We have a core team of three project directors, two field coordinators, six support staff, 13 community officers (the eyes, ears and voices of the villages), a cadre of graduate students and interns, a coalition of international advisers, visiting scholars, specialists, and many government and private sector partners throughout Botswana.
The driving force behind the project.
Dr Anna Songhurst is Field and Program Director for Ecoexist. She is a conservation biologist who conducted her Ph.D. study on the “Competition between people and elephants in the Okavango Panhandle, Botswana” between 2008-2012 through Imperial College London. Anna has been working and conducting research in Botswana for the past eleven years and has a good understanding of Botswana’s policy and legislative environment and institutional framework. She has been living and working with the communities in the eastern panhandle, specifically investigating community perception towards elephants and HEC, recording data on elephant distribution and habitat use, and collecting independent primary data on spatial and temporal patterns of elephant crop-raiding. Through her current research and past experience Anna has a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of HWC issues and CBNRM programs both internationally and locally in Botswana. From consultations and coordinating workshops, she has established networks and working relationships with a variety of stakeholders involved in human wildlife conflict management and in particular HEC issues in Botswana and the region. Anna brings experience to continue effective implementation of the projects activities and is confident in facilitating stakeholder and public participation of HEC management in habitats where elephants and people live in close proximity.
Dr. Graham McCulloch is Policy Director for Ecoexist and an ecologist who has spent the past 20 years in Botswana working in the wildlife conservation, tourism and environmental consultancy sectors. He has a great deal of experience in conducting ecological monitoring and scientific research as well as community-based natural resource monitoring and management planning in the region. After working in the safari industry as a professional guide for 5 years, Graham embarked on a PhD project aimed at understanding the wetland ecology of the Makgadikgadi salt pans. On completion of his PhD in 2003, he began his career as an ecological consultant. In 2005, he co-founded a new community owned nature reserve outside Francistown; Tachila Nature Reserve, which he project managed for the first three years. Since his departure from the reserves management position, Graham has gained considerable experience working on various community area and wetland management and development plans, and biodiversity assessments. He has also assisted Anna Songhurst coordinate a community based HEC monitoring and mitigation programme in the eastern panhandle of the Okavango Delta with the Okavango Elephants and People research project (OEPRP) and most recently through EcoStars, a Botswana based company he co-directs. Graham brings to the project a wealth of experience and skills that will help the effective and timely completion of project activities and facilitate due and appropriate consideration and leveraging of the country’s relevant national policy and legislation framework.
Dr. Amanda Stronza is Research Director for Ecoexist and an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University. She is a cultural anthropologist with a background in Latin American Studies and International Affairs. She co-founded the NSF-IGERT Applied Biodiversity Science Doctoral Program at Texas A&M and directs the Amazon Field School in Tambopata, Peru. In 2011-12, she was a Visiting Professor with the Okavango Research Institute. For two decades, she has led research on community-based conservation, ecotourism, and sustainable development. Her work is published in a variety of journals, including Human Organization, Society and Natural Resources, Biological Conservation, Environmental Management, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, and Human Dimensions of Wildlife. She recently won the Praxis Award in Anthropology for translating anthropological knowledge into concrete action to support community conservation and development. Amanda brings experience in mentoring graduate students in the social and biological sciences for applied research on conservation. She is also an avid photographer.
Meet Ohitiseng "Mojita" Mosupi, our multitalented, multitasking, multilingual Field Coordinator. Mojita has great knowledge of elephants. Having grown up in the village of Gunotsoga, he learned firsthand how they behave, when and where they move, and how to keep a safe distance. He speaks five languages-- Setswana, Seyei, Hambukushu, English, and a little bit of Elephant. He supports the Ecoexist Project in countless ways, from translating meetings and interviews to leading workshops and liaising with government officials. Here he is on an elephant pathway, reading elephant tracks and deciphering details of the recent movements.
Makata "Max" Baitseng is our extraordinarily proficient and poised Tourism Coordinator and Field Technician. After working with Okavango Wilderness Safaris for a decade, Max has a true insider’s understanding of the safari industry. He grew up in the village of Eretsha, one of the 13 villages in the Panhandle, and he is a trusted and respected go-between for the Ecoexist project and residents throughout the Panhandle. He is especially good at gathering ideas and perspectives about the potential for community-based tourism. On the Ecoexist team, Max is helping build an elephant economy in the Panhandle.
