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Promoting coexistence of wildlife and people

Straddling the borders of five Southern African countries – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – the world largest terrestrial conservation area – Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) is a globally significant landscape where more than half of the remaining African savannah elephants share space with an estimated 2.5 million people.

Creation of a conducive environment where both nature and people can thrive, and mitigation of human wildlife conflict is part of the high-level aspirations of the five KAZA TFCA Partner States. Of the five Partner States,

Representative of the Life With Elephants Tour Group receiving a certificate of incorporation from Ecoexist Trust Director Dr. Anna Songhurst (left) during a recent meeting held in Eretsha village.

Botswana harbors the largest population of the African savannah elephants, and it is not surprising that Eastern Okavango Panhandle in Northern Botswana is among the human wildlife conflict hotspots in KAZA region.

Ecoexist Trust, a Botswana non-governmental organization whose mission is to “support the lives and livelihoods of people who share space with elephants,” is one of the organizations at the forefront in addressing human wildlife conflict in Eastern Okavango Panhandle.

The non-governmental organization is part of the implementing team under the Dutch Postcode Lottery €16.9 million Dreamfund project grant led by the WWF, PPF and African Parks consortium. Operating in the in the Eastern Okavango Panhandle, the organization is implementing interventions aimed at securing wildlife corridors, promoting climate change resilience, facilitating communities’ participation in land use planning, mitigating human wildlife conflict, and enhancing livelihoods of the local communities.

As part of the human wildlife mitigation interventions, Ecoexist Trust has been promoting the adoption of cluster fencing concept where several farmers with adjacent fields form a cooperative group to create what is termed a “cluster field” and have their fields or cluster fenced with support implementing partners. The overall objective is to exclude wild animals from arable land and to secure livelihoods through enhanced productivity. Crop damage as a result of elephant raids is a key reason for negative attitudes against elephants. Gando Cluster Field Committee Chairperson Mr. Maphane Seyayo, is one of the villagers excited about the positive impact of cluster fencing initiative.

“We used to endure frequent crop raids by the elephants and through this initiative, we are positive that our fields will be secured and in the process food security will be greatly enhanced,” said Mr. Seyayo. Spurred by the positive feedback on the cluster field fencing concept in the Eastern Okavango Panhandle, Ecoexist Trust and its cooperating partners have set their sights on upscaling the initiative and developing a scheme that can be replicated in other communities on the Botswana component of the KAZA TFCA.

Gando cluster field, Eastern Okavango Panhandle

“It is something we definitely would love to see being scaled up. Obviously, there is the critical need to firstly consider appropriate allocation in an integrated land use planning approach, to avoid impacting critical movement pathways – that’s the key: strategic planning of cluster field location, allowing wildlife to still access key resources on well used paths, and there are so many different policies and legislation in the different KAZA countries that requires adoption in a way that is appropriate for each country. But of course, there is huge potential there,” said Ecoexist Trust Director Dr. Anna Songhurst.

While most of the villagers’ fields in the Eastern Okavango Panhandle are now secure from the raids, the elephants still pose a danger to the lives of school children who walk through elephant corridors on their way to school.

As part of response to concerns raised by some villagers regarding safety of the school children, Ecoexist Trust with funding support from cooperating partners, is set to undertake a feasibility study towards the expansion of “Elephant Express Buses” in some parts of the Botswana component of KAZA TFCA.

“Elephant Express Buses” will provide transport across elephant corridors for school children to increase their safety around elephants and in the process promote coexistence of people and wildlife.

The proposed expansion of the concept follows the successful roll out of the Elephant Express Buses in the Eastern Okavango Panhandle and the positive feedback from communities where the buses are in operation.

“Through the new funding that we are going to be getting from Germany Development Bank (KfW) through the KAZA Secretariat, has a provision to support the operations of these buses and carrying out of a feasibility study on how to replicate this Elephant Express Buses model, in a sustainable, as a way of addressing human-elephant conflict in other areas,” Dr. Anna Songhurst highlighted.

Eretsha village in the Eastern Okavango Panhandle provides a perfect example of human wildlife coexistence. Back in 2014 a group of men and women from the village established a community-based company Life With Elephants Tour company to showcase their landscape to tourists and tell stories of how they coexist with elephants.

Since its formation, Life With Elephants Tour Group has proved to be a perfect testimony of the potential of tourism industry to create jobs, contribute to poverty-alleviation as well as social and economic inclusion of vulnerable groups. This resonates with one of the objectives of the KAZA TFCA Master Integrated Development Plan (MIDP) on unlocking economic opportunities for communities living side by side with wildlife.

Apart from securing connectivity of free-roaming elephants between protected areas and communal areas, Ecoexist Trust and the other Dreamfund Project partners, are also keen to ensure that there is increased flow of benefits to communities in line with the KAZA Partner States’ aspiration to achieve a conservation-led development.

By fostering coexistence of nature and people, the five KAZA TFCA Partner States have demonstrated to the world their resolve to sustainably manage the landscape’s ecosystem, its heritage and cultural resources based on best conservation and tourism models for the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities in the region.

Based on the positive impact of the human wildlife conflict mitigation strategies and the livelihoods development initiatives being implemented by Ecoexist in the Eastern Okavango Panhandle, there is a promising future for people living in the KAZA TFCA region.