Laws of the Bushveld

September 18, 2015 | Carolyn

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I was very fortunate last month to visit southern Africa. I saw animals and birds in environments ranging from the Namibian desert and the South African bushveld to the lush Chobe River in Botswana.

Leopard beside elephant carcass. Chobe National Park, Botswana

Leopard beside elephant carcass. Chobe National Park, Botswana

I knew we were going to see wild animals in their natural environments, yet I wasn't prepared for some of the harsh realities that we learned about and, sometimes, witnessed firsthand:

  • People kill animals. In Chobe National Park we came across the body of an elephant that had been shot, likely by a farmer. While commercial hunting is not permitted in Botswana, people can protect their property, crops and livestock from wildlife.
  • People are killed by animals. A few days after we left Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, a souvenir vendor was killed by an elephant. The following day, a guide leading a walking safari was killed by a lion in nearby Hwange National Park.
  • Animals kill animals. Not surprising, yet somehow I wasn't prepared for the sights and sounds involved. Most unsettling was learning (and hearing) that hyenas leave nothing uneaten - not even bones.

Interactions between humans and wildlife are inevitable. But the countries we visited are working to reduce the danger to both animals and people.

Rhinos in Greater Kruger, South Africa
Rhinos in Greater Kruger

As long as its horn sell for upwards of $70,000 US per kilo, the rhinoceros will remain the species most threatened by poaching. Conservationists are using technology to keep one step ahead of heavily-armed poachers. Rhinos are being fitted with "horn-cams" that switch on when an animal is stressed; police are dispatched by helicopter if they suspect poachers are in the vicinity. An organization called Air Shepherd is working with several countries in southern Africa to implement drone surveillance systems to combat rhino and elephant poaching.

Elephants in Greater Kruger
Elephants in Greater Kruger

While the value of their horns puts rhinos at the greatest risk from poachers, elephants are killed in the greatest numbers; according to a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), as many as 40,000 African elephants are killed each year to support the illegal ivory trade. National Geographic recently reported on its investigation of links between the ivory trade and armed groups in central Africa.

Another threat to wildlife populations in Africa occurs where human and animal habitats overlap. Farmers whose crops or herds are threatened by wildlife take steps to protect their livelihoods. Lions, leopards,cheetahs and hyenas can threaten livestock. In Namibia we learned about a conservation group  that is helping farmers learn to co-exist with these predators.                             

I feel privileged that I was able to see threatened and endangered animals in their natural habitats. I hope that conservation measures succeed in protecting them, both for the health of wondrous eco-regions such as the bushveld and so that future visitors will have the same opportunities I enjoyed.

Spotted hyena cubs in Greater Kruger
Spotted hyena cubs in Greater Kruger

If you're interested in learning more about the animals and eco-regions of southern Africa, have a look at some of these titles:   

The Biology of the African Savannahs

To learn more about the challenges facing wildlife and habitats in southern Africa:

Don't overlook magazines; they often contain great information:

National Geographic magazine, September 2015 issue BBC Wildlife magazine, April 2015 issue  
The September 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine has a cover story on the illegal trade in ivory. The spectacular photos in BBC Wildlife magazine will inspire would-be wildlife photographers.      

Here are a few other books about Africa I'm planning to read soon: 


Finally, I'm curious about The Okavango Macbeth. "Set in the Botswana Okavango Delta, it tells a story of the struggle for power among competing baboons in their matriarchal society". 

The Okavango Macbeth (CD and eMusic)



A gecko in the Namibian desert
A gecko in the Namibian desert