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Botswana’s elephant saving community

In November 2023, Pelorus Foundation had the pleasure of meeting with Debra Stevens from our new local project partner, Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation. Together we discussed wildlife conservation in Botswana and how it relates to the livelihoods of the local community.

Empowering the Community through Elephant Conservation

Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation, located in Botswana, Africa, is the only Elephant orphanage in the country that offers high-quality tailored care to abandoned and orphaned elephants. They are testament to the power of collaboration between non-profit organisations, local communities, and governments in wildlife conservation.

Their mission is to protect and preserve African elephants while building healthy communities. Together with local communities, they have made significant strides not only in safeguarding these majestic creatures but also in fostering strong community involvement while maintaining harmonious relations with the Botswana government.

At its core, Elephant Havens is committed to providing a nurturing habitat for elephants rescued from adverse situations, such as human-wildlife conflict, adverse climate conditions, fire, predation or habitat loss. Their dedication extends to the physical, emotional, and social well-being of these intelligent and sensitive animals, underscoring their mission to ensure holistic care and recovery.

Elephant Haven’s primary focus is on rescuing and rehabilitating young orphaned and abandoned elephants. By providing a safe haven, these elephants receive the necessary care and support to eventually reintegrate into the wild. This noble mission is underpinned by a deep understanding of the importance of elephants in the ecosystem and the threats they face, from human-wildlife conflict and the habitat loss that drives some of that conflict.

Elephant Havens actively rescues elephants from critical situations and employs a comprehensive approach to their rehabilitation, focusing on both physical health and psychological wellbeing. 

With an emphasis on research to enhance understanding of elephants, this knowledge is integrated into educational programmes aimed at increasing public awareness and responsibility towards wildlife conservation. Our local partners are dedicated to informing and engaging local students about conservation, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the preservation of African elephants and their habitats. This educational initiative is a fundamental aspect of their efforts to ensure long-term sustainability and community support for elephant conservation. Elephant Havens are also partnering with Colossal, a bioscience and genetics laboratory to develop technology-based strategies to establish a new model playbook for reintroducing orphan elephants back into the wild.

To better understand and preserve elephant populations, Colossal also sequences the genomes of orphans at Elephant Havens, and implements biobanking and genetic research for future generations. This partnership will be vital to the future of the conservation community, setting an entirely new precedent for species reintroduction.  

Recognising the interdependence of wildlife conservation and community well-being, our new local partner, Elephant Havens, engages with local communities to forge beneficial partnerships for both humans and elephants, promoting harmonious coexistence.

A key aspect of Elephant Havens’ success lies in its community-driven approach. Recognising the vital role local communities play in conservation, the organisation actively involves the community in its efforts. Co-founder Boago (“Bee”) Poloko explains how managing human-elephant conflict is a main part of their mission, and how communities have to benefit from the elephants. 

It’s a matter of working together with the community and identifying problems. One of the first things they noticed was how kidney issues were far too common and were, in part, attributable to, low quality drinking water. In response, the drilling of a safe, clean water borehole became their first community project. Supporting local livelihoods is also a key community priority, and Elephant Havens are training local women in the manufacture of elephant dung paper, which is sold commercially in lodges and other retail outlets. Elephant Havens also collaborates with the Ministry of Education and its local public primary schools to facilitate other successes like building school additions, supplying computers in order to establish computer labs in public primary schools,  or purchasing school buses (and supplying the fuel and drivers for them), to help transport children safely through elephant areas to attend school. These community initiatives underpin one of Elephant Havens’ beliefs, that children are the future of the community and ambassadors for conservation. 

This includes education programmes, which aim to raise awareness about elephant conservation and the broader environmental issues. By engaging with schools and community groups, Elephant Havens helps foster a sense of stewardship and connection to the wildlife that shares their land.

Moreover, their relationship with the Botswana government is a model for successful collaboration in conservation efforts. The Botswana government has endorsed the Elephant Havens business plan and Elephant Havens is careful to ensure that their initiatives align with national conservation strategies. This collaboration has proven to be a win-win for the public sector and private NGO, as well as in ensuring that their efforts are sustainable and beneficial to both elephants and the local communities.

Local people were in conflict with elephants, but now the community has become empowered by them. They know the elephants are not just animals to be chased out of villages and killed, but have helped to reap a real tangible benefit for the local communities.

Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation boasts significant achievements in its three stage process of first, rehabilitating and rearing the youngest. Then, once 4-5 years old, they move these orphans into a massive, protected, no human contact refuge pending, stage three, the ultimate release of these elephants. Their efforts have enabled once captive and traumatised elephants to rediscover their natural behaviours and form social bonds with other rescued elephants.

Sometimes their major successes do not involve the removal of a young elephant from the wild. One such case involved a young elephant in Botswana’s panhandle. The team, informed about an abandoned calf, promptly initiated a rescue operation. On finding the elephant, estimated to be 1-2 years old, they observed she was grazing and not under significant physical stress. As always the case where the danger is reduced, the team monitored her, hoping she could reconnect with her original herd or find another, as she still needed mother’s milk for nourishment.

Their strategy proved successful as the young elephant, under the team’s watchful guidance, eventually found and rejoined her herd. These sorts of events mark the different ways that Elephant Haven’s may successfully intervene  with a light touch and foster elephant conservation, while demonstrating capacity to effectively support young elephants through rescue and removal from the wild, or through reunion of lost calves with the wild herds. Such operations also help to illustrate the many ways that Elephant Havens can advance its work for elephant welfare and conservation. This versatility is something they believe is a real positive in their regular collaboration with Botswana wildlife authorities.

Elephant Haven’s work extends beyond immediate conservation efforts. It has become a catalyst for change. inspiring other conservation initiatives and serving as a model for how NGOs, communities, and governments can work together effectively for the greater good. Through its commitment to the elephants, dedication to community involvement, and strong government relations, they are not only saving a species but also paving the way for a more harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife.  We are delighted to partner with Elephant Havens to help ensure the ongoing delivering of this vital work.