Botswana’s eastern Okavango panhandle, is a region where elephant and human populations are almost equal in number. For decades, the area has been a hotspot for human-elephant conflict. In 2020, the Elephant Express bus was launched to ferry children and healthcare workers across elephant corridors, in a bid to limit the risks to humans.
The results have been promising. Community members say the risks of getting trampled by elephants has fallen, while medical care access and school attendance have increased. Furthermore, fear and anxiety among locals has dropped.
Botswana is home to about 130,000 elephants. According to a report, he mammals were responsible for 67 human deaths between 2009 and 2019 – the highest number of victims caused by a wild animal in Botswana.
Two minibuses provided by the organisation Ecoexist now cover a stretch of 200km (124 miles) between 13 villages which lie at the tip of the Okavango river. Public transport is a rarity there. Settlements are far from services such as schools and hospitals, meaning the buses have an added benefit.
Ecoexist’s first identified the elephants’ paths along certain corridors, as they move into the Delta to access water. This was done by monitoring elephant movements, conducting ground surveys, interviewing villagers and collecting indigenous knowledge, which was used to pin point locations where elephant corridors intersect with a gravel road that links all the villages together. These spots were marked in an effort to minimise pedestrian encounters with elephants and then the best bus routes were decided.
An estimated 25 elephants are killed in conflicts every year in this area. By bringing together farmers, scientists, village leaders, policy makers and business people, Ecoexist aims to create solutions to reduce human-elephant conflict. The Elephant Express is one of these solutions.