I write because 300 or so titans have been lost recently in Botswana, elephants that died not at the hand of man, to poachers, but to something just as insidious — irrevocable change in the climate of the world. Droughts used to be every 11 years in East Africa according to one Turkana elder in northern Kenya. Now they come every few years. Laibons, or medicine men who could gauge the weather didn’t tell their village if a drought was on the way, because they didn’t want to instill fear among the people. That was in the old days. It seems today we live on another planet.
Everything has changed since the coming of the white man. Indeed, everything has changed in the last 100 years, perhaps irrevocably. That is why elders call this time the “noisy time” or the “deaf time,” because the children don’t listen to the elders, hence the “time of confusion.”
We don’t yet know what killed the elephants and many have ruled out poachers because the elephants maintained their tusks. But humanity has been influencing the climate a lot as of late. Southern Africa went through an enormous drought last year which includes Botswana. Botswana, you bear an enormous responsibility and a confidence unique on Earth, to maintain and care for the greatest concentration of elephants anywhere on the planet. This is a treasure and a wealth, no other country on earth can match.
Many have said that there are too may elephants concentrated in one area. That they are being overwhelmed. Some elephants may have come from Angola since the civil war there ceased after almost 30 years of conflict after independence from Portugal. Others may have escaped the mayhem of Mugabe’s regime on the other side of Botswana in Zimbabwe, elephants being migratory. In the last decade elephants underwent a calamity since 130,000 or so were lost at the hand of man for ivory, in one of the most insane massacres ever inflicted on another species. Will their minds, their souls ever be at peace?
Photo credit: Lysander Christo
I know you have had a change of policy recently and you believe that some trophy hunting should be allowed, 400 a year. At what cost to the greater population? What trauma are the elephants and the family structure of elephants to inherit from our inhumanity and barbarity? There has been evidence of poaching in your country. It is known that drought can cause cyanobacteria growths which can induce weakness, difficulty in breathing, liver toxins, convulsions, and a platoon of neurological problems. The elephants are being stressed as never before.
I do not speak as a biologist or a chemist or an expert. I write because years ago my wife and I were moved by your country unlike anything other in Africa. We spent time with the Bushmen who are your first people, the world’s oldest genetic group. We witnessed their trance dance, the oldest cultural ritual on earth that goes back 3,000 generations and heard stories of the time when humans and lions had a truce. That truce may have been broken in the last few generations, but I hope humanity will ultimately find a way to cohabit with these ineffable and irreplaceable predators so that both species, somehow, find a way to live alongside each other.
A remarkable story comes from a great Tswana guide, Gee who once came across some lion cubs years ago when he was a young man. He had been walking in the grass, and hadn’t seen the cubs in front of him. His father had always told him that if he were to find lion cubs in the grass, to freeze, because the mother was sure to be nearby. The mother lion saw him from thirty feet away, ran towards him, and then stopped on a dime, put her paws on his chest, smelled him for a few seconds, as if examining his intentions, sensed no aggression, no hormones to indicate that he was a threat, a killer or would be trophy hunter and came back down on the ground and returned to her cubs.
Stories of elephants helping humans have bewildered us in the past and we have learned how indebted we should all be to elephants. But today the climate is overturning ecosystems and changing soil chemistry, which humanity has very little regard for and seemingly no control over. Storms followed by droughts can cause algal blooms in water. Thirsty elephants drink water from these waterholes and animals can get ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which affects the control of the voluntary nerves used in walking. Very possibly the elephants drank water poisoned by the smallest of villains. In the changing climate of heat stress and drought, we have altered the chemistry of the world and all life is paying the price.
I ask on behalf of concerned people, animal lovers, conservationists and especially children everywhere, for their future, if Botswana cannot rethink its trophy hunting policy. The safari clubs should reconsider their priorities because at some point there could be a major die off of elephants, and humanity will be powerless to stop it. If thousands were to die how would we respond? What measures could we, would we be able to take? We would be incapacitated, powerless to stop the damage. When it comes to the future of the greatest being walking the planet, political disputes and personal gain have to be taken off the negotiating table. It is a far too perilous time for that.
Nature has alerted us to a threat beyond anything humans have ever had to contemplate. The number of elephants recently lost approximates the number Botswana would allow to be hunted and killed for so called sport. An international campaign to make up for lost revenue could more than make up for the money earned by slaughtering these great beings. More slaughter is not what the elephants need. The international community needs to step up and help Botswana in every way she can. Native people do come into conflict with elephants but surely the human wildlife conflict mitigation schemes can come into play.
Photo credit: Lysander Christo
Kenya has fewer than 30,000 elephants. You have more than four times as many. But Kenya has 20 times the population of Botswana and has prohibited hunting for two generations. Each and every elephant that can be saved is a step in the right direction. Poaching and terrorism have taken a terrible toll on Kenya’s wildlife in the past. Botswana has been largely spared these twin scourges but poaching is on the rise. What the elephants are telling us is that we should let nature take its course. If thousands need to die of natural causes, infections or disease, maybe that is nature’s way of regulating population. Elephants should be spared poaching and trophy hunting because that imposes an added dimension of imbalance and deceit from another species, ourselves. Let us find out what is happening and urge Botswana to go back to her former conservation policies of conserving elephants before they suffer a calamity none of us will ever be able to rectify or recuperate from.
There is a way to coexist but the temperature of the earth, it’s very metabolism will be the ultimate judge of whom survives or not. A small culprit, a virus invisible to all is also infecting our species. We should learn to be far more tolerant and sympathetic to other species being affected by a changing world, a world being relentlessly poisoned and ransacked by a species that is in short supply of respect and compassion for the miracle of life.
Whether they be seals dying in Alaska, or stranded whales all over the world, or 200,000 saiga antelopes falling fatally ill in Kazakhstan a few years ago, the world’s immune system is being impaired and is affecting animal life all over the world. Several thousand harbor seals died off the Dutch coast in 2002 and ultimately 30,000 seals in the waters off northern Europe. Between 1995 and 2018 there have been 36 die offs of marine mammals recorded, viruses being the main culprits. Otters, whales, sea lions, dolphins and even lobster have been hit especially hard. Since 1940 there have been 700 mass mortality events of either birds, mammals or fish.
Photo credit: Lysander Christo
Mass mortality events are on the rise. On land, Botswana’s elephants are just the latest example of something huge affecting life on Earth. Whether it is a virus or bacteria affecting their brains, after the recent massacre of tens of thousands of their kind in the 2010’s, elephants deserve better. If we don’t act now, there won’t be anything left to experience in the real world. If we are not very careful, the damage to the ecology will be irreparable. Going back to school will indeed be the last of our problems because we will have global systemic collapse of bioregions that will make school functionally obsolete. And maybe our civilization as well. It will be more important for children to learn how to grow potatoes than studying the periodic table.
Perhaps it is not too far gone to say that the scourge humanity is suffering derives from the war we have inflicted on animal life, the sin we have imposed on animals and the ecosystems they depend on everywhere. We have to change course, to save our own backs. Or else we will all perish. We owe it the children of humans and the non-human world to repair the chemistry and the atmosphere of the earth, so life on this planet can continue, so that children everywhere, human and non-human, actually have something to look forward to on this fragile and miraculous planet called Earth.
Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.