Namibia, Kamanjab Farmers Fed Up With Destructive Elephants

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    Namibia, Kamanjab Farmers Fed Up With Destructive Elephants
    By Brigitte Weidlich

    Commercial farmers in the Kamanjab area northwest of Outjo are losing patience with herds of elephants reclaiming their previous roaming routes and habitat on which commercial farms are now situated.

    The former Kaokoland and Damaraland, now incorporated into the Kunene and Erongo Regions in northwestern Namibia, are regarded as the last wilderness of the country with freely roaming elephants, the endangered black rhino and giraffe in rivers, valleys and open plains, making spectacular viewing for tourism, an important income for rural communities.

    "There are 950 elephants moving around Kamanjab, Twyfelfontein, Uis and as far south as Kalkfeld and as far north as the Hoanib and Hoarusib rivers in the Kunene Region," Helmke von Bach, a commercial farmer near Kamanjab, claimed.

    They are moving from the communal areas to our farms to get water because virtually every water hole in the communal land is occupied by people and the elephants are driven away", Von Bach told the annual congress of the Livestock Producers' Organisation (LPO) last week.

    "Others move out of the Etosha National Park, because there is an overpopulation of elephants, 3 000 of them are in Etosha," according to him.

    However, the Minister of Environment and Tourism (MET), Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah two months ago told reporters 360 elephants were in the northwestern parts of Namibia, being those adapted to the arid conditions along the Skeleton Coast.

    The total population currently stands at 16 000 animals, according to MET figures.

    Von Bach added that Government had reduced providing diesel fuel to rural communities for generators to draw water out of boreholes, leaving them dry, forcing elephants to destroy fences, farm gates and zinc storage dams in order to drink water at (commercial) farms.

    "Some fifty years ago, the elephants, which were on commercial farmland around Kamanjab, were lured to Etosha, which then did not have a fence.

    There were far fewer boreholes on communal and commercial farmland than today and thus half a century ago far less elephants due to limited water supply."

    Von Bach told the LPO congress the many water points created by commercial farmers and those by Government for communal farmers let elephants multiply at a rate of six per cent annually.

    "In Etosha the elephant population increases by only three per cent."

    Farmers had huge infrastructure damage as elephants destroyed not only fences and gates, but also ripped out underground water pipes.

    "They bend over wind pumps and rip holes into the walls of zinc dams with their tusks, so that their little calves could drink the water," Von Bach stated.

    Trees and shrubs were also damaged.

    "We must find an amicable solution for everyone, elephants, farmers and for tourism," he told the LPO congress.

    COMMERCIAL CONSERVANCIES Ben Beytell, Director of Parks and Wildlife Management in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism told the LPO that his Ministry recently received a study on elephants in the affected regions and expert proposals for a comprehensive sustainable elephant management plan.

    "We must further establish the economic value of elephants with regard to tourism and trophy hunting," Beytell said.

    One issue Von Bach criticised was that the Ministry did not recognise conservancies on commercial farms.

    "There are many such conservancies and we have an association, but we failed to obtain recognition, despite many attempts," Von Bach told The Namibian.

    "Our conservancy near Kamanjab for instance proposed to the MET that we manage the elephants on our farms ourselves, but that was not permitted.

    We also proposed to have at least 100 elephants caught and translocated to game parks in Angola at our own cost, it would not have cost MET a cent and the Angolans would have received the animals for free, but again Government did not want that," a frustrated Von Bach told this newspaper.

    Since peace came to Angola in 2002 after a protracted civil war, tourism has picked up tremendously.

    Both the LPO and the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU) will commission a joint study on elephant conflicts on commercial farms.

    Elephants in the former Kaokoland were virtually wiped out by South African apartheid government and military officials, including the late President John Vorster, who shot several elephants in the Hoanib River driven towards him with military helicopters.

    Severe poaching in the eighties and droughts decimated the few remaining herds to almost zero.

    Dedicated conservation measures by non-governmental organisations in the past 23 years, together with the Namibian Government since Independence in 1990 allowed elephant populations to bounce back.

    Last year, the Global Environment Fund (GEF) of the United Nations made a grant of US$34 358 available to the NAU and the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) over a three-year period to find ways of mitigating Human-Elephant conflict in the Kalkfeld and Kamanjab areas.

    The project aims to assist communal and commercial farmers to minimise the human-elephant conflict.

    This is to be done through the production of chillies as a deterrent and a non-lethal alternative.

    Communities are trained on how to monitor elephant movement thus ensuring sustainable elephant management.

    Source: The Namibian

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