This summer, PhD candidate Chris Banotai surveyed communities in South Africa to better understand relationships with marula trees (e.g., medicinal and cultural importance) and perceptions toward protected areas, conservation, and elephants across different communities. He interviewed locals in Maseke, Namakgale, and Makushane, and some elders even taught him how to smash marula pits to get to the seeds inside.
Banotai’s dissertation addresses declines in the marula, which is an ecologically and culturally important species in the savannas of South Africa. Although marula decline is commonly attributed to elephants, lack of seedling recruitment is also a primary driver of decline. In addition to getting a better understanding of how locals perceive wildlife conservation, Banotai is measuring the impact of elephants on marula trees and identifying which factors most influence marula abundance and survival.