Dr Anna SonghurstField and Program Director
Dr. Graham McCullochPolicy Director
Dr. Amanda StronzaResearch Director
Ohitiseng "Mojita" MosupiField Coordinator
Makata (Max) BaitsengTourism Coordinator and Field Technician
We partner with individuals in each village who can work closely with us, helping us understand and hear the voices and stories of families throughout the Panhandle. Thirteen of those individuals are employed with us as Ecoexist Community Officers, or ECOs. The ECOs are instrumental in helping us record data on crop-raiding and keeping a strong communication flow between the project and the villages. The ECOs have been especially helpful in setting up kgotla meetings. The kgotla meetings are traditional, village-wide gatherings in which all village matters are discussed openly and at length. The ECOS also work with us to collect data on fields and settlement boundaries for land use planning, and they help us coordinate with farmers to find and experiment with tools for deterring elephants from raiding crops.
Alan is a 35-year-old farmer of the Bahambukushu tribe. He reports the number of human-elephant conflicts in his village dropped this year because most farmers were guarding their fields by staying in watch huts and using chilies. He said the farmers whose fields were raided tended to rely only on strings of cans around the field perimeter. Someone in his village also suffered property damage when a bull elephant came to take pumpkins that were stored in a house. He said the elephants could smell the pumpkins from 50 meters away.
Village: Mohembo East
As a 25-year-old Bahambukushu ECO for the Village of Mohembo East, Cecilia lives quite close to the border with Namibia. In her village, she says, human-elephant conflicts are a “big problem.” She reports elephants start coming in large numbers, usually in the month of February, and often with their babies in tow. That’s the time of year when the crops are maturing and farmers are starting to sleep in watch huts, guarding their fields at night. That is also the time of year when she is especially busy helping supply chilies and teaching farmers to use the chilies to deter elephants from crop raiding.
Masimo is a farmer from the village of Sekondomboro. He says many people in his village have suffered sleepless nights because of the elephants. One elephant was injured this year and one killed. But there’s hope for the future as more and more farmers in his area are talking about using chilies to keep elephants out of fields.
Since 2009, 38-year-old Hakoka, a Bukakhwe Bushman from Tobera, has represented his village in the task of documenting and trying to reduce human-elephant conflicts. He first worked with the Okavango Elephants and People Research Project with Anna Songhurst. As an enumerator in that project, he helped report on and assess elephant crop damage in farmers’ fields in Tobera. Now with the Ecoexist project, he says, “I like working with people in my community” and he says people seem to appreciate learning how to use chilies to keep elephants out of fields.
Maipelo is a 29-year-old Bahambukushu farmer from the village of Beetsha. In his role as ECO, Maipelo has been encouraging farmers in his community to plough early enough to be able to harvest before elephants begin moving through the villages to the Delta waters. He says farmers can also help prevent crop raiding by using chilies. Elephants dislike capsicum, the chemical in chilies that makes them hot. By drying and crushing chilies and then mixing them with elephant dung to make “chili bombs” for burning, farmers can keep elephants at bay. Aside from encouraging people to make chili bombs, Maipelo spends time walking around his village, helping his neighbors and our team keep track of where elephants are moving most frequently.
Mathata Kashongo is a 36 -year-old Bahambukushu man from the Village of Xakao. In 2014, Mathata attended to at least 18 cases of crop raiding in the areas in and around his village. He says even more alarming than the number of cases was the number of elephants—male herds of 4-15 elephants. He reports more damage this year compared to other years. One of the challenges is maintaining fences. He said the damage the “big feet” can cause, and the amount of maintenance and repair required are “mind boggling.” A lot people in his village know, or are related to, a man in a nearby village who was killed by an elephant. That death has generated even more fear. Women who go out to collect firewood, for example, have tended not to venture as far as they used to. Mathata says he is proud to be a voice for the Ecoexist project and he describes his work as “finding ways for people and elephants to live in close proximity with less friction between them.”
Minimini has worked with the Ecoexist team, first with Anna Songhurst, for many years. She is a 27-year-old Anikhwe Bushman woman from the Village of Ngarange. Minimini notes human-elephant conflicts have diminished somewhat in her village recently. At least, she says, she’s had fewer reports of raiding, maybe because farmers in Ngarange were able plough and harvest “on time” this year, meaning they were able to harvest before the elephants began their movements to the permanent waters of the Delta. Minimini says she is always trying to encourage people to be conscious of timing of their farming activities to avoid competition and conflict with elephants.
Motoloki is a 28-year-old Bukakhwe Bushman and a long-time team member. He first worked with Anna Songhurst’s research project on human-elephant conflicts in the eastern Panhandle, and now he serves as an ECO. His role is to serve as a source of support and information between the people in the Village of Gudigwa and the Ecoexist project. In 2013, Motoloki reported two elephants in Gudigwa were shot as they were raiding fields. This year, though crop-raiding has occurred, no elephants were shot in fields. Motoloki says he is most concerned about finding ways for people in his village to benefit from elephants.
