At the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, on assignment for National Geographic

At the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, in a community-run wildlife reserve called Nyae Nyae, where roughly 2800 San people live today in unyielding conditions, villagers shovel dirt over the skull of a bull elephant hunted earlier in the day. It will be dug up about a week later when the muscles around the tusks have receded.

The hunter will take the tusks home, while the meat, and a portion of the fee will go directly to community members, and to fund for conservation projects to protect the area’s wildlife. There is a trophy hunt limit of five elephants a year in Nyae Nyae representing real money, and a vital source of protein to the San.

Seen from the air Africa can appear as an illusion, rich velds and dramatic rifts, wide deserts and thundering rivers, these seemingly vast stretches of unfettered, unpopulated wild ostensibly forgotten by time and people. At a glance, it could be a repository for all our ideas about wilderness at its wildest. And yet today no patch here goes unclaimed, whether it’s marked, monetized, or fought over. The animals that roam the land have become commodified, part of a new consumerism, marketed and sold, their brands pitted against each other, their continued existence now a question of human demand, whim, and calculation. Wild game is the continent’s version of crude oil—and it too will run out someday. Revenues of hundreds of millions in federal excise taxes levied on hunters go directly to wildlife management and related activities each year in the U.S. alone. And anyone who keeps a freezer full of venison is likely to tell you that the act of killing your own dinner in the wild is more humane than buying the plastic-wrapped meat of industrially raised livestock. This hugely complex relationship that exists between man and animal, the hunter and the hunted, has always been one of the most difficult to navigate; we need to create a space for much needed dialogue, we can not, and should not simply turn away. This story is out in Octobers issue of National Geographic.