The final tent was untouched by fire but full of smoke.

So, we were down 4 of our 7 accommodation tents. And everything we own has the stench of smoke clinging to it. However, considering we thought we’d lost everything, we were lucky. Mostly because we had recently employed someone to slash the grass around the tents, in what we thought would keep us safe from snakes, more than fire. The slasher finished this job 1hr before we heard about the fire! This gave us enough of a barrier around the tents to largely protect them. Talk about timing.

We were all shaken, and we need to find funds to replace four tents and burnt building supplies but I am glad to report that we are all safe and so is our data! And the show must go on – so shortly after checking our home, we piled back into the car to stay on the community side for a week to put on a documentary night for the community and conduct workshops across the cattle posts to teach the farmers about how to use chilli to deter elephants.

If you are able to donate to help us restore our camp to full working order and please visit https://mydonate.bt.com/events/emergencyfirefund

Thanks to a long term Elephants for Africa supporter, every £ donated will be matched.

To view our video about the fire click here

 

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Meeting up at the Watering Hole – by Kate Evans 10 August 2017 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/meeting-watering-hole-kate-evans-10-august-2017/ Thu, 10 Aug 2017 07:08:18 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3118 The more time I spend with elephants the harder it is not to draw parallels with humans, the close knit families of female herds, and the […]

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The more time I spend with elephants the harder it is not to draw parallels with humans, the close knit families of female herds, and the rambunctious young males with their rough and tumble play and picking fights with their peers and as they mature spending more time with other males until they leave their herd and join male society. Since moving to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, with its predominantly male population, in 2012 it is what happens after they have left their natal herd that is captivating our team in the field. How does the social life of male elephants work?

The Boteti River is the western border of the park and this draws the male elephants in, water is the

Male elephants playing in the Boteti River

obvious resource but there is much more going on. The males don’t simply come down here to drink and then return to the park to feed or venture into the communal lands opposite, they spend time being social with the other males – playing for hours, greeting and sparring. This is the ideal spot to try and understand more about male elephant society.

Males meeting up at the watering hole

I hate to generalise, but in my experience of human adult males, they will happily not be in contact with a mate for years but will drop everything to be there for a birthday celebration, or to meet in the local pub, whilst I might be left wondering ‘well why haven’t you bothered to contact me in 10 years yet you expect me to travel for hours to see you’. When I get the opportunity to spend time on the riverside watching the interactions of all the male elephants, young and old, I cannot help but think that this resource is a social hub for them to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, to see who is still around and may challenge them in the social hierarchy – a function not so dissimilar from a watering hole (pub) for my human male friends…….

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Harmony for Elephants at the Hay Festival – Kate Evans 01 June 2017 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/harmony-for-elephants-at-the-hay-festival-kate-evans-01-june-2017/ Thu, 01 Jun 2017 09:38:05 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3088 It was a real privilege to have the opportunity to talk at the 30th Hay Festival of Literature about our fundraising book Harmony for Elephants last […]

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It was a real privilege to have the opportunity to talk at the 30th Hay Festival of Literature about our fundraising book Harmony for Elephants last Friday.  The book is a collaboration with professional photographer Lesley Wood and incredible musicians who wrote 15 evocative pieces, which are included on an accompanying CD, capturing the African elephant.   The Hay Festival is celebrating its 30th year this year and among the famous presenters were Stephen Fry, US Senator Bernie Saunders, and Graham Norton. Having never been before it was all  a new experience and I was very excited to explore when we (my family were with me) arrived on the Friday lunchtime. Having registered we were able to enjoy lunch with our friend Stephen Moss who I got to know when we filmed an episode of the BBC’s Wildest Dreams in the Okavango Delta. It was a gorgeous day in this welsh border town and having attended Stephen’s talk we explored the other venues, dropped off the copies of Harmony for Elephants at the Hay Festival bookshop (special thank you to Gareth Howell-Jones for not charging commission on sales) and enjoyed the summer sun. Being used to addressing Zoological Societies and conferences, presenting at a literature festival was way out of my comfort zone and I was nervous, to say the least. The amazing staff looked after me so well, that by the time I took to the stage I was much more relaxed and in spite of some technical issues before and during the presentation was very well received. With some very interesting and thought provoking questions. To order your copy click here. 50% of profits come to Elephants for Africa. With special thanks to Hannibal Brown Wines for sponsoring the event and to the musicians: Amanda Lehmann Andy Neve Andy Tillison Diskdrive Anna Madsen Anthony Phillips Brendan Eyre Dale Newman Nad Sylvan Nick Magnus Steve HackettTony Patterson

