In North-West Namibia lies a rare and hauntingly beautiful stretch of land, known as the Kunene Region. Nature is bold here, sharp, clean-cut and pure; with fiery days shimmering in heat-waves and an endless expanse of glittering diamonds in the jet-black night sky. This is the home of the legendary Namibian desert elephant.
Desert elephants live in a society with strong social cohesion. They are unique and perfectly adapted to surviving under the harsh conditions of the desert’s long sweltering days with little water, and nights that can get bitterly cold. The annual rainfall in this region is below 100mm. Although there are no known genetic adaptations to desert dwelling, their learned behaviour serves them well. These gentle giants have mastered the art of living in a harsh, unfriendly world, and therefor they are distinct enough to be classed into a special group of rare elephant who urgently need our protection.
The group regarded as the desert elephants consists of about 100 members. Normally, with elephants, there is a one to one male to female ratio, which is the perfect equation designed by nature, for the survival of the species. Due to past poaching and indiscriminate destruction of these animals, the ratio has declined to approximately 1 male to 13 females. This decline destroys the social cohesion between the animals, which in turn makes the whole herd become more aggressive and restless. It also depletes the available gene-pool diversity to a great extent. In short, this decline means that these elephant are dying out. The last of only two desert adapted populations (the other is in Mali) in Africa (and hence the world) is being eradicated, mostly as a result of the human lust for power.
Although concerted conservation efforts since the 1980s have resulted in an increase in numbers from as little as around 60 to over 300 just a few years ago, they are now once again in decline. This time though, not through poaching, but gross environmental mismanagement.
The current government of Namibia have always insisted that there is not a problem with the rapidly vanishing elephants. Their accepted figures reflect that there are approximately 300+ wild desert elephants left. On the ground, however, conservationists actively involved in the field estimate this number to be no more than 100. Of these 100 elephants it is estimated that only about 18 are mature bulls. And this is where the problem comes in:
The Namibian general election is due to be held in November this year. The ruling party, SWAPO, has in the past received very limited support from marginalized communities in Damaraland and Kaokoland. In turn, these same communities also receive little or no assistance from the government of Namibia, due to their differences in tribal and political affiliations. A source inside the government has leaked information about the sale of hunting permits for up to 6 of these 18 bulls for non-trophy hunting (more than 33% of the suitable remaining bull elephants); this means the bulls will be shot by hunters just like normal big game, except that the hunters will not be able to take any trophies home with them. The meat from these elephants will then be given to the marginalised communities mentioned above, in order to gain their political support. In essence this means that each person would receive approximately US$1 worth of meat. A small price to pay for a vote.
The Namibian government has apparently secretly proceeded with the sale of these hunting permits, against the advice of highly qualified scientists and conservationists working tirelessly towards the protection and understanding of these elephants in the desert. Legitimate efforts to buy these permits have been made by private concerns and tour operators, who understand their live value and the fact that these elephants bring massive revenue into the communal areas. The options made available to the Namibian government include replacing the elephant meat with beef for the villages. These offers have been ignored in lieu of the Namibian government furthering their own political agenda.
The world cannot afford to let this happen. We cannot afford to lose a single one of these gentle giants. Their seemingly magical ability to adapt is a hard-won prize from Mother Nature who harshly teaches man and beast alike that everyone is given the right and opportunity to survive. They are irreplaceable; they are a symbol of survival under the toughest conditions imaginable, a true tribute to tenacity.