April 2012: Tracks of Giants expedition to highlight human-animal interface in Southern Africa
Six countries, 5000 kilometres and a small team of devoted conservationists will undertake an epic, 20 week journey in the “Tracks of Giants” highlighting the successes and failures of the human-animal interface across Southern Africa and the importance of corridor and trans-frontier park conservation.
The TRACKS field team is multi-generational, multi-racial, and gender diverse. Leaders Ian McCallum and Ian Michler are joined by Lihle Mbokazi & Mandla Mbekezeli Buthelezi of the Wilderness Leadership School. Other conservationists –“conservation giants” working locally to protect and sustain wilderness and wildlife and reduce conflicts with rural communities – -will join TRACKS as it passes across Southern Africa.
Tracks of Giants is a project of the Wilderness Foundation and The WILD Foundation, and supported by Avis and other sponsors. Conservationists Ian McCallum and Ian Michler will be traveling the entire journey and will be joined by other team members on various stages of the expedition. TRACKS is a regional demonstration of the global conservation initiative, Nature Needs Half.
Ancient migration routes of elephants were chosen as the general route indicators as elephants are a keystone species and play a vital ecological, social and economic role in many Southern African countries as they anchor conservation initiatives and attract tourists to protected areas. They also address the question “If we can’t effectively co-exist with and protect something this important, how can we effectively protect and promote the sustainability of other wild life and wild places?”
“We will be travelling on foot, using mountain bikes, mekoro’s (traditional dugout canoes) and kayaks,” says Ian McCallum. This will emphasise the connection and interdependency that man has with nature from a grassroots perspective. “The route that we are taking follows ancient elephant clusters and migration routes through six countries including Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.”
The expedition begins on May 01, 2012 on the Atlantic coast of Namibia, and is expected to end in early September, 2012 on the KwaZulu Natal coast of South Africa. Along the way, highlighting the various successes and problems relevant to the human-animal interface, they will involve local government, conservation agencies as well as the local ‘giants’ of conservation in each country. National Geographic is a digital media partner and will document the trip via extensive coverage on multiple digital platforms. The trip will also be closely monitored on dedicated social media sites, all drawing from the TRACKS Media Centre (www.tracksofgiants.org).
“In order for us to build a sustainable future, we need to ensure that humans and animals can co-exist,” says Michler. “This journey will help to identify successful partnerships through various land-use options, and will also offer us insight into what doesn’t work. Through an effective public communications programme, the project will educate governments, conservation agencies, tourism entities and the general public about building a mutually beneficial, sustainable relationship with their natural heritage.”
Michler and McCallum also believe that corridor and transfrontier conservation are two of the most vital strategies for reversing the loss of life-supporting biodiversity. In the past, wildlife was free to travel from place to place and naturally adapted to seasonal and ecological changes however, the use of many of their migration routes is now impaired or completely blocked due to fences, villages and other human encroachment. Human-animal conflict in rural southern Africa is further exacerbated by growing populations and climate change. “We believe that many of the issues can be addressed by the establishment of ecological corridors, and so doing, to foster a greater understanding of the benefits to both humans and wild animals of a positive human-animal interface,” says McCallum.
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