By Jane Flanagan, The Times
A baby elephant found cowering in a rural Botswana town after being terrorised by drunken revellers has been adopted by a new herd at a sanctuary.
The female calf was two months old when she was filmed being mobbed, kicked and punched in the head outside a tavern, having become separated from her mother.
Her plight reflects an atmosphere of rising hostility in the country towards wildlife, and elephants in particular, according to conservationists. Video of a savage attack in which another young elephant was killed is also being widely shared on social media.
The female calf was recovered by an elephant charity from close to a truck stop near border posts with Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is thriving alongside other orphaned elephants after months of care by Elephants Without Borders.
Ross Harvey, a wildlife analyst, said that a crippling drought and the increasingly bellicose sentiments expressed by President Masisi about the country’s “nuisance . . . overpopulation” of elephants had provoked festering hostility.
When he came to power in 2018, Mr Masisi quickly overturned his predecessor’s strict elephant conservation policy and lifted a ban on hunting, which he argued would provide income to poor rural communities. Last year he gifted stools made from elephant feet to visiting African heads of state and railed against his critics in the West.
Mr Harvey said that Mr Masisi’s anti-elephant rhetoric had worsened in the run-up to elections at the end of last year when he was chasing votes in areas where residents complain that elephants terrorise villages and destroy crops and property.
“A lack of compassion towards wild animals, particularly elephants, in rural Botswana is nothing new, but elephants were closely protected under Ian Khama,” he said. “President Masisi’s language and tone have created an atmosphere of greater intolerance towards wildlife and there is more of an open season now.”
Debates about how to manage wildlife roaming alongside rising human populations in Africa are fraught. Incidents of conflict are increasing all over the continent.
Botswana, which is landlocked, is roughly the size of France, with a human population of 2.9 million and 30 per cent of Africa’s elephants. It has long been celebrated as an animal sanctuary, with a low poaching rate compared with its neighbours.
Africa’s elephant population has crashed over the past 50 years as a result of poaching, falling from more than one million in the Seventies to about 400,000 today.
Conservationists predict that in the future friction between humans and animals as they compete for land and water resources will pose a far greater threat to wildlife populations than poaching. The 22 countries with the highest birthrates are all in Africa and 20 of them are states where elephants roam. The exceptions are Burundi and the Gambia, where elephants have already become extinct.