Be Our Guest: Humility and Human-Animal Co-existence

BY: VERONICA HORVATH

 Photo by: Veronica Horvath

Photo by: Veronica Horvath

In the last few weeks, news has broken that over 90 elephants were poached for their ivory in Botswana, which is unprecedented and has happened directly after the President decommissioned the anti-poaching division.

 

Right now, my profile picture is with one of these poachers’ possible future victims, a rescued juvenile from the region where the recent poaching event occurred. My phone also bleeds with nostalgia from July, when I had the honor to meet ex-Toronto Zoo elephant, Cathy, and a whole group of rescued elephants. One of the charismatic youngsters, Naledi, even has her own film on Netflix!

 

This summer, I studied alongside a group of students from London and Sydney with ASU to study in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the last free flowing river basins in the world, renowned biodiversity hotspot, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

Our group in the Delta was a mosaic of intellectual backgrounds and cultural heritages. That mosaic melted together the minute we got in the bush plane from Maun and crossed the wildlife fence. By that time, we all shared something highly unique: we became guests in our environment.

 

It is hard to imagine in an age of cell phones, modern science, and megacities that we as humans are here to share our time here on earth alongside well-loved megafauna like elephants and lions, but also the lesser adored dragonflies and grasses.

 

When I got news about the poaching, I felt compelled to change my profile photo, because it felt like I was reducing that elephant’s resilient life journey into something zoo-like. Visiting with the Abu Camp’s rescue elephants was one of the most existentially humbling moments of my life and represents a small sliver of what it feels like to be a guest in my environment. I think we could all use a little more of that in our world these days. So, I aim to spread the word about the amazing researchers, conservationists, and wildlife managers I had the opportunity to meet while in Botswana. 

 

My newfound colleagues dedicate their lives debunking human-animal conflict and encourage pathways to co-existence.  Elephants Without Borders (EWB) were our gracious hosts in the Delta, especially Dr. Tempe Adams, who has dedicated her life to researching elephants and improving elephant-human co-existence.

 

 Photo by: Veronica Horvath

Photo by: Veronica Horvath

EWB and the Paul G. Allen Foundation completed the first Pan-African Elephant Census, which has shown that there are sharp declines in elephant populations on the entire continent.

 

While we can’t all dedicate our lives to fieldwork and on-the ground advocacy, we can do more. From reducing single-use plastic to educating ourselves about this complex, beautiful world we live in, I think most people would be shocked to understand the extent humans have impacted our earth, the creatures that live here too, and those who may not make it with us.

Consuming and digesting news media is insufficient to address our world’s “wicked problems,” but taking actionable steps can help, one step at a time. What’s the actionable step you took today? This week? This year? 

Take a step outside your comfort zone and don’t forget to walk, not run, when you share your camp with leopards and elephants. #LessonsfromtheOkavango

 

To learn more about EWB’s amazing work and about elephants in Africa, check out the movie Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale.

 

As one of the only organizations of its kind, EWB conducts urgent and meaningful work. They also work with other non-profit organizations and local policy-makers for the good of both animals and humans, in Botswana and beyond. Consider donating to their cause. 

 

Note: This piece is written as an informative op-ed for Arizona State University’s Sustainability Review and does not reflect the opinions or policies of Elephants Without Borders