Changing Planet

Urban Wildlife Corridors Could Save Africa’s Free-Roaming Elephants

A breeding herd of elephants cross the road near the town of Kasane, Botswana. Photo by Tempe Adams of Elephants without Borders

Botswana has some of the last remaining free-roaming populations of wild animals on the planet.

Massive breeding herds of elephants are known to move thousands of kilometres across the country’s wild lands, through private farms, national parks, towns and deep into neighbouring countries too. It’s a picture of Africa that one reads about in the history books.

The town of Kasane borders the Chobe National Park in the North of Botswana, and regularly sees all kinds of wildlife pass through, including lion, buffalo, hyena and even the rare sable antelope. This is one of the few places where human infrastructure still grows within these functioning ancient wildlife home ranges

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Elephants on their way down to drink at the Chobe River. (Photograph by Dave Glynn, Ngoma Safari Lodge)

As human populations develop and pressure grows on the environment, it’s natural to presume that wildlife will get squeezed into closed-off parks and reserves such as has happened all around the world over the last century. Right?

Not necessarily.

The team at Elephants Without Borders are researching the use of wildlife corridors to reduce human/wildlife conflict in Northern Botswana, where one of the largest populations of elephants in Africa still remains. Using Kasane as the base for these studies, the organisation has set up ‘urban corridors’ and are now monitoring the movement of animals through the town and neighbouring farms.

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Elephants cross at a corridor outside Kasane. (Photo by Tempe Adams of Elephants Without Borders)

“When you think of wildlife corridors, everyone thinks the big trans-boundary movements,” says Tempe Adams, a lead researcher on the team, “I’m trying to re-define the idea of a wildlife corridor.”

“It’s amazing when I take people to see the corridors – they can’t imagine that the elephants actually use them. But I assure them that they absolutely do. I use detection cameras to monitor the movement. A lot of the corridors I’m looking at, people would not class them as a corridor, but when I actually show them the photos of usage they say: ‘that’s incredible.’ I’m yet to show someone who is not surprised by the amount of wildlife that comes into town. And they don’t even know about it. A lot of these corridors are not even known to local people.’

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Elephants pass through another Kasane corridor. (Photo by Tempe Adams, Elephants Without Borders)

It seems corridors could be important to the movement of wildlife on a much broader scale in Africa.

The Chobe National Park is at the centre of what could be the world’s largest conservation area. The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA TFCA an ambitious project to link five southern African countries; Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe into one massive space, and ensuring the safe movement of millions of animals over an area of 287 132 square kilometres – about the size of Italy.

Kasane is fast becoming the capital of this mega-wildlife zone, welcoming more and more tourism to the area and surrounds, in particular, the famous Victoria Falls just over the border in Zimbabwe.

With all this growing interest, it’s fitting that this important research is taking place here, in Kasane, where the vision is now slowly taking shape and setting the example for other towns in Africa. The Elephants Without Borders team are working closely with the KAZA initiative (Also based in Kasane), providing essential data to support KAZA projects from a scientific a research perspective.

“The overall plan is to have wildlife corridors as a legislative land designation,” Tempe concludes. “At the moment there is no legislation attached to wildlife corridors. So when towns are expanding, they actually have a designation for a wildlife corridor. If you don’t block off key areas for them, you will reduce the conflict. It’s such a simple concept.”

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Traffic: Elephants face up to a herd of buffalo while passing through the urban corridor (Photo by Tempe Adams, Elephants Without Borders)
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Elephants at sunset on the Chobe River, Botswana. (Photograph by Dave Glynn, Ngoma Safari Lodge)
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
  • charlie

    A great story!

  • Vernon Swanepoel

    I’ve felt for some time that creating wildlife corridors must be one of the most promising wildlife conservation measures. With the ever increasing demand for land, it is a massive challenge, but an important battle to fight.

  • Debbie Sherman

    This is highly important. Keep up the good work. Please.

  • Gill Staden

    Kasane is fast becoming the capital of this mega-wildlife zone, welcoming more and more tourism to the area and surrounds, in particular, the famous Victoria Falls just over the border in Zimbabwe. (!!!)
    The Victoria Falls is on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. In fact, if we want to be precise, most of the Victoria Falls are IN ZAMBIA.

  • Kunta Kinte

    I seee a lot of positive comments from Europeans Americans etc making positive comments . Ya its good for Africa to do that but I would like to know are the Americas and europe also implementing similar things in their countries?

  • Paul Steyn

    That is correct Gill, thanks for the clarification. Zambia does share the Victoria Falls with Zim, however I was making reference to the Victoria Falls as well as the Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe.

  • Jenny

    Thank you for this great story.

  • Geoff Thomas

    Paul, excellent work on the urban wildlife corridors. I am gravely concerned for the future of wildlife throughout Sub Saharan Africa and I have often thought of a well researched and implemented wildlife corridor plan. One that will value the customs and traditions of local Africans, hear the call for expanding agriculture and not become a death trap for the animals. Would using waterways make any sense?

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