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Over the past six years only 112 kilometres of the boundary fence of the Etosha National Park has been upgraded and it will take ten years or more to complete the remaining 712 kilometres.
The ministry estimates that the construction of the remainder would cost N$419 million at current prices and could create many jobs, says the director of wildlife and national parks, Colgar Sikopo.
This statement was made by the tourism ministry after a video clip was circulated on social media showing the poor condition of the park fence.
According to Sikopo, the boundary fence is extremely long, measuring 822 kilometres bordering the Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati and Kunene regions.
The existing boundary consists of various types of fences, the predominant one being a game-proof fence. There is also an 80-kilometre-long, 1.2-metre-high stock-proof fence. This fence was erected in the early 1960s and has deteriorated in some areas.
Since 2012, the ministry has started erecting an electrified, elephant- and predator-proof fence.
The budget allocations for this exercise have been as follows: N$35 million for 2012/13, N$40 million for 2013/14, N$40 million for N$2014/15, and N$20 million for 2015/16.
In the financial year 2016/17 an amount of N$29 million was allocated but it was then reduced to N$14.5 million, and in 2017/18 only N$12 million was allocated. For this financial year, N$23.8 million has been allocated.
Sikopo said at the current rate of work the upgrade of the fence would take another ten years or more.
Although Etosha has no African buffaloes, which can be carriers of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), the virus is highly contagious in cloven-hoofed animals.
“We are therefore aware that it is of great importance to ensure that control measures such as the fencing of the park are in place and enforced because any outbreak of this disease among livestock can have a devastating effect on both the livestock and wildlife sector.”
Anthrax had been reported in Etosha in the past and it was important to keep livestock out of the park to prevent contagion, he said.
Elephant- and lion-proof fences cost more than N$689 285 per kilometre, which means that the remaining 712 kilometres of fencing will cost the government N$491 million at current prices.
“We are aware that some parts of the cattle-proof fence are in bad condition as a result of destruction by elephants on a daily basis, especially during the wet season. The most affected area is the northern boundary cattle-proof fence.”
Sikopo said this fence stretches from where the new fence stops at Aupindi corner to the area west of Onanke to Kleinrivier. This area is impossible to reach from the park during the rainy season. Elephants regularly escape from the park in the area from the Ekuma River, past the Oshigambo River up to Kleinrivier.
During the dry season surface water in that area becomes too salty for the elephants and they move south and east, deeper into the park.
However once the rains start and surface water is available, elephant herds move out of the park looking for summer grazing.
Six staff members stationed at Onanke have to maintain this portion of the fence and are allocated only one government vehicle.
“It is not possible to bring in more staff to maintain the fence as the other available staff are tasked to attend to issues of wildlife protection and law enforcement given the current levels of poaching of rhinos and elephants, as well as attending to incidents of human-wildlife conflict on a daily basis.”
Sikopo said it was also unfortunate that the Directorate of Wildlife and National Parks had over 400 vacant positions across the country.
Budget constraints were another major challenge but the ministry was doing its best to do more with less.
“We are looking at all possible ways to keep up with the maintenance of the boundary fence of Etosha including moving staff from other duty stations in the country to Etosha,” said Sikopo.
The ministry urged communities and farmers around Etosha not to panic, as the situation was receiving immediate attention.
Etosha is one of the largest and oldest national parks in Africa and is Namibia’s number one tourist destination. It is home to 114 large and small mammal species more than 400 recorded bird species, scores of reptiles and even a fish species. The park was proclaimed in 1907 and has a size of 22 935 square kilometres.