In these areas there are limited connections to mains water. There are no pumps for irrigation. No hosepipes. People have no vehicles to transport water. Farmers depend solely on rainfall to water their crops. The rains are highly unpredictable from year to year. The sandy Kalahari soils are poor too, yielding just half the amounts farmers in other parts of Botswana can get. The low yields and poor soils compel farmers to clear more land, often abandoning one field and moving to a newly cleared field, sometimes close to elephant pathways.
Between April and June, at the time when crops are ripening and farmers are ready to harvest, elephants begin moving from the drying water holes in the north through the villages to water and other resources in the Delta. Along the way, they pass many fields and settlements, raiding and trampling crops. In one night an elephant can destroy the millet, sorghum, or maize a family may depend on for an entire year. And they are left with nothing. This is hand to mouth farming. When, in a moments work an elephant can destroy a year’s work, it is no wonder people here feel so vulnerable and don’t want elephants.
Elephants are dangerous to people too. Many people in the Okavango Panhandle do not like or trust elephants, and they have no fond memories of elephants from childhood stories. These elephants are not Babar, Dumbo, or Horton. Not the gentle giants we might imagine. They bring mostly stress, insecurity, and danger to the people who live close to them. They are highly intelligent, multi-ton beasts that raid fields, destroy property, and sometimes kill people.
Especially if startled or frightened, elephants can charge, and walking near them is very risky. Yet few people in the Panhandle have vehicles, and there is no public transport. They usually get around by foot or donkey cart, often needing to cross paths with elephants. Children in particular are vulnerable as they often need to walk several kilometers to the nearest village for school. Returning home at dusk can be especially dangerous, and parents often need to help their children understand how to be safe around elephants. The threat of encounters with elephants, however, still weighs heavily on worried parents who wait for their returning children.