When living in “elephant country”, life can have a range of emotions from frustration to fear to awe. Humans and elephants do not always live together amicably. Elephants can cause a lot of property damage, crop or agricultural damage, and can be terrifying if crossed. Humans can also negatively impact elephant populations when they experience the often expensive impacts of these conflicts. While not always apparent in how to obtain it nor easy to achieve, solutions to these conflicts can be found and used to allow humans and elephants to co-exist. The Living With Elephants Foundation (LWE) is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1999 by Doug and Sandi Groves, and their three adopted elephants: Jabu, Thembi, and Morula. These three elephants had a traumatic past and had come to Doug emotionally bruised. The bull and calf duo, Jabu and Thembi, had survived a culling program in Kreuger National Park of South Africa. Similarly, Morula had survived a culling program in Zimbabwe.
Photo credit: Shila Dionne
Culling is a management practice that involves killing a group of animals when their population has become too large for the area in which they are living, such as a park or reserve. After Doug and Sandi married, the elephantine trio formed a true family with the Groves. LWE’s main objective is to get people and elephants to live in harmony together. The organization has put forth a variety of programs that encourage this philosophy. Their Elephant Outreach Program offers an opportunity for local children to spend two days experiencing what it is truly like to live among the giant mammals. During their stay at LWE, they participate in active educational games and share in discussions, art and music. They also learn about the African Elephant’s natural history, ecology and behavior. LWE also educates the children on the challenges faced when people and elephants share habitat, while also exploring and talking about solutions to problems brought about by these challenges. This adventure provides the kids with the opportunity to form a relationship with the three elephants and develop a deeper understanding and respect for the animal. LWE has also conducted extensive research on human-elephant conflicts through their Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Project.
Photo credit: Jennifer Callaghan
They looked closely at how, why, when, and where these conflicts take place, the impacts of elephants on humans, and the impacts of humans on elephants. Their findings have been presented to and used by the Department of Wildlife for elephant management, and has also been used by other researchers and consultants to aide in conservation and management of elephants in the Okavango Delta. The focus of their research was to aide in the development of mitigation strategies that will help reduce conflict and its impacts. LWE’s Thembi Fund was created to ensure the future of their adopted elephant trio. Since elephants can live to be 70 years, Jabu, Thembi, and Morula may very well outlive the Groves. If that should happen, part of the Thembi Fund secures that these elephants will be well and properly cared for according to a distinct set of guidelines. The Thembi Fund also sets aside money for sudden extreme emergencies that threaten the security and well-being of elephants living in the area, and also partly funds the three elephants’ participation in projects that support LWE’s goals and mission. The Groves’ Botswana-based company, Grey Matters, acquires funding for LWE’s research and outreach for reducing conflict with elephants.
Photo credit: Randy Harris
Grey Matters’ supports education-based eco-tourism opportunity where visitors can come and foster a relationship with the elephants while learning about them. The Groves elephant family has touched numerous lives and LWE’s work is dedicated, pure, and gentle. Their achievements are far-reaching in Botswana and around the world. They’ve reached people on a personal level and have done research to help at a national level. With every new visitor they get closer to reaching their goal in creating a harmonious life in which people and elephants can live side by side.
To learn more, please visit their website.