Namibia: Human-Wildlife Conflict Worsens As Drought Hits Hard


Adam Hartman

Date Published

The conflict between humans and elephants in the Kunene region is worsening because of the drought, and desperate needs may call for desperate measures, Outjo district representative of the Namibia Agricultural Union, Pieter Gouws says.

Gouws told The Namibian yesterday that there are several elephant herds, totalling about 200 animals, competing with the already struggling commercial and communal farmers in the drought-stricken region. According to him, one elephant is equal to 20 head of cattle.

“That is equivalent to 4 000 head of cattle competing with the other animals for diminishing resources. They are here permanently, and there is nothing the farmers can do anymore. Infrastructure is being destroyed, and replacement costs are enormous,” Gouws stated.

The figure of 200 elephants could not be confirmed independently.

According to him, the majority of the cattle farmers are down to their core herds due to the drought. This means the majority of their livestock had to be sold to ensure the survival of the core herds, and to stay sustainable in what is considered the worst drought in decades.

Gouws accused government of dragging its feet when it comes to finding a solution to a problem that could “break” the farmers there.

“Elephants do not have enemies. They can do what they want if they are not controlled,” he said, adding that they destroy fences, water points, solar systems and even small buildings.

“We can drive through five farms, and you would not even know that we had just driven through the farms because all the infrastructure would have been destroyed,” Gouws explained.

According to him, permits are issued to shoot problem animals, but these are too little too late to solve the problem. Asked what the solution could be, he hinted at the destruction of whole herds of the pachyderms.

“These are not loner animals. They are in herds, so it may be that one will have to destroy an entire herd to reduce the number and the conflict. Relocating such large numbers will involve astronomical costs, but getting a permit to destroy them will not only benefit the farmers and communities here, but could also contribute to the food bank and the Harambee Prosperity Plan,” Gouws suggested. “The point is, something must be done fast.”

Another farmer, Helmke von Bach in the Kamanjab area, said in the end, it will be the poor worker or communal farmer who may face the biggest danger.

“The elephants also become stressed because of the conflict, and we have had incidents where the animals chase a worker or even a tourist. What if they trample them, or destroy a communal farmer’s home while the family is inside?” he asked.

He added that it was also not just a human-wildlife conflict, but it was leading to human-to-human conflict because of infrastructure that got damaged, as well as animals from commercial and communal farmers mixing and competing for resources.

“Elephants are said to be a national asset, but the question is: who has to carry the brunt of the damage? The farmers? If we want to see elephants as a national asset, they need to be managed as such, and it may even mean the creation of ‘elephant tax’ to compensate farmers who struggle with damage control on a daily basis to ensure that the national asset is safe,” he noted.

Rachel Harris of the Elephant-Humans Relations Aid said the drought does play a role in the growing tensions between humans and animals, and that they have been working with communities and farmers to find ways to address and mitigate the conflicts through awareness and the proposal of erecting strong infrastructure that could help in preventing the conflict.

“The idea is to find a solution; maybe create elephant corridors through which they can move without coming in the way of farmers; or the creation of better fences,” she reasoned.

Contacted for comment, environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta said he was in a meeting, and requested that an SMS be sent, explaining what the issue was about. He, however, had not replied by the time of going to print.