Abrahamwas the first to offer
his views at the
He also was collecting
signatures to get on the ballot for a new ward
councilor seat, but for a budding politician he
minced no words. Compensation should be of-
fered when
are killed, not just livestock,
he argued. He questioned the usefulness of re-
search, of someone coming from outside when
problems are already known. But toward the
end of his comments, he relented a bit; “I will
be happy if you take my view to government,”
he concluded.
She is wasting my time,” commented an
old woman quietly.
Research is for nothing,” added a young
man seated near her.
Tshenyo, a commercial farmer whose plot is
next to Kgopa’s, was angry. White people only
come when an elephant dies, not a person, he
said. “It is not for you to be here. The minister
should be here. The government does not need
you to tell them what is happening. They al-
ready know. You should see what is happening
at my place,” he said bitterly.
I would like very much to see your farm,” I
replied. “Will you show it to me?”
He looked taken aback and vaguely pleased
at the same time. That afternoon, we walked
past mangled fence poles and over crushed
maize plants.
I have loans to pay; this is my business.
What can I do?” he asked, echoing his
Most of his crops were intact, but even his
electric fence did not protect everything. With
s assistance, he had hung strips of cloth
soaked in oil and ground chili peppers on his
fence to burn; the smoke irritates elephants’
sensitive olfactory systems.
It doesn’t work,” he said plaintively. If the
wind blows the wrong way, or if the smell is
not intense enough, or if it isn’t done every day,
the effect is lost.
Elinah does not look nearly her
years. She has a quiet demeanor, not quite
shy, but with a tendency toward waiting to feel
out an unfamiliar person before saying too
much. At first she spoke only Setswana. Later,
it became clear that her English was more than
up to the task of talking about being a single
mother with four kids trying to protect her
family from elephants.
Standing in her garden on the edge of
Kazungula, she pointed to flattened maize stalks
from the last time elephants had entered her yard.
The midday sun glinted off the rectangular pieces
of corrugated tin she had stuck into her fence; a
sudden flash of light sometimes scares elephants
away at night. She indicated an ashen pile: “After
last time I burned it. I burned my garden so they
don’t come,” she said. “And my kids, some days
they don’t go to school. They can’t walk out when
the elephants are here.”
In some ways Elinah is fortunate; she bought
her own plot last June and built a small house on
it to save renting two small rooms for five people.
But living with elephants has increased her vul-
nerability in other ways. Available plots are scarce,
and Elinah’s is among the most recently allocated
pieces of land in a forested area popular with el-
ephants but without running water or electricity.
Elinah carries large plastic containers back and
forth from the nearest standpipe to get water, a
dangerous endeavor when elephants are also on
the road where she must walk. “Sometimes, we
just stay thirsty,” she said.
A neighbor of Elinah’s tries to make a living
selling seedlings, but elephants like to break off
and eat the tops of the young trees before she can
sell them. I asked if she has reported her prob-
lems to
She replies, “Ah, but they say, you
are the ones who followed the elephants here.
What did you think was going to happen?”
There is an old Indian fable inwhich
blind men are asked to describe an elephant. Each
touches a different part of the creature, and by
turns they say they feel a pillar, or a rope, or a tree
branch, or a wall. In some versions of the story
the men fight over who is right, but in others they
are all correct, depending on which part of the
creature they touched.
Trying to discern what had happened to the
elephants in Kazungula was like acting out a ver-
sion of this story: One of Tshenyo’s farmworkers
said that when the elephants were shot they were
by the gate to Kgopa’s fence. But one of Kgopa’s
assistants asserted they were on Tshenyo’s side,
to 40 meters away. Meanwhile, wildlife officers
remain frustrated by repeated incidents on both
farms, and conservationists continue to cham-
pion Botswana’s hunting ban and push for the
protection of more space for elephants.
Sitting near a standpipe waiting for water to
come out one morning, Abraham observed: “You
know, our parents stayed here with elephants,
too. We like the elephants. We don’t want to kill
them, but government must put something be-
tween us and them.”
I thought about how differently everyone
around me understood the allocation of space—
for people, for elephants, for crops, for tourists.
The blind men in the story were asked, “What
is the elephant like?” Their answers depended
on which part of the great beast they touched.
In Kazungula, it seems, the answers depend on
what part of the elephant is experienced—and
how close it comes to home and livelihood.
Rachel DeMotts is AndrewW.
Mellon Associate Professor of
Global Environmental Politics
at Puget Sound. She spent the
academic year on sab-
batical as an affiliated researcher
with Elephants Without Borders, an NGO based in
Kasane, Botswana.
Professor DeMotts will give the annual Phi Beta
Kappa Magee Address on Oct. 8 at 4:30 p.m. on
campus in Trimble Forum. Her talk is called “The
Elephants of Our Imagination.”
Reports of conflicts
between people
and elephants have
multiplied, and not
just in remote villages.
Kazungula is about five
kilometers outside of
Kasane, a small town
best known for riverfront
hotels offering easy
access to neighboring
Chobe National Park.
Elephants are regularly
seen at the garbage
dump, on the main
road, near the airport
runway, and at the only
traffic light in town.