Herds of elephants have repeatedly broken into the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, flattening its boundary fence in order to access food and water supplies, officials have recently revealed. As elephant numbers grow in areas where they are naturally found around the country, the giants have had to travel further south for food and water, often winding up in places where they have rarely been encountered before.
In separate incidents in recent weeks, a group of 14 cows and calves broke into the 8,600-hectare Sanctuary from the north, followed by five bulls, which reportedly returned again a day later. Wildlife officials told Mmegi the incursions were most likely the result of the drying up of water sources and loss of vegetation in areas away from the Sanctuary frequented by the elephants.
Dr Erik Verreynne, a livestock and wildlife veterinary surgeon, told Mmegi that while the recent incidents were not the first time elephants had entered the Sanctuary, the numbers involved were the highest.
“Last year, it was only a few bulls but this year is much, much worse,” he said by phone from Orapa recently.
“This is the first time we are seeing cows and calf groups coming down this far South. It could be an issue of the drought and the drying of the Boteti River, which is not going to flow this year.”
Dr Verreynne wrote about the experience on social media:
“The elephants are pushing south, the usual crop raiding bulls seen in the past being followed by larger family groups of cows and calves, deeper and deeper into the heart of Botswana, closer and closer to conflict.
“It sounds great and pretty ‘normal’ for the north of Botswana nowadays.
“Yet we are not in the north of Botswana. We are near Serowe, administrative town of the Central District, 300 kilometres southwest of the Makgadikgadi National Park where they use to concentrate.”
The veterinary surgeon, who is also a wildlife consultant, told Mmegi that while interaction between the elephants and the rhinos had no direct problem, the destruction of fences and the fact that the elephants consume large amounts of vegetation posed a threat to the Sanctuary.
“The concern is the habitat if they go for the species such as the camel thorn tree where vultures are breeding within the Sanctuary, that will impact negatively on biodiversity.
“This is part of a pattern where elephants in the country are expanding their range and being seen in areas they have never occurred in,” he said.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary Chief Warden, Thapelo Baiphethi said the elephants were in search of water and did not linger in the Sanctuary. He added that the game fence was designed to spring back up after being flattened and as a result, there was no fear of rhinos escaping from the Sanctuary.
“The elephants go straight for the water and go back out. It’s a problem of drought and insufficient water in the areas they are coming from.
“The fence is designed in such a way that it snaps back up after being trampled on. The rhinos would not dare try and cross it as they are scared of being trapped in it,” he said.