I wanted to make a post especially for summarizing what I learned while I was in Africa. I want to share these things because I think they are important, but they are also my most cherished souvenir. I learned practical things but also some things about myself. If I was to break it up I would have to say that the first two weeks I learned a lot of important things about Africa that I had misconceptions about before. But over the second two weeks I learned more about myself.
I learned a lot about conservation in Africa while I was in Masebe. Issues there are all pretty complicated because of a couple of reasons; both the humans and the wildlife demand a lot of space and don’t necessarily get along very well and a lot of the world has opinions about what should be done regardless of whether the information they have is correct.
Many of the communities that have to deal with the wildlife on a daily basis are very poor and many of them need livestock or land to make a living and feed their families. Conflict arises when the wildlife in the area start interfering with their ability to make a living through those means. For example, if there is a leopard in the area and it has started to kill their livestock, in order to keep their family from starving these people have no choice but to trap or hunt that leopard, whether or not it’s legal. One way they can fix this issue is by putting up fences. In my experience with fences in Montana they are mostly a problem because it creates barriers in migration routes. In Africa this is a problem as well, but there are other benefits to the fences that may outweigh the negatives. Fences in this environment serve many purposes and in most people’s eyes they see them as a good thing. Fences keep the wildlife out of communities, and with all the dangerous wildlife this is a pretty important function, they also help keep people out of wildlife spaces, especially in the case of poachers. The fences are also quite fortified compared to fences I was used to and it’s because they are meant to be more permanent barriers than the fences we have in Montana.
Although the fences can fix issues for communities, such as elephants eating all their crops or lions eating their livestock, they also create issues for a lot of wildlife in the process. How many elephants do you think there are in Kruger right now? 1000? 100? Too few? There are over 20,000 elephants in Kruger National Park today, which is triple the carrying capacity, or how many elephants Kruger can sustainably hold. (http://www.krugerpark.co.za/krugerpark-times-23-elephant-numbers-18006.html). I was shocked to find this out, I was pretty confident that African elephants were having a hard time. The media has falsely advertised the problem of African elephants, there aren’t too few, there are way too many. The real problem is what to do with these animals. Part of the reason that they are so over populated is because they are confined to one space thanks to fences. There are many advocates of tearing down fences to connect national parks all over Africa. There are other projects in place to help control their population like the implementation of contraceptives for female elephants. Then of course there’s the thing no one wants to talk about, culling. The fact of the matter is that culling may be the only way to bide enough time right now to come up with a better solution before the environment is totally altered by the over population, but officials are afraid to make that decision because the media would explode with negativity if they did. People would be irate – how could they kill these animals in cold blood?
Each solution comes with severe pros and cons. I saw the effects of these animals first hand while I was in Kruger. Elephants are destructive, the eat by knocking down trees to get to the fruit and leaves at the top. We drove through some spaces that were nothing but pushed over trees. The trunks were torn and the tree was dead. I don’t envy the person who is in the position to have to make this decision right now. If you take down fences you risk poaching and conflict with people, if you choose contraceptives you are going to have to spend a lot of time and money as it isn’t easy to administer a drug to a four ton animal, and if you choose culling you will have to face an onslaught of angry people who don’t really understand the issue. I don’t know what the right answer is, but it’s something I know I will be thinking about for a long time.
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“Africa In My Blood” is actually the title of a book I read a few years ago. It was an autobiography written in letters about Jane Goodall, one of my biggest idols. In one of the first letters she wrote home after she arrive in Africa for the beginning of her incredible work with chimpanzees she wrote, “…on the whole I am living in the Africa I have always longed for, always felt stirring in my blood.” This quote resonated in me when I read the book, but it held a whole new and deeper meaning for me while I was in Africa myself. I felt a strong calling there that I haven’t felt before, and I am certain I will be back one day. I also learned that I actually do love to travel, given this was my first trip out of the country I wasn’t sure how I would take to it. I learned that I love the sky from caving and I also love the ground from scuba diving (seasickness). I learned that I can be adventurous and I can do lots of amazing things if I just go for it. I also learned how to travel responsibly and that it’s important to look into the organizations you travel with if you want to make a positive impact in a new place. I inadvertently made a good decision with ISV, they are very environmentally conscious and all of the activities we did, especially those that involved interacting with animals, were done with the utmost respect for the culture and the environment.
This trip was just incredibly enriching and it both filled and fueled a need to see the world and do good in every aspect of my life. I can’t wait to go on my next trip where ever that may be and I know I will carry the lessons I learned from this trip with me for the rest of my life.