Namibia: Chilli Bombs and Soft Drink Cans to Keep Elephants Out


Steve Felton, The Namibian

Date Published

Farmer Richard Malambo has spent most of his working life fencing things in, not out. Before he retired to his farm he was in the prison service, keeping felons behind the wire. Assistant Commissioner Malambo is now busy building another fence, this time around his six hectare plot, to keep the elephants out.

Malambo lives at Ioma village, in Salambala Conservancy near the Ngoma border post with Botswana. Elephants from Chobe National Park are not concerned with borders.

They follow age-old migratory routes through the woodlands of Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, passing through modern day Zambezi region.

Last year, seven elephants passed through Malambo’s maize field. Apart from their large appetite, they have massive feet, reports the aggrieved farmer. What they didn’t eat, they trampled. He lost just about all of his crop.

Malambo’s brother is Salambala Conservancy’s chief game guard, Martin Nandu. Quick as a shot, Malambo rang his conservationist brother and told him to “get your animals out of my field and take them somewhere!”

Whose animals?

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism states unequivocally that wildlife belongs to the state. If individual animals cause danger to humans, the ministry may kill them.

The ministry also has a compensation scheme for damage to crops and livestock from wildlife, but prefers the name ‘Self-Reliance Scheme’.

Money from the Game Products Trust Fund – money accrued by government from trophy hunting – is ploughed back into conservancies. They should then match the government funding and compensate farmers for stock and crop losses.

Malambo tots up the money. He calls himself a peanut farmer. For the loss of six hectares worth of maize he was compensated with N$800. Now he is building a fence. He is employing local workers at a rate of N$10 per fence post and N$5 for each hole dug. To fence in six hectares he needs 1 000 poles; that’s N$15 000. It cost him N$600 to plough the field. The sums just don’t add up.

The compensation is “peanuts”, says Malambo.

The conservancy does its best.

The conservation NGO, IRDNC, provides the wire for the fencing for free as a human-wildlife mitigation measure. It also trains farmers to build fences that will deter elephants. Malambo’s conservationist brother has supplied the farmer with soft drink cans to string out on the fence wire. The noise made when elephants touch the fence turns the giants away.

Other measures include chilli bombs – smoking piles of elephant dung mixed with chilli seeds. Elephants detest the potent smell.

But in other ways Zambezi region is smelling the seeds of success. Tourism is taking off.

Zambezi region, the finger of Namibia pointing at Zimbabwe between Botswana, Angola and Zambia, is at the heart of KAZA, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, where five southern African countries plan to provide space for wildlife and to preserve migratory routes – corridors – with money earned from tourism.

Just down the road from Malambo’s field is Camp Chobe, a joint venture between the private sector and the conservancy.

The lodge sits on the flood plain between Botswana’s national park and the route elephants take to Zambia: a wildlife corridor.

Tourist income from the lodge on the Chobe flood plain is used to offset crop losses to farmers like Malambo. The conservancy also earns money from trophy hunting.

Last year six elephants were sold to hunters, earning a considerable sum.

Namibia is home to about 20 000 elephants. The conservancy has no qualms about selling six for trophies, which will pay the salaries of its game guards who prevent illegal hunting, and provide community benefits and offsets for crop losses.

Elephant numbers in Namibia have grown from around 7 500 in the mid-nineties to the current number? today, precisely because of community based conservation.

The trade-offs between farming and conservation are not always easy to make. Malambo has to feed eight children. The rains have been poor this year, and he only expects one crop. With luck, and help from the conservancy, his new fence will stop the elephants from eating it.