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Ferrying Farmers – by Hayley Blackwell 15 May 2017 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/ferrying-farmers-by-hayley-blackwell-15-may-2017/ Mon, 15 May 2017 14:26:29 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3063 One very important aspect of Elephants for Africa (EfA)’s work is our Community Coexistence Project – working with local farmers in the village of Khumaga to […]

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One very important aspect of Elephants for Africa (EfA)’s work is our Community Coexistence Project – working with local farmers in the village of Khumaga to reduce human-elephant conflict in the form of crop raiding, and promoting coexistence between people and wildlife. We work hard, alongside the farmers, to trial new and existing mitigation techniques which will hopefully help keep elephants out of fields and away from crops. If you have been following the work of EfA, you may know that one of the techniques that we have been encouraging for the past couple of years is the use of chilli pepper as an elephant deterrent. The dried chilli irritates the sensitive nostrils of the elephants, discouraging them from entering the field. Chilli pepper can also be produced locally and at low-cost, meaning that it is sustainable for subsistence farmers. We have found that this method helps to reduce crop-raiding incidences, however, it is not 100% effective, and as such we are always on the lookout for new and improved techniques to trial.

Ecoexist is another NGO in Botswana who promote human-elephant coexistence in the Okavango Panhandle, an area north-west of the Okavango Delta. They have been working with the farming

Farmers of Khumaga and EfA staff visiting the farmers of the Pan Handle

communities in this area for more than seven years, and have successfully trialled a number of different mitigation methods. At the end of February 2017, EfA organised an exchange trip, taking some of our Khumaga farmers up to the Panhandle in order to learn about these methods and inspire them to try new ideas. We were also joined by representatives from Dikgosi (the village chiefs), the Village Development Committee and the Ngande Trust; support from these well-respected entities in Khumaga will help farmers spread their experiences to the rest of the community.
Project Manager Dr Jess Isden had her work cut out trying to organise transport, food and accommodation for 30 people, but thankfully it all came together at the last minute. At 6:00 am on 21st February our fleet of two hired combis (minibuses) and two 4x4s gathered in the centre of Khumaga village, and soon we were on our way. The journey took 9 hours along some pretty horrendous roads, but by mid-afternoon, we arrived at Shakawe River Lodge, our home for the next two nights. We had arranged for a mobile safari company to travel to the campsite the previous day, transporting 18 tents and a mountain of bedrolls, and they had set up camp before we arrived. We had taken over almost the entire campsite, which soon resembled a small, canvas village! Unfortunately, heavy rain during the afternoon meant there were a couple of slightly soggy bedrolls, but we soon managed to dry them out. Our tents were situated right on the banks of the Okavango River, in beautiful, forested surroundings, and everyone enjoyed spending the remainder of the afternoon exploring and resting after the somewhat tiring journey.

Being welcomed at the village kgotla

The next morning we were up early again, ready for an exciting day of demonstrations and discussions. The day began with a short drive upstream to the village of Mohembo, where we boarded a car ferry to take us across the Okavango River to Mohembo East. Once safely on the other side, we were met by some of the Ecoexist Community Officers, who took us to the village kgotla (administrative centre) to be welcomed by the Kgosi (village chief). After all the necessary introductions had been made, the Ecoexist officers and Mankind, EfA’s Community Officer, initiated discussions about the problems that farmers in their respective areas face, and some of the methods that have been used so far to try to mitigate these problems.

Solar panel used to power the electric fence around the cluster fence

Next, we were taken to visit fields belonging to local farmers in order to demonstrate some of the techniques that Ecoexist have employed to try to reduce incidences of crop raiding. One of the techniques that particularly interested us was cluster farming – encouraging farmers to move their fields, which are traditionally extremely spread out, next to each other and erecting a perimeter fence around the entire cluster of fields. The benefit of this is that farmers can work together to defend their fields from elephants and livestock, rather than trying to protect a huge area by themselves as our farmers do currently. Ecoexist has taken this one step further and helped their farmers to build an electric fence around the cluster. The fence is powered by a surprisingly small solar panel and has been extremely successful in stopping elephants from entering the fields. The first few clusters created were made up of around 5-10 farmers each. However, the practice has been so successful and generated much interest that the cluster we went to see, their most recent addition, contained the fields of over 130 farmers! The chairperson of the Cluster Field Committee was also on hand to explain how the farmers cooperate to maintain the electric fence and answer questions about the processes they had to go through in order to set up the cluster, as well as the problems that they have faced.

