MANSFIELD: Save the Elephants? by Mansfield Frazier

Elephants are magnificent creatures that should be preserved at all costs, or at least virtually at all costs. But, however, not at the cost of causing the families of farmers in Botswana (where the majority of the herds left in Africa roam) to starve to death.

The African nation is preparing to lift the five-year prohibition against hunting, much to the outrage and consternation of conservation groups worldwide. Nonetheless, the rural farmers, whose crops are ruined (thus causing their families to be food insecure) because of the increase of sometimes dangerous foraging elephants, are applauding the lifting of the ban.

It’s a sad commentary, but when feral animals and humans come into contact and vie for space, the animals usually lose. However, in the case of Botswana, humans are not encroaching on the elephants’ habitat, it’s the other way around: the elephants (due to their growing populations that are the result of conservation efforts) are encroaching on family farms.

The situation in Botswana has exacerbated due to politics. The outgoing president, Ian Khama, was an avid conservationist who won praise from many Western conservation groups for his tough stance against the hunting of elephants. But the incoming president, President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi suggests that he did so at the expense of the farming families, and to win them over before the upcoming elections he changed the policy.

According to published reports, “The [five-year] hunting ban has allowed Botswana’s elephant population to grow at a rate that is unsustainable and starved preservation efforts of much-needed revenue, according to opponents of the restrictions, a group that included not just the government but some conservationists.” The government now says that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks is “ill-equipped to deal with animal control issues, leading to long response times in dealing with animals that pose a threat.”

This seems to be an issue that money can solve if there is a desire on the part of the wealthy conservationists to protect farmers in Botswana as much as they seek to protect the elephants. This is a story that has played out over and over again in Africa, as international organizations place the welfare of animals over the rights of citizens to be protected from them.

I have to believe that if this scenario was playing out in a locale where the folks being negatively impacted were not black and poor, a solution to the conundrum would soon be forthcoming. Some of the very wealthy celebrities — like the talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres and the actress Kristin Davis — who have waded into the debate and called for a boycott of tourism to Botswana unless the hunting ban is maintained should pony up along with the rest of the rest of the world’s conservationists and show just as much compassion for the poor farming families as they obviously have for the elephants. While I too do love elephants, I love people just as much.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

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