Rewilding the Anthropocene

Work Package 4

The Elephant Assemblage

Work Package 4

The Elephant Assemblage

Elephants are perhaps the most contested, commented-upon, and researched wildlife species. As landscape architects, elephants have sizeable impacts on their surroundings. They damage gardens, threaten rural livelihoods, pave terrain for antelopes, and shape the vegetation over vast tracts of land.

In March 2021, the African savannah elephant was reclassified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Yet, despite the declining numbers, the loss and fragmentation of their habitat pushes elephants and humans closer together and exacerbates conflicts over natural resources. About half of Africa’s remaining savanna elephants live in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), whereby the density varies greatly from state to state. Northern Botswana is home to the largest proportion of KAZA’s elephant population. While their numbers are stable and attract tourists from all over the world, people living close to elephants often suffer from crop raiding and property damage. With the establishment of KAZA, the five member states Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe agreed on a strategic plan, to manage KAZA’s elephant population as a whole. In this way, a major step has been taken to improve wildlife connectivity and to allow the redistribution of elephants to less populated areas in Zambia and Angola.

The use of modern technologies such as satellite collars, camera traps, drones and aerial surveys helps the member states, NGOs and individual researchers to gain data about elephant populations, their migration routes and informs practices to reduce human-elephant conflict. First initiatives, like the removal of fences, and the establishment of wildlife corridors are practical results of these findings. The use of modern technology is changing and expanding conservation knowledge and practices, human-elephant relations and, lastly, also the lives of elephants and other species.

The elephant assemblage will take this interplay of elephants, humans and technologies into focus and look at the ways how modern technology changes transboundary elephant conservation in KAZA. This involves local communities, NGOs, elephants, but also international working groups such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the KAZA Elephant Specialist Group. The researcher will interview people directly engaged with elephants, those living most close to them, and spend time with scientists who track elephants, staffers at organizational headquarters, as well as participants in conservation meetings.

Three sets of questions are key for this work package:

  1. How does modern technology shape transboundary elephant conservation in KAZA?

  2. How are new conservation practices informed by the technologies and how are they accepted, received or challenged by those living close to elephants?

  3. How are the lives of elephants and that of entangled species changing?
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