 

After a quick lunch break, it was time for us to cross back over the river for a Conservation Agriculture demonstration. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan. A huge line of cars

Ferrying across the river

was waiting to cross, and as the ferry is government owned, all the government vehicles were allowed to jump straight to the front. We spent a frustrating four hours sat in a barely moving queue, which was extremely disappointing given the fact we were only there for one day. The Ecoexist staff told us that usually there are two ferries running in tandem, however one was not working, meaning that the queue was much longer than normal. Eventually, the two combis and the Ecoexist vehicle were able to cross, and they hurried to the Conservation Agriculture demonstration just as the afternoon was drawing to a close. Unfortunately, Jess and I were still stuck on the Mohembo East side of the river with the two 4x4s, and so we missed out on the final activity of the day.

Veni, one of the farmers that Ecoexist works with who has adopted conservation agriculture techniques, gave a very enthusiastic and motivational presentation in his field to demonstrate these methods to the Khumaga farmers. The idea behind Conservation Agriculture is to change the way in which people farm to improve soil quality and thus crop yield, whilst maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Botswana is approximately 85% desert, and it

Discussing farming techniques in the field.

always amazes me how farmers manage to grow their crops in the sand. Traditionally, due to the poor soil quality, farmers have ploughed vast areas of land with very low productivity. Veni showed our farmers how, by making a few small changes to the way that they plough, weed and maintain their fields they can farm a much smaller and manageable (and easier to defend!) area, whilst still obtaining the same yield of crops. He also explained how some of these methods can also be used to help deter elephants. Win-win!

We are incredibly grateful to Ecoexist for sharing their experience and knowledge with us, and we hope to continue collaborating and sharing ideas with them in the future. The trip appears to have been a success, as it instilled a sense of optimism and enthusiasm in our farmers, and gave them lots of ideas for new mitigation and farming methods to try. However, the true success of this trip will only become apparent over the coming months as we wait to see whether they will put into practice what they have learnt. Trying to persuade people to change the farming methods that they and their families have been using for generations is not an easy task and not something that we take lightly. However, we believe that it is necessary if we are to achieve our goal of human-elephant coexistence, and thereby improve the lives of the people in this community, in the future. If the farmers of Khumaga decide that they are willing to work hard and adopt some of these new, more radical mitigation methods, Elephants for Africa will be there to support and encourage them every step of the way.
Many thanks must also go to the GoodPlanet Foundation for providing funding for this exchange trip, and to all the companies who got involved and helped us on the ground, without whom we could never have carried out such an ambitious trip: Delta Sure Safaris, Letaka Safaris, Pride of Africa and Shakawe River Lodge.

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Tragic News Update 21 Mar 2017 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/tragic-news-update-21-mar-2017/ Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:24:15 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3051 On the 1st March an incident occurred that involved the death of a male elephant adjacent to one of the farms in the community of Khumaga, […]

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On the 1st March an incident occurred that involved the death of a male elephant adjacent to one of the farms in the community of Khumaga, with whom we partner with on our Community Coexistence Project. Thankfully the farmer was not injured during the event. The farm was raided by three male elephants in the early hours of the morning. The farmer tried to chase the elephants out of his field with a vehicle. One of the elephants repeatedly charged him, and after firing a warning shot the farmer, fearing for his personal safety, shot the elephant.

In Botswana, a farmer is legally allowed to protect themselves and their property this way and thus no laws were breached. The Problem Animal Control Department of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks were immediately notified of the incident and officers came to remove the ivory for safe keeping.

We are, of course, saddened that this has happened. However, the incident only highlights why our work and this partnership is so important for the safety of farmers living in rural Botswana and the long-term conservation of the African elephant.

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Tragic News (02.03.2017) http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/tragic-news/ Fri, 03 Mar 2017 19:45:01 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3047 Yesterday there was a tragic incident on one of the farms which we work with and an elephant has died. We will update you as soon […]

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Yesterday there was a tragic incident on one of the farms which we work with and an elephant has died.

