By Christopher Joyce
It's dawn and 40 degrees out. The air tastes of dust. Elias Neftali is behind the wheel of a truck, driving us through a long valley encircled by red-rock mountains. As a farmhand in the northwest desert of Namibia, Neftali used to shoot wild animals trying to eat his livestock.
Now he protects wild animals. And that can be scary.
"Oh my god, yep," he says. He tells me about a night he was sleeping in a bungalow out in the bush with some other wildlife guards.
He heard somebody screaming. "When I opened my eyes it was this elephant," Neftali says. "He was so big, standing there, he could see us. All I did was to like, fall to my feet. And he hit the bungalow somewhere in the roof. The things that you see in movies. We can hear him breathing so heavy, like very angry."
Everybody froze. The elephant paused, then turned to the next building.
"He threw off that roof completely. He took out all the toilets." After trashing the building, the elephant turned and left.
I ask Neftali why he's willing to risk his life to be a wildlife manager. "I love it," he says simply, "to be in nature."
There are others like Neftali, people who have left raising livestock to participate in a radical experiment in Namibia: helping wildlife survive by putting their fate in the hands of the people who share their lands. It's as though the U.S. government said to the people who live around Yellowstone National Park, "You know what? All those wild animals in the park — the grizzlies, the bison, the wolves — they belong to you." ...continue reading.