Meet Our Characters: Dr Anna Songhurst

Author Pru Allison
Date November 07, 2020

The Elephant Express recently won the Conserve Africa award at We Are Africa’s Innovation Awards. The Elephant Express was born from a recognition of the need for children to get to school and elderly community members to access a clinic along a dangerous elephant highway in Northern Botswana. We support the project in conjunction with EcoExist and the Okavango Community Trust and are hugely grateful to all who’ve donated towards this very special project.

We chat to Dr Anna Songhurst of EcoExist.


What’s your role at EcoExist? 

“I am a co-founder (with Dr. Graham McCulloch and Dr. Amanda Stronza) and co-director of Ecoexist.”


Where did the idea for the Elephant Express come from? 

“The idea for the Elephant Express came from the people in the eastern Panhandle identifying the challenges of children walking to school and other people walking between villages and clinics, and needing to cross major elephant corridors. In this area, elephants need to move from dry land resources to the Okavango Delta, and they use distinct movement corridors to do this. These corridors bisect the main access road between villages, and direct conflict between people and elephants can occur.”


Why was the need for it so strong? 

“We recorded some incidents of people being killed by elephants in these areas, which highlighted the risk of walking in the area and the need to alleviate these direct conflicts by improving transport.”


How did you bring the project to fruition? 

“We developed a proposal with ideas on how small buses could assist with transport and alleviating direct conflict between people and elephants; conducted research with an MBA student on the needs for transport in the area and then looked for possible partners to help support this need. Natural Selection were keen to support the project and then we undertook a number of stakeholder consultations to develop an agreed operations plan. The buses are now co-managed by Okavango Community Trust and Ecoexist.”


What was Natural Selection’s role in the process? 

“Natural Selection and Uncharted Africa are the primary donors for this initiative and have helped to source co-funding for the insurance and maintenance needs of the buses.”


Please can you explain exactly what the buses offer and the value they bring to the community?

“The buses provide transport across elephant corridors to the most vulnerable members of the community – school children and sick people.”


Why is it such an effective project? 

“It is addressing a real need.”


What’s been the biggest challenge in running the project?

Scheduling the buses to meet the transport needs!”


What’s been your proudest moment of the project so far? 

“When the first children were transported!”

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