We will update you as soon as we learn more.

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Masters in Animal Behaviour with Elephants for Africa and the University of Exeter http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/masters-in-animal-behaviour-with-elephants-for-africa-and-the-university-of-exeter/ Wed, 25 Jan 2017 15:15:03 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3039 Looking to do a Masters in Animal Behaviour? We would love to hear from you. Take a look at the opportunity to work with us through […]

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Looking to do a Masters in Animal Behaviour? We would love to hear from you.

Take a look at the opportunity to work with us through the University of Exeter and the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour (CRAB) and their MSc by Research in Psychology (Animal Behaviour).

Applicants can apply throughout the year to join the CRAB and Elephants for Africa team to contribute to our continued work learning about the nature and significance of male elephant social behaviour.

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EfA Festive Fundraiser 2016 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/efa-festive-fundraiser-2016/ Wed, 30 Nov 2016 10:10:09 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=3020 Help us celebrate this holiday season by contributing to our Festive Fundraiser and assist us in reaching our fundraising target of £10,000 to continue our vital […]

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Help us celebrate this holiday season by contributing to our Festive Fundraiser and assist us in reaching our fundraising target of £10,000 to continue our vital work.

Elephants for Africa is a registered charity in England, Wales and a registered NGO in Botswana. We are primarily concerned with the conservation of elephants in their natural ecosystems. Partnering with local communities in Botswana to empower them to live alongside wildlife and work towards human-elephant coexistence. Our education program also involves hands-on interactive learning for Environmental Clubs of two local primary schools.

We wanted to share with you this holiday season the experiences gained by local school pupils and farmers from two organised trips by the Elephants for Africa Team into the Makgadikgadi National Park recorded by our Project Manager, Dr Jess Isden, to show how your support is having a crucial impact on the ground.

‘Bulldozers or dozing bulls? Seeing wild elephants as individuals, not just destroyers’

For communities living in close proximity to protected areas, wild animals often symbolise reduced personal safety, conflict for resources and damage to property. These are some of the realities and perceptions that EfA faces when we are working with local communities on conservation issues.

So, what can be done to ensure that community members have both a healthy respect for their wildlife and the dangers they pose, but also benefit from them in tangible ways that ensure their future conservation and sustainable use? Elephants for Africa’s Community Coexistence Project, funded by the Good Planet Foundation, is aiming to achieve this through a range of educational activities, workshops and experiences targeted at those who feel most disengaged.

School pupil observing an elephant in the National Park

School pupil observing an elephant in the National Park

One of the most rewarding activities Elephants for Africa runs are trips into the National Park for local community members. For many, these trips offer a rare opportunity to view wildlife in a non-conflict situation.

Our first trip focused on taking some of the teachers and pupils from the local primary school on a game drive into the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

The first time we spotted an elephant it happened to be browsing next to the Elephants for Africa research camp, outside one of our tents. After being asked whether we were too scared to go to bed at night as would they not eat our tents and us, we explained that by giving them the respect they deserve by staying in our tents and remaining quiet, the elephants were likewise very respectful and simply ignored us making us feel completely safe.

The next day, we swapped our school pupils for members of the farming community whom EfA work alongside. One member on this trip, Mma Malaita, has lived in the Khumaga region all her life. She provides for her home by tending the fields and crops, while her husband looks after a small number of cattle and goats. With her fields situated only a few kilometres from the banks of the Boteti River, she has only ever witnessed elephants marching through the community lands threatening to destroy months of her hard work and has never seen them beyond the boundary fences of the National Park so this was an important experience for her.

Mma Malaita sat in the front row of the game view vehicle, with the pair of binoculars we had provided her with, which she quickly made use of, as once in the park we found a group of elephants at the river bed.

The local farmers enjoying the wildlife

The local farmers enjoying the wildlife

Youngsters were playfully splashing in the water while others engaged in mud throwing and messily drinking from their trunks. These boys were just having a lazy relax at the river, appearing to enjoy the company of their fellows. One farmer exclaimed at how friendly they were towards each other, noting that they had trunks wrapped over each other’s backs and tusks were being gently locked into half-hearted tussles. No one could stifle a laugh when one young bull accidently slid down the muddy bank on his hind knees. The general discussions revolved around how much like a family these animals behaved (even though we weren’t watching a familial group).