Oboletse (“O.B.”) is a 30-year-old Bahambakushu farmer who supervises the communal chili plot in the village of Mogotho. O.B.’s work includes coordinating with the Village Development Committee to ensure the field is watered and cared for. He also serves as a trainer for farmers who want to learn conservation agriculture techniques. He reports 11 fields were raided in his village this year. Though no people or elephants were killed or injured as a result of human-elephant conflicts, one elephant did kill a cow.
Boiteko is from the Village of Gunotsoga, and he’s begen working with the Ecoexist team in 2014. This year, he reports, though elephants raided six fields, people in Gunotsoga generally encountered fewer problems with elephants. He attributes the decrease in conflicts and crop-raiding to the fact more farmers have started using chili peppers. Boiteko is also involved in helping maintain the Ecoexist community chili garden in Gunotsoga.
As a farmer and ECO, 23-year-old Lethata has learned some basic facts about elephants and crop-raiding. In his area, he’s observed, mostly elephant bulls tend to raid, and usually at night during the months of March and April. He says the elephants seem to prefer maize, sorghum, millet, and watermelon, and sometimes they destroy huts where food is stored. Two elephants were killed in his village this year. Whenever a crop-raiding incident occurs, Lethata visits the farmer and field, trying to go as prepared as possible to answer any questions.
Rukonga is one of three female ECOs working on the Ecoexist team. The 30-year-old Bahambukushu farmer says her role is to be a voice for the people of Kauxwi in helping reduce conflicts with elephants. As part of her work, she visits with the village chief every day and checks in with the wildlife officers and police to learn of any new elephant damage or crop-raiding incidents. She’s learned many people in her village believe elephants are crossing the border fence between Namibia and Botswana. She would like to see people benefitting more from elephants, with camps and lodges in place for tourists, or through basket weaving, story telling, and other arts for visitors.
Tsalano joined the Ecoexist team in 2014. She completed her certificate in Business Studies, and she is saving money, with hopes to complete her diploma soon. Aside from Tsalano's important role as an ECO, helping us record incidents of human-elephant conflict in the Village of Seronga, she is also helping us generate enthusiasm and ideas for building the elephant economy in the Panhandle.
Most or all farmers with fields are affected by the elephants in my village. They say to me, ‘Farming is never an easy job. It is done only by people who are dedicated and because they have no other choice but farming. It is not good for them to waste their energy and time in a manner that elephants just come in and steal their crops.’” Mathata Kashongo, ECO from the village of Xakao
Our Ecoexist Research Team includes students, interns, visiting scholars, and volunteers.
Working closely with the Ecoexist Directors, the team brings interdisciplinary, international, and integrative insights to the challenge of fostering coexistence between people and elephants.
Our Ecoexist PhD Fellows are leading research in various disciplines and subjects, including elephant ecology, GIS and biodiversity mapping, tourism impacts, and anthropological analysis of human settlements and resource use.
Erin is from the U.S. She began her PhD at Texas A&M in 2014 with a focus on elephant ecology and population dynamics and movements. Erin has a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with a Certificate in African Studies, from Princeton University. She has field experience studying human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, and she was a Princeton in Africa Fellow in Livingston, Zambia. She is currently working with The Nature Conservancy. Erin’s advisor at Texas A&M is Prof. Lee Fitzgerald.
Rocio is from Chile. She began her PhD training in Zoology at the University of Oxford, with a recent focus on elephant population modeling. Rocio has a degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Chile, and in Conservation Science from Imperial College London. She has extensive experience studying animal behavior in various parts of Africa and Latin America. Rocio’s mentor at the University of Oxford is Prof. Tim Coulson.
Lauren is from the U.S. She will begin her PhD at Texas A&M in 2015, with a focus on social, cultural, and economic factors influencing human settlement and resource use. Lauren has degrees in Biology and Religion (Dickson College) and Forest Science (Oregon State University). She has been living in Cameroon since 2009, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer, with expertise in Agroforestry, and now as a social scientist and project manager for a Darwin Initiative award with the London Zoological Society.
Patricia is from Botswana. She will begin her PhD at Texas A&M in 2015, with a focus on community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) and tourism. Patricia has training in Tourism Management from Austria (Institute of Tourism Management) and the U.S. (Johnson and Wales University, and the George Washington University). She is currently Head of Policies and Programmes at the national Department of Tourism in Botswana.
