Namibia: Farming With Elephants?


The Namibian

Date Published

The Kavango West Regional Council recently complained that free-roaming elephants were destroying crops and agricultural infrastructure in their region, killing people and making farming extremely difficult.

Is it possible to farm where wild elephants roam freely?

It was suggested last year to herd some of the approximately 700 free-roaming elephants in western Kavango into the Mangetti National Park.

Animal scientists advise that a large mammal population consist of 150 females minimum to avoid inbreeding.

To sustain such a population of elephant cows plus the associated bulls and juveniles requires doubling or even trebling the Mangetti National Park, currently 420 km2 in extent.

The Park can expand westwards into Kahenge, cross the B8 tar road and potentially join up with the NDC’s “elephant farm”.

It appears more practical to expand it eastwards towards the Mbeyo community forest in Kapako. The remaining free-roaming elephants would be at the mercy of Kavango’s farmers.

Traditional communities would have to sacrifice some of their land to expand the Park and save the elephants. Logically, they should be compensated for this sacrifice.

The Kavango West Regional Council should be responsible for the expanded Mangetti Park, restrict the size of its elephant population by trophy hunting and channel the proceeds towards affected communities.

The NDC’s Kavango cattle ranch in the Mangetti has a resident herd of about 80 elephants.

They are the main reason why this wonderfully built-up commercial farm is only able to produce 1 million tonnes of beef annually, down from 8 million tonnes before elephants.

Elephants trample fences and destroy water reservoirs, making cattle ranching over tens of thousands of hectares all but impossible.

Farm management is desperate and prepared to set aside 60 000 hectares on which to contain these elephants, as well as scarce wild dogs that occur here freely too, so they can proceed unhindered with cattle farming on the remaining land.

There has been little movement on this plan and elephants continue “to eat the beef”.

On the sandy plains of eastern Zambezi region, good soil is scarce.

Farmers seek out termite mounds and plant their maize in small patches of 50 m2 on the loamy soil around termite mounds. There are too few thorn bushes here to bush-fence these garden patches, in which maize grows beautifully.

Just before it is ready to harvest, elephants come at night, walking from termite mound to termite mound and eat the maize, leaving villagers destitute and hungry in what is really an agricultural paradise.

The disgruntled villagers are advised to bang drums and throw chilli bombs at the elephants.

Elephants are indeed deterred by noise and chilli, but have you tried doing this? Have you the guts to run towards a herd of elephant, at night, approach them closely and hurl some chilli powder at them?

Do you know how big, agile and dangerous an enraged elephant is that feels attacked by man?

My heart is in my pants just at the thought! How hypocritical to expect local farmers to risk their lives like this, for a few bags of maize.

Consequently, resistance against the conservancy concept is brewing among local farmers, a concept that has successfully saved wildlife, but at the expense of farmers, the single largest group of land-users in the Zambezi.

If this region could urgently develop and implement a comprehensive land use plan which protects areas demarcated for agricultural use from large animals that make productive farming virtually impossible, both wildlife and farmers would win.

At the moment, wildlife is protected at the expense of farmers; an unsustainable situation. And elephants are not the only problem animal species here!

In the western communal areas bordering Etosha National Park, farmers have been plagued by elephants for ages.

There is less crop production and thus less damage here, but more people have been killed by elephants than elsewhere.

It is indeed impossible to farm with elephants. Commercial farmers know this very well.

Whenever a solitary elephant crosses from Botswana into Omaheke or Ot- jozondjupa, it is soon destroyed.

Why do we expect communal farmers to put up with elephants? The conservancy movement must re-think this problem as it cannot afford to lose the support of farmers, who manage 70% of Namibia’s land area.