Although such encounters will not remove the fear and anxiety that farmers feel when elephants are on their side of the boundary, providing them with these encounters that show other sides of their behaviour help them to rationalise and identify with them. They couldn’t wait to get home and share their experiences of the day with their families, and for once they would be able to talk about elephants in a positive and non-conflict manner, in such stark contrast to the norm.

These trips provide a safe and fun way in which community members can view the wildlife that they reside alongside, and we see that as key to ensuring long-term coexistence between them. Help us raise the funds to ensure that we can continue providing these educational trips, as well as running other mitigation measures to ensure safety and prosperity for people and wildlife alike.

This year Botswana celebrated 50 years of independence; continuation of our work is vital in ensuring that African elephants are still alive and flourishing in Botswana in another 50 years. So, we are gearing up to expand our Education Programme even further, recruiting a local Education Officer to deliver much needed and requested workshops to talk about issues of safety and sustainability that come with living around the national park.

So here is how your donation can help make this happen:

  • £20 – A pair of child-friendly binoculars
  • £50 – Teacher trip to the National Park
  • £100 – 1 environmental club member EleFun weekend to the national park
  • £200 – Delivery of a ‘Living with Wildlife’ workshop to the community

 

Please visit our fundraising page at BT Donate

https://mydonate.bt.com/events/festivefundraiser2016

 

Also, before you stampede off to do your Christmas shopping, consider shopping online instead. Not only could it make Christmas shopping easier but you could be raising money for Elephants for Africa at no extra cost to you. Simply register at www.easyfundraising.org.uk, select Elephants for Africa as your chosen charity and every time you make a purchase at one of the thousands of online retailers we receive a donation.

For Christmas gift ideas please visit the Elephants for Africa website at www.elephantsforafrica.org to view our merchandise including the great stocking filler Elephant Hand Puppet, our official 2017 Calendar and our beautiful selection of Christmas Cards and Books.

 We wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support of Elephants for Africa and to wish you a very Merry Festive Season and a Happy New Year.

easyfundraising

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The Return of the Boteti – by Hayley Blackwell 12 Oct 2016 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/the-return-of-the-boteti-by-hayley-blackwell-12-oct-2016/ Wed, 12 Oct 2016 17:00:26 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=2954 When I first arrived in the Makgadikgadi Pans in June, the Boteti River, the only permanent natural water source in the whole national park, had stopped […]

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When I first arrived in the Makgadikgadi Pans in June, the Boteti River, the only permanent natural water source in the whole national park, had stopped flowing. Usually, at the start of the dry season, the rains that fell in Angola during the rainy season work their way southwards, filling the Okavango Delta, whose

Dry dusty riverbed

Dry dusty riverbed

floodwaters overflow into the Boteti’s channel. This means that, remarkably, the river is at its highest level during the dry season. However, this year was different. The rains have been particularly poor here over the past two years, and as such the Boteti had almost dried up completely. Week by week I watched as the amount of water reduced, and the pools got steadily smaller and shallower. Large areas of the river bed became dry and parched, every blade of grass grazed to the ground by large herbivores, turning the landscape dusty and barren.

It is not the first time that this has happened. In 1989 the Boteti dried up and did not flow properly again for the next 20 years. With the return of the river came an influx of male elephants re-colonizing the area,

The river returning

The river returning

which was one of the main reasons why Elephants for Africa (EfA) relocated from the Delta to the Makgadikgadi in 2012. This year, as the amount of water, decreased so did the numbers of elephants that we were seeing on our research sessions. Some days we would drive for five hours and not see a single individual! We waited and waited for the floodwaters to reach us, but there were rumours that we would not see them at all this year and we began to worry that we were at the start of another dry spell that could potentially last for many years. If this were the case, would the elephants leave the park for good? And what then for the future of our research?

Finally, at the beginning of August, we heard the news that we had all been waiting for. The river had reached Motopi, a village around 55km upstream of Khumaga and the EfA camp. We were excited and hopeful that this meant we would see the Boteti again this year after all. Yet it had taken a long time for the waters to flow from Maun to Motopi, so we didn’t expect the river to reach us for at least another few weeks, and we were mindful that there may not be a lot of water. But it was better than nothing.