Susanne is from the Netherlands. She has started a doctoral training program at Oxford University in 2014, and through this program she will do a PhD in Zoology, focusing on elephant ecology and their movement patterns related to crop raiding. Susanne has a BSc and MSc degree in Forest and Nature Conservation combined with International Development studies from the Wageningen University. She also has a diploma in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology from Leiden University. She has worked with Save the Elephants-South Africa and has done research on elephant crop raiding for her BSc, and chimpanzee and Baboon crop raiding for the Jane Goodall Institute, Uganda for her MSc.
"I am driven to study these creatures because I have experienced first-hand not only the joys but also the many trials that accompany life around elephants. I’ve seen wrinkly plate-sized footprints along the road leading towards a devastated community garden, sat quietly in a Land Rover watching and listening to a herd of mothers and calves browsing nearby, and waited helplessly in a line of taxis while a herd of obstinate elephants blocked the road. I want to contribute to developing the scientific knowledge and practical applications that will help reduce the conflict that impacts the lives of people who coexist with elephants." Erin Buchholtz, Ecoexist PhD Fellow
Ecoexist provides internships and scholarships to citizens of Botswana in various sectors, including the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the Department of Agriculture, among others. We also count on the insights, collaboration, and guidance of several visiting scholars and specialists.
Ministry of Environment Wildlife and Tourism
Ministry of Agriculture
Ministry of Lands and Housing
Ministry of Local Government
Eastern Panhandle Community
Botswana College of Agriculture
Office of the President
In 2013, the coalition of advisors joined the Ecoexist team in the Okavango to help draft a long-term plan for reducing human-elephant conflicts.
They brought expertise and experiences from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Peru, India, England, and the U.S., and from the World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, ZSL London Zoo, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, and Arcus Foundation – Great Ape Conservation, among others.
Dr. Mark W. Atkinson is a wildlife veterinarian from Zimbabwe who for the past 20+ years has been involved in wildlife conservation programs in southern Africa, Asia and North America. After working in a mixed-animal practice he joined the government veterinary services in Zimbabwe to investigate diseases of wildlife and livestock, undertake wildlife capture and translocation work, and develop health and disease management programs for wildlife, much of which focused on rhino and elephant conservation. For several yeas he was Senior Policy Advisor for AHEAD (Animal & Human Health for the Environment And Development) at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Prof. Timothy Coulson is a quantitative ecologist and Professor of Zoology at the University of Oxford. His research interests are conservation, wildlife management, and population biology. He has published over 120 peer-reviewed articles, supervised more than 20 Ph.D. students, and he currently runs a group of six post-docs and six Ph.D. students. He has been awarded the Zoological Society of London Scientific medal, the TH Huxley memorial medal, the Per Brinck award and a Royal Society-Wolfson merit, all for contributions to the life sciences.
Dr. Sarah Durant is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, where she heads the People, Wildlife and Ecosystems research theme. She has worked on carnivore conservation for over 20 years, with a focus on Africa. She heads the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and Wild Dogs and the Tanzania Carnivore Program. She has a particular interest in capacity development for conservation, monitoring conservation success, human carnivore conflict, and international policy.
Dr. John Hanks is a Cambridge zoologist with a PhD on the reproductive physiology, growth, and population dynamics of the African elephant in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. He has 45 years of experience in a wide variety of conservation management and research projects throughout Africa. He has published over 150 scientific papers, and has supervised nearly 50 MSc/ PhD students. He has served Professor and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Natal, Director of the Africa Program for WWF International, the Chief Executive of WWF-South Africa, and the first Executive Director of the Peace Parks Foundation.
Rebecca Klein is the Managing Director and Founder of Cheetah Conservation Botswana, with a MSc in Conservation Biology and experience in several global conservation programs. CCB was set up in 2003, to promote the conservation of the cheetah and other threatened carnivores, through scientific research, community outreach and education. The project investigates and promotes best practices in livestock and range management and non-lethal control methods that can reduce human carnivore conflict and support coexistence.
Dr. Winnie Kiiru is a Kenyan biologist with over 20 years experience in wildlife conservation and management. She earned her PhD in Biodiversity Management from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, studying the spatial, temporal and socio-economic dynamics of human-elephant conflict around Amboseli National Park. While working as a research scientist with the Kenya Wildlife Service, Dr. Kiiru published the first status report on human-elephant conflict in Kenya in 1995 and presented it to the African Elephant Specialist Group becoming a pioneer member of the Human-Elephant Conflict Working Group.
