For most of the year up to 200 elephants live virtually side by side with the 10 000 people of the ≠Khoadi//Hôas conservancy, where they attempt to make a living in the arid area near Grootberg. The conservancy is aptly named ≠Khoadi//Hôas, meaning “elephant corner” in the local language.
For decades the people endured the brutality of sustaining a living in this parched area. Part of their daily fight against the realities of nature was to see how their meagre crops and water points were damaged and destroyed by elephants in search of food and water. This was the situation until two years ago when the Game Products Trust Fund came into being to fund projects aimed at reducing conflict between people and wildlife. ≠Khoadi//Hôas became the first communal conservancy to benefit from the fund.
Money allocated was used to build practical infrastructures that would reduce contact between elephants and humans, while an elephant-monitoring programme was implemented. The development of community-run campsites from which the community could generate an income based on elephant-related tourism was also supported. “Projects that improve people’s ability to live with wildlife are funded,” explains Nils Odendaal of the Namibia Nature Foundation (NFF), the non-profit organisation appointed to administer the Game Products Trust Fund. “In this case practical changes that can be seen immediately were combined with activities with more long-term outcomes.”
A similar project was started with five other conservancies in the Kunene Region – Ozondundu, Okangundumba, Omatendeka, Orupupa and EhiRovipuka – through financial assistance from the fund. These five conservancies are situated west of the Etosha National Park in a drought-prone area where people exist largely from subsistence livestock farming. They are experiencing the same problems with elephants. Ultimately the 20 000 people in the area and the entire elephant population of the north west of almost 800 animals will benefit.
The Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF) was recently established as a direct result of Namibia’s legal ivory trade three years ago. The country committed itself to using all the revenue from trade exclusively for elephant and community conservation and development programmes in areas where elephants occur. Revenue from the head levies of live game exports, the sale of trophy hunting concessions on state land and other animal products is also paid into the fund. In the past this revenue went into state coffers. A board consisting of members from the Environment and Tourism, Finance, Agriculture, Water and Rural Development ministries, as well as two members from community-based organisations working with sustainable wildlife resource management programmes, manages the fund. A technical team assists board members to evaluate proposals. Since the fund was established, five projects (including the two conservancy projects) were funded with over N$1.2 million.
Dr Pauline Lindeque, Director of Scientific Services of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, says projects designed to offer practical solutions to problems with wild animals enjoy priority. “Projects should bring benefits to communities outside conservation areas,” she says. “It is not compensation for losses, but should offer more long-term solutions.” Other projects include the maintenance of fencing at Waterberg Plateau Park and a project to involve communities in Caprivi in the opening of firebreaks in parks. A training workshop for Southern African countries on the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephant (MIKE) system was also funded.
In the Kunene Region the projects are aimed at reducing the cost and increasing the benefits of elephants for communities, thereby creating incentives for their long-term conservation. One of the biggest problems with elephants, the destruction of water infrastructures, has been addressed by building alternative water points for them away from villages and making community water points elephant-proof.
By monitoring the elephant’s movements and concentrations, information is collected that will assist the communities in the development of land use and management plans. It has enabled ≠Khoadi-//Hôas to divide its conservancy area into areas of core wildlife, main agriculture and mixed land-use (“buffer zone”). Water points for the elephants were strategically located to keep elephants in the core wildlife area or “buffer zone” as long as possible. The idea is to reduce conflict in the main agriculture area.
Community game guards received training from the regional ministry office in the monitoring of elephants. Information gathered from the monitoring will also be used to develop regional and national elephant management policies. Other elements of the project include improving the communication infrastructure to enable communities to operate an early warning system. Electric fencing (movable and permanent) will protect crops and vegetable gardens. According to Odendaal, fewer problems are already being reported.
The biggest threat to the Namibian elephant population is regarded as the loss of habitat through opposition with humans. The five conservancies’ project covers an area of more than 2 million hectares. Hopefully, with less conflict, increased monitoring and income from tourism, elephants will be tolerated in the area – a crucial factor to ensure their long-term future.
COST OF STORING IVORY
Growing ivory stocks represent major management, administrative and security problems. The cost of storing and managing these stocks in Namibia is at least US$70 500 per year. This includes the cost of US$10 000 for the hire of suitable premises, US$50 000 for a two-person, 24-hour police presence throughout the year, US$500 for the maintenance of security and humidifying equipment, and US$10 000 for salaries of ministry staff for stock management. Furthermore, ivory in storage declines in quality and value over time, and this represents a major cost to Namibia in terms of lost potential revenue.
ELEPHANTS AND ILLEGAL TRADE
The Namibian elephant population is secure and viable, while habitat availability in the country is increasing. The current elephant range is probably the largest it has been this century, with elephants expanding into previously unused or rarely used parts of the Kunene Region.
Illegal trade resulting from illegal hunting in Namibia as well as the Southern African region is low. No elephants have been hunted illegally within Etosha National Park for over two decades. From 1990 to 2001 the number of cases of illegal hunting was 71. Incidents of illegal hunting of elephants in Namibia include cases of illegal shooting before or after elephants have damaged or have threatened to damage crops and farms. These are normally incidents where no attempt is made by the hunter to collect ivory.
A relatively high incidence of seized and confiscated ivory in Namibia is evidence of the illegal trade that is taking place through the borders. From 1984 to 2001, 580 seizures took place. The total number of tusks seized is 5 048. Seizure levels point to successful law enforcement and the remarkable efficiency of a police unit (PRU).
This article appeared in the 2002 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.