How wrong we were! Less than two weeks later, on 19th August, I was out in the park doing a research

Elephant playtime

Elephant playtime

session with Gape and Emily when we received a message from project manager Jess: the river was back! As we were yet to see any elephants that day, we took the decision to abandon the session and rushed to hippo pools, ahead of the oncoming water. I am so glad we did. The whole EfA team spent a wonderful afternoon following the river as it steadily made its way along the western edge of the national park. Everyone was in high spirits as we stood at the very end of the mighty Boteti, dipping our toes into the cool, advancing water and watching as the landscape was transformed before our eyes. We weren’t the only ones relieved to see the return of the river – as we stood there, zebra and wildebeest came streaming down the banks and plunged into the water, wading birds paddled in the shallows and a group of elephants came running to the water’s edge to drink.

The return of the river has created a few logistical challenges – we are no longer able to drive out of the park into Khumaga village to carry out our education and human-elephant conflict mitigation work with the local community. The narrow, shallow stretch of water that we used to drive across is now too deep for the cars. However, at the beginning of this year, EfA became the proud owners of a small boat, thanks to funds raised by Susan Lees and her “In the Footsteps of Elephants” art exhibition. Unfortunately, as the river took somewhat less time than we were expecting to reach the park, the boat was still parked in a yard in Maun when the waters arrived! After a quick trip into town to collect it we were able to take to the water, and have been busy practicing how to pole our way across the river. Learning to control the boat has been a lot of fun, but definitely more difficult than I expected. We have not quite mastered navigating in a straight line yet, but we usually reach our destination eventually!

The Boteti River at sunset

The Boteti River at sunset

Since then the Boteti has continued to get wider and deeper. Thankfully the numbers of elephants that we see in the park are increasing, and it never fails to make me smile when we see them splashing and frolicking in the water. The hippos, once confined to the aptly named hippo pools, can now roam further afield, and we often hear them wallowing and grazing at the edge of our camp at night. Green grass shoots are starting to spring up all along the edge of the river and great swathes of aquatic plants are blooming, adding colour to the landscape. The trees alongside the river are also growing new, green leaves, and the camel thorn and apple leaf trees are beginning to flower. The zebra and wildebeest have returned to the river front in much greater numbers, as have a huge array of bird species. With summer just around the corner, the river has brought life back to the Makgadikgadi!

 

 

The post The Return of the Boteti – by Hayley Blackwell 12 Oct 2016 appeared first on Elephants For Africa.

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Bots50 – Celebrating 50 Years of Independence in Botswana – By Hayley Blackwell 08 Oct16 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/bots50-celebrating-50-years-of-independence-in-botswana-by-hayley-blackwell-08-oct16/ Sat, 08 Oct 2016 19:14:50 +0000 http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/?p=2938 This year Botswana is celebrating 50 years of independence, and preparations had been taking place all year leading up to Independence Day itself on 30th September. […]

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This year Botswana is celebrating 50 years of independence, and preparations had been taking place all year leading up to Independence Day itself on 30th September. Formerly a protectorate of Great Britain, Botswana (or Bechuanaland as it was then known) was granted its independence in 1966, and formed a democratic government to take the country forward. Celebrating its independence is an important event for Batswana. Masego and I were lucky enough to be able to represent Elephants for Africa (EfA) and participate in the celebrations in Khumaga, the village on the opposite side of the river from our research camp where we carry out the majority of our education and human-wildlife coexistence work.

The celebrations in the village began on Monday 26th September with dance competitions, an athletics competition on the 27th, followed by the football, volleyball and netball competitions on the 28th. A few

Members of the East Meets West netball team, with Masego and Hayley in the middle

Members of the East Meets West netball team, with Masego and Hayley in the middle

weeks ago Masego and I joined one of the local netball teams and had been training hard for the Independence tournament. We named ourselves the “East Meets West” netball team, as we live on the eastern side of the Boteti river, inside the national park, and our teammates live on the western side. Our first match was against a team made up of the teachers from Khumaga Primary school, government officials and staff from Desert and Delta Safaris (DDS), who work at a local tourist lodge. It was a close match, with first one team taking the lead, then the other. However, in the final quarter our opponents surged ahead, beating us with a final score of 44-36. The next match of the day was between the teacher/DDS team and another team made up of Khumaga villagers, including the wife and eldest daughter of our EfA Community Officer, Mankind. We gladly took a rest under the shade of a large tree, and watched as the teacher/DDS team triumphed once again, making them the overall champions. With the temperature rising to almost 40°C, we took our places for the final match, a play-off for second place. Both teams fought hard, but when the final whistle blew East Meets West were in the lead 28-22. Second place – not too bad considering the last time I played netball was in my school PE lessons about 7 years ago!

