Rewilding the Anthropocene

Work Package 4

The Elephant Assemblage

Work Package 4

The Elephant Assemblage

Elephants are perhaps the most contested, commented-upon, and researched wildlife species. As landscape architects, elephants have sizeable impacts on their surroundings. They damage gardens, threaten rural livelihoods, pave terrain for antelopes, and shape the vegetation over vast tracts of land.

In March 2021, the African savannah elephant was reclassified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Yet, despite the declining numbers, the loss and fragmentation of their habitat pushes elephants and humans closer together and exacerbates conflicts over natural resources. About half of Africa’s remaining savanna elephants live in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), whereby the density varies greatly from state to state. Northern Botswana is home to the largest proportion of KAZA’s elephant population. While their numbers are stable and attract tourists from all over the world, people living close to elephants often suffer from crop raiding and property damage. With the establishment of the KAZA TFCA, the five member states Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe agreed on a strategic plan, to manage KAZA’s elephant population as a whole. In this way, a major step has been taken to improve wildlife connectivity and to allow the redistribution of elephants to less populated areas in Zambia and Angola.

Nowadays, modern technologies such as satellite collars, camera traps, drones as well as light aircraft in aerial surveys are crucial to gain data about elephant movements, distributions, population sizes and demographics. The member states, non-governmental organizations and individual researchers use the acquired data in many fields, for example for the allocation of hunting quotas, the proposal of protected migration routes, the definition of preferred habitat types and to reduce causes of human-elephant conflict. Accordingly, the application of technologies shapes conservation practices, knowledges, human-elephant relations and landscapes.

The elephant assemblage will take this interplay of elephants, humans and technologies into focus and look at the ways how modern technology changes transboundary elephant conservation in KAZA. This involves local communities, NGOs, elephants, but also international working groups such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the KAZA Elephant Specialist Group. The researcher will interview people directly engaged with elephants, those living most close to them, and spend time with scientists who track elephants, staffers at organizational headquarters, as well as participants in conservation meetings.

Three sets of questions are key for this work package:

1.How did the use of modern technology evolve in elephant conservation and how does it shape conservation practices and knowledges up to the present?

2. How are these practices and strategies implemented and how is the knowledge mediated? How is it accepted, received or challenged by those living close to elephants?

3. How are the lives of elephants and that of entangled species impacted by the increasing use of technologies?

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