Conserving Namibia’s Endangered Desert Elephants

Namibia’s desert elephants are one of two desert elephant populations worldwide, surviving the extreme conditions of Namibia’s arid northwest where annual rainfall averages 150mm. As a keystone species, the elephants’ presence in the desert helps ensure the survival of other species that rely on their feeding habits, water-digging abilities and seed dispersal. They also generate revenue from tourism and create jobs for rural communities.

The population has decreased to fewer than 150 today however, mostly due to human-elephant conflicts (HEC) over water supplies, loss of habitat, and increasingly dry conditions. The group of elephants that Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) follow has had 100% calf mortality rate since 2015, and, in 2020, as a result of drought, moved out of their core range into greener but more human-dominated areas where many were illegally shot. This project will incorporate this larger area into its HEC mitigation programme including elephant- focused training/education, protecting human water sources, and understanding the elephants’ migration routes over 1.8m hectares. The ancient elephant migration routes will be protected by installing 3 wildlife water sources and ensuring access to required food and nutrients, and an Elephant Corridor Tourism project to increase the perceived value of elephants to farmers.

Watch a short video that gives an overview of the project and its achievements so far.

The Update

Now complete, here are some of the amazing achievements implemented by EHRA:

– 43 elephant tracking patrols, 18 of which were funded by EOCA. These provided the following information: elephant identification and movement data, population health data, natural and man-made water point locations, availability of vegetation, as well as what vegetation the elephants fed on.

– The installation of six camera traps at village water points. These helped understand which elephants are using which water point, when the water points are used, and how elephants move between villages.

 – Compiling of an elephant census report using direct tracking, collar data, and camera trap data.

– Building 3 water point protection walls at villages within conflict hotspots to prevent elephant damage to water pumping/storing equipment and water waste.

– Building 3 alternative elephant dams to keep elephants in a safe area away from human settlements to decrease conflicts.

– Reaching 2855 community members and 170 school children through their educational programmes (P.E.A.C.E. and S.E.E.D.). EOCA funded 27 1-day P.E.A.C.E. Conflict Mitigation Workshops in 9 villages with a total of 540 community members and funded 5 projects with 100 school learners.

– EHRA’s communal Elephant Guard team has grown to 7 people. The Guards are based at their homesteads and are recognised as the local elephant experts. They respond to any human- elephant conflicts and investigate damage, initiate repairs, guard homesteads or local events if elephants are close, share information about the whereabouts of collared elephants, and they also independently conduct P.E.A.C.E. education and outreach courses.

– 8 elephant satellite collars were fitted, one of which EOCA co-funded. These collars serve 3 functions: 1. Conflict management, 2. Long-term movement studies, 3. Extended protection of the elephant. EHRA created geofences around over 200 villages and over 40 commercial farms. Every time a collared elephant crosses the geofence, an automatic alert is sent via WhatsApp to EHRA’s management team and the local Elephant Guards. Local people can prepare themselves, be safe, and apply relevant mitigation methods. EHRA has received very positive feedback from the communities; knowing where the elephants are most of the time creates a sense of calm and reduces the risks of dangerous confrontations.

– Elephant movement onto commercial farms was mapped, thereby helping farmers make the decision to dedicate impacted areas to elephants, whilst effectively protecting the rest of the farm with an electric fence. EHRA has been awarded high-resolution satellite imagery (through Airbus and the connected Conservation Foundation), and this – together with elephant collar data, vegetation and rainfall data, and human-elephant conflict incidents – will be used to analyse conflict hotspots, movement motivators, and potential corridors.

The elephant corridor tourism initiative is still in its early stages, but it is generally welcomed. The communal Elephant Guards received level 2 National Tour Guiding Qualification with the aim of enabling the local communities to develop tourism within their area to add a benefit to the presence of elephants. Despite the area not being ready for tourism yet, self-drivers are often seen exploring the ephemeral riverbeds on their own accord. Unfortunately, this means that local people do not earn any income from these independent tourists. By having their own qualified Elephant Guards as guides, visitors can be directed toward such local guides and communities can start implementing regulations for such eventualities.

Local guides and tourism establishments that benefit local communities can be found here.

With many thanks to EOCA member deuter, which raised money to help fund this project during Green Friday 2022.