NAMIBIA Drastic Reduction of Elephants Needed

THERE are too many elephants in the Etosha National Park and in conservancy areas northwest of the park and reducing their numbers by almost 1 000 animals - even through culling - might be an option, a report on the elephant population recommends

"The available range for elephants outside Etosha is shrinking as the number of humans and domestic livestock increases. Elephants are competing with livestock for living space, food and water and as a result elephants are forced to seek these resources in the commercial farming areas," the report by internationally renowned elephant expert Rowan Martin states.

As a result the elephants destroy farm fences, crops and water infrastructure. Livestock and game are lost to farmers as they slip through broken fences.

The report was launched last Friday, 10 days before the conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where the status of elephants as protected species will again be hotly debated.

There are now about 700 to 800 elephants living in the former Damaraland and Kaokoland areas, according to Martin. The population has bounced back over the past 30 years after falling below 100 animals by 1981 due to heavy poaching.

Migration of several animals from Etosha to the northwestern communal areas has also occurred. In Etosha there are approximately 2 400 elephants.

"To keep the Etosha elephant population at its nominal carrying capacity of 1 900 elephants [this] requires an offtake of 480 animals in the year 2010 followed by a series of decreasing culls from 58 animals in 2011 to 41 animals [per annum] by 2028 until the elephant population achieves its new stable age structure when a normal offtake of 40 elephants [annually] will maintain the status quo," Martin recommends.

Elephant numbers "that need to be culled" in northwestern Namibia outside Etosha would be "496 animals in 2010 to deal with the excess of elephants already present followed by an annual average cull of less than ten animals [annually].

"It is not recommended that the culling be implemented in this manner," Martin said. Instead some spots in the northwestern communal and commercial areas should become so-called 'source sinks', meaning that elephants entering these areas, for instance commercial farms near Kamanjab, should all be "destroyed".

This could also be done through trophy hunting. Elephants learn quickly and others would avoid such areas, according to Martin, but would then move elsewhere and the problem would just be shifted from one place to another.

A short-term solution would be to construct separate water points for elephants away from inhabited places. Farmers could also adjust their farming methods and introduce movable kraals for their livestock that can be easily dismantled and erected elsewhere.

Farmers could also remove fences and allow free movement of elephants and other wild animals and use the movable kraals for their herded livestock.

Government should give farmers the same authority over elephants as they have over other wildlife and their livestock so they can decide how to deal with elephants and reap the profits from trophy hunting and ivory sales, the study proposed.

Currently, international ivory trade is forbidden under CITES regulations, except for rare auctions under strict rules. Namibia has held two such auctions over the past decade.

The report was compiled after Martin conducted a study in northwestern Namibia last year which was commissioned by the joint presidency committee of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), the National Farmers' Union of Namibia (NNFU) and the Emerging Commercial Farmers' Union (ECFU). It was sponsored by the Finnish Embassy in Namibia.

The study was launched by Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah last Friday.

"The Ministry will conduct an elephant census this year and management options suggested in this report will draw the interest of our Ministry," she said.

"The study will support the implementation of the national Policy on Human-Wildlife Conflict launched last year," the Minister said. - The Namibian - Brigitte Weidlich