Tracks of Giants
This trans-Africa expedition occurred in 2012 and continues in 2014 through follow-up activities of compiling data, developing communications and publishing tools, and public presentations in Africa and Europe.
Following ancient African elephant migration paths, Tracks of Giants, was a 5 month west-to-east journey that connected major conservation nodes to promote a greater awareness of conservation, human community and leadership issues specifically relevant to southern Africa. The journey aimed to rekindle the rapidly declining indigenous knowledge base of the human – animal interface, and indigenous solutions to conservation challenges and issues.
A team of trackers, conservationists and media traveled by foot, bicycle (in regions outside of conservation areas and wildlife parks) and kayak in the Okavango Delta and Zambezi through eight major conservation nodes. Along the way, they met with local communities, worked with partners, surveyed and documented animal movements and conservation issues focusing on the following issues:
- Climate change: potential impact on biodiversity and natural habitats
- Water: The vital role of wild natural areas in supplying water to human communities
- Human – animal issues: identification of conflict areas and possible solutions
- Habitat fragmentation and loss of traditional animal migration routes
- The importance of designated wilderness regions in Transfrontier Conservation Areas
- Preserving indigenous wildlife knowledge – tracking skills, resource use, oral history
- Linking environmental issues to leadership issues- biological, social, psychological
The Big Picture
“We are all profoundly affected by ecosystem disintegration and biodiversity loss. The idea of “following ancient elephant migration routes” developed by Ian McCallum provides the opportunity to see this at ground level through the difficult choices that elephants face in a world where their horizons are rapidly contracting. Elephants, with their need for space, provide an inspiring and obvious example of how Nature needs large interconnected wild areas in order to continue providing the essential services and support for all life on earth – including humans! “How much” of wild nature should be kept intact is always a question, but increasingly science confirms that “nature needs half.” Ian McCallum’s project can bring light and awareness to this matter,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder, Save the Elephants.
Why the Elephant?
Many of the conservation challenges facing Southern Africa, and in particular wilderness regions within Southern Africa, can be highlighted or characterized through umbrella species – where protection of sufficient habitat and connectivity to assure viable populations of the umbrella species benefits other species more restricted in their range. For example, the challenges facing southern African megafauna are exemplified by issues facing southern African elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations in the region.
In this regard, the Tracks of Giants project has identified the African elephant as the charismatic mammal of the region and as the iconic species of this coast to coast traverse. Large charismatic wildlife, such as elephants, play an important role as ‘flagship’ species, both in terms of anchoring conservation initiatives and in attracting tourists to protected areas. Furthermore, as keystone species, elephants also play an important role in the broader landscape, through their influence on vegetation patterns.
Local distribution of elephants varies seasonally due to variation in resource availability, and the species is known to undertake long-distance movements. In the selection of the African elephant as the icon of the project, the Tracks of Giants journey route has been carefully selected to follow ancient elephant migration paths and to traverse current elephant habitat, thus highlighting the issues faced by southern African elephant populations (and other megafaunal populations) across their former range.
Key People & Partners
The WILD Foundation is the North American face of Tracks of Giants – which is a collaborative initiative spearheaded by members of the Wilderness Network (The WILD Foundation USA, Wilderness Foundation Africa, Wilderness Leadership School South Africa and the Wilderness Foundation UK) and including other non-governmental organizations, wildlife management authorities, parks and reserves management and other government, community and corporate partners.
Ian McCallum, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, specialist wilderness guide, Jungian analyst and naturalist has a unique perspective on man’s relationship with the natural environment. Promoted in his highly acclaimed book Ecological Intelligence – Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature, his message is one of an urgent need to understand human history, position and responsibilities in the web of life. He is the author of an anthology of wilderness poems – Wild Gifts.
Ian Michler, a top wildlife guide, photojournalist and naturalist, has spent the last decade documenting the major conservation challenges facing Africa. An author of 6 travel books on various African countries, his work is well known to readers of the award winning magazines, Africa Geographic and Africa Birds and Birding.
Both McCallum and Michler have extensive guiding experience throughout Southern and East Africa and will be assisted be experienced local guides in each country.
Lihle Mbokazi is the Experiential Education Manager at the Wilderness Foundation, South Africa. She joined the Tracks of Giants team on the Botswana leg of the expedition.
Mandlenkosi Mbekezeli Buthelezi, known as Mandla to his friends and co-workers, is a 40 year old Zulu family man of the royal Zulu bloodline. Mandla is the head Wilderness Guide at the Wilderness Leadership School where he has practiced his bushcraft and passion for wilderness for the past 13 years.
The involvement of specialist participants is proposed as a major component of Tracks of Giants by providing the opportunity for their participation in the journey. Both Wilderness Leadership School and environmental seminars will be carried out within each conservation node.