I must confess that I found it incredibly difficult teaching the English about African wildlife and conservation, with an undeniably English backdrop. Regardless, we were still in a zoo. Warren and I would happily discuss controversial subjects like professional hunting and culling when talking about black rhino and elephant.
It was a whole new challenge for me to explain and describe the troubles that elephant’s cause to people and their livelihoods; and indeed I mostly failed, especially when you have three semi-tame elephants with names and known personalities wandering around an enclosure behind you.
There are still a huge amount of people in Africa that pretty much live off of the land. Their backyards contain enough planted food to sustain the village for a year. The village might only consist of about 30 people and together they farm that land, hunt, and live as a community. For some they may even have a small piece of land with enough food growing to feed one family only. These people have limited contact with the so-called real world; the world that you and I know exists. TV, internet, electricity, telephones, flush toilets, running water, restaurants; hell, none of these things that we take so for granted on a daily basis exist in these peoples’ world. Are they primitive? No, of course not; their lot in life is just different to yours and mine.
The fact remains that one night an elephant could and does walk into their land and in less than 20 minutes it will destroy their crops, entirely. Bearing in mind that this is their only source of food, how can you possibly expect them to have sympathy for that animal? Why should they want to keep it alive?
One night you’re asleep next to your family on the floor of your hut, the next minute you are being dragged into the bushes in the jaws of a lion or leopard. Your family can do nothing but stand in the darkness and hear you being eaten. How can they possibly comprehend that you, as a tourist, will spend more money in one holiday to see these lions than most of these people will see in their lifetimes?
Going down to the river to fetch water or wash clothes is potentially life-threatening with hippos and crocodiles around. These two animals are forever vying for the position of killing more humans than other animals. Of course, there is one genuine winner of that award and that is the mosquito.
I’m not trying to be macabre or depressing here but it is important to try and understand the other side of things.