khumaga villagers enjoying the celebrations in the kgotla

Khumaga villagers enjoying the celebrations in the kgotla

The next day we crossed the river once more and gathered at the Kgotla – the village administrative centre – for more celebrations. There were speeches about the history of Botswana and all its tribes, and lots of singing and dancing as members of each tribe performed traditional songs. In the afternoon we were served a meal of fermented sorghum porridge cooked in hard melon, with cooked sorghum grains and ground beef – foods often served at gatherings in Botswana. Then it was time for the singing competition, as different choirs took to the floor to perform their interpretation of a set song in front of a panel of judges. The

Dancers performing Kwasakwasa dancing

Dancers performing Kwasakwasa dancing

Kgosi (village chief) invited Masego and I to join him on the raised seating area at the front, so we had a great view of the proceedings. Everyone was in high spirits, and even Mankind and the Kgosi couldn’t resist getting up and dancing to the lively music!

In the evening everyone gathered at the community hall for the Miss Independence Beauty Pageant, which Masego and I had been invited to judge along with a village gent. We were shown to our seats at a table on a stage at the front of the hall, and all of the participants paraded in front of us, first as a group and then individually. There were three categories: Elders (36+), Youth (18-35) and Couples, and we had to mark each contestant on a variety of attributes such as their confidence, smile and presentation. Then we had to ask a question to the top 5 in each category, to find out their thoughts and opinions on topics such as how Botswana has changed over the past 50 years, which aspects of their culture have been lost, and what they think can be done to improve the lives of Batswana in the future. It was a fun evening, but everyone took the competition very seriously and it was very difficult to choose our winners. Eventually, we crawled into bed in the early hours of the morning, exhausted after a long day of festivities.

Finally, it was the day we had all been waiting for: Independence Day! The Kgotla was a sea of Blue, Black,

The village Kgosi (Chief)

The village Kgosi (Chief)

and White, the colours of the Botswana flag, and smiling faces as the entire village gathered together to celebrate this momentous occasion. As we arrived, President Khama’s official speech was being read out by a representative. But there was no time for us to relax, Masego and I had volunteered to be part of the catering committee, so soon we were hard at work preparing the food for the big feast. And when you have

The catering committee working their way through piles of butternuts

The catering committee working their way through piles of butternuts

a whole village to feed there is a lot of food to prepare! We were tasked with peeling a mountain of butternut squashes, then crushing packets and packets of biscuits to make the base of the cheesecake/trifle type dessert. I also had to go around collecting the huge bowls and buckets of jelly which had been distributed amongst the fridges of various people in the village.

In the afternoon we took a break from cooking to watch the DDS staff from Leroo Le Tau lodge performing a few songs, and the prize-giving ceremony, where all the winners and runners-up from the competitions over the previous few days were presented with their prizes. I was nominated by our netball team to go up on stage to accept our prize for second place in the netball tournament, along with our captain, Gabo. Then it was the moment we’d all been waiting for: the food!

Choir performing in the singing competition

Choir performing in the singing competition

Rice, samp, beef, goat meat, chicken, crushed butternuts, chackalacka, coleslaw and soup were dished out to the masses, washed down with a cup of specially prepared ginger drink, and followed by the dessert we had helped to prepare. Everyone went home tired but happy, with very full stomachs.

When I applied to become an elephant researcher in Botswana, I never in my wildest dreams expected it would involve judging beauty pageants, or cooking for an entire village. But everyone in Khumaga played a different role in the celebrations, and I think it is important that the EfA team support and integrate with our local community. As an outsider, I feel so privileged that the people of Khumaga have accepted me and allowed me to participate in their celebrations of this very important and historic event. I had an amazing few days getting to know many new people in the village, and experiencing the culture and traditions of Botswana. But most of all I enjoyed seeing so many smiling, friendly faces and people making me feel welcome and at home. Here’s to the next 50 years Botswana!

 

 

5-hayley-with-just-some-of-the-cooking-pots-used-to-prepare-the-independence-day-feast

Hayley with just some of the cooking pots used to prepare the Independence Day feast

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