Elephants in the Backyard- What We Miss About Saving Elephants

“What would you know about it? You don’t have an elephant in your backyard!”

Comments like the one above rang out fast and furious this week as news that the newly elected government in Botswana was going to reopen the country to trophy hunting, fell like a bomb around the world.

Horrified conservationists and elephant lovers across the globe chimed in as #boycottbotswana trended on social media.

Photo D. Rutter Arte for Elephants

It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that a chasm as wide as the continent of Africa herself splits this issue into two wildly different camps.

On the one hand you have conservationists, biologists, animal/elephant lovers, eco tourists and academics who are, by and large, horrified at the prospect that the last safe haven for elephants on the face of the earth could be decimated by sport hunters.

On the other hand you have the farmers, villagers and ordinary people, who live their day to day lives with elephants and are citizens of a country that feels as though the world cares far more about elephants than about them.

It strikes me that we are basically dealing with two totally different elephants.

I am not talking about African Elephants vs. Asian Elephants or anything like that. I am talking about the way elephants are viewed in the west versus the way they are viewed in Africa (or Asia).

“Gentle Giants” seem to be the way most people I meet describe elephants.

To us, they are huge, friendly, empathetic, kindly, benign, sweet, a little bit like large, adorable pets. Such a view is reinforced by things like, attention starved celebrity Kim Kardashian, half naked and straddling a subdued elephant, or horrendously ignorant tourists, “romping’ with wooly headed, infant Asian elephants at tourist traps.

Elephants are cute! They are so very “Disney”.

Actually living next door to elephants, and you’d likely walk away with a very different view. To villagers, from Thailand to Botswana, elephants are pests, huge, hard to control pests at that. Elephants raid crops, go rogue, male elephants go on rampages, they use up resources, space and can wreck havoc, elephants kill.

As repugnant as this fear/irritation/negativity towards elephants may seem to us on the conservation side, it is a voice that absolutely must be listened to.