Dr. Annette Lanjouw is the Director of the Arcus Foundation's Great Apes Program. A highly regarded expert in the field of great ape conservation, she has worked with chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas in the wild, and has years of experience in the areas of conservation strategy, program implementation, research and field work. Dr. Lanjouw recently served as the International Program Officer for the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, where she advised the Howard Buffett Foundation on conservation strategies and organized an international effort to expand access to water. From 1993-2003, she was Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, a collaboration of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, African Wildlife Foundation and Fauna & Flora International, which has successfully worked to secure safety for the fewer than 800 mountain gorillas that inhabit rangelands that cross three countries (Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda).
Dr. MD Madhusudan works at the Nature Conservation Foundation (India), an organization dedicated to science-based and socially-responsible conservation that he co-founded in 1996. As a conservation scientist, he is interested in learning about the scope—and the limits—of coexistence between wild species and humans, especially across India's densely settled landscapes. He seeks this understanding by conducting research into the ecology and behaviour of wildlife as well as the functioning of human society, by planning and implementing experimental solutions to real-world conservation problems in partnership with a range of stakeholders.
Mike La Grange grew up on a farm outside of Mutare, Zimbabwe, where he developed bush skills as a child. He had degrees from Gwebi Agricultural College and the University of Zimbabwe. He worked with the Department of Internal Affairs as an agricultural officer (where he spent more time dealing with problem animal control issues than with farming), and then with the Department of National Parks. He is an expert in finding innovative tools for overcoming human-wildlife conflicts (HWC). He has written and provided training on management for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) HWC Toolkit.
Dr. Loki Osborn has examined human-wildlife conflicts for over 20 years. Osborn’s PhD focused on the ecology of crop-raiding elephants in Zimbabwe. For ten years, he ran the Elephant Pepper Development Trust, which worked with rural farmers to develop protocols to enable them to protect themselves and their crops against elephants and to provide a market for chillies. He started Elephant Pepper, a commercial business that used the chillies grown and harvested by African farmers in a range of food products. He assisted the Government of Botswana develop the Okavango Delta Management Plan, and he has worked on a World Bank project to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in Botswana.
Prof. Marianne Schmink is Professor of Latin American Studies and Anthropology, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida, where she served as Director of the Tropical Conservation and Development (TCD) program from 1988-2010. Since 1980, the TCD program has provided fellowship and research funding, academic and professional skills training for graduate students involved in research on conservation and development in Latin America and Africa. From 1986-2008, she directed a major collaborative program in the western Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil, with the Federal University of ACRE, research institute EMBRAPA, and non-governmental organizations PESACRE and CTA. She has worked on issues related to gender, development, and community-based conservation for over twenty years.
Prof. Raman Sukumar is professor of ecology at the Indian Institute of Science. He obtained his PhD from the same institute in 1985 for his pioneering research on the ecology of interactions between Asian elephants and people. His interests lie in promoting sustainable landscapes for elephants and biodiversity. Sukumar has also contributed extensively to Indian government policy on conservation, and has been a member of the Indian Board for Wildlife (chaired by the Prime Minister) and the Project Elephant Steering Committee. The author of four books on the elephant and over 120 scientific papers, Sukumar is the recipient of several national and international awards.
Dr. Russell Taylor has over 30 years practical conservation experience in government, NGO and private sectors, holding senior positions in leadership, management and administration. Prior to joining WWF, he worked for the Department of National Parks & Wild Life Management in Matusadona National Park on Lake Kariba where he completed his PhD on the population ecology of buffalo and contributed to the development of Zimbabwe’s CBNRM programme, CAMPFIRE. This led to 20 years with WWF, supporting the implementation of CAMPFIRE, and becoming Conservation Director for the WWF Southern Africa Regional Programme Office. He is Senior Transboundary Conservation Planning Adviser with WWF in Namibia and working with the KAZA TFCA partner countries of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Dr. Rob Williams is a British conservation ecologist living in Peru. He holds a BSc in Zoology from University of Wales College Cardiff and PhD in Conservation Ecology from University of East Anglia. He has worked on six continents for organizations including: Sociedad Española de Ornitologia, BirdLife International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is currently the Andes-Amazon Program Coordinator for Frankfurt Zoological Society and also Scientific Director of the Chaparri Community Ecological Reserve in northwest Peru. His interests are: applied wilderness conservation through protected areas; conservation of wide-ranging, low-density threatened species; and seeking solutions for humans and wildlife to coexist.
"We need to learn from each other if we are to increase effectiveness in conservation." Sarah Durant, London Zoological Society