Fostering Human-Elephant Coexistence
Through Ecoexist, an international conservation program she co-founded with elephant biologist Dr. Anna Songhurst and wetlands ecologist Dr. Graham McCulloch, Texas A&M anthropologist Amanda Stronza is working with nine graduate students and local and national community leaders in Botswana to mitigate conflicts between elephants and people.
In the Okavango Delta, elephants outnumber humans, and the two species compete for the same essential resources. More than 18,000 elephants roam through their native plains to get to water, often in places where people are planting fields, herding livestock and walking their children home from school. They follow the same distinct corridors as generations of elephants before them, but the rise of new human settlements and farmlands increasingly creates conflict.
Through rigorous data collection and close collaboration with the citizens and government of Botswana, the Ecoexist team has designed a holistic approach to reducing human-elephant conflict. Part of that approach is economic, explained Stronza. “We call it building an elephant economy, and it includes developing elephant-aware food and craft products, cultural events and community-based tours, which can generate benefits for people who live with elephants,” she said.
Other solutions include tracking elephants to better understand their seasonal movements, pathways and preferred habitats; working with local farmers to develop more resilient cropping strategies; lining fences with noisy cans to alert elephants when they’re encroaching on farmland; and large-scale socioeconomic planning and land use zoning.