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Having read all the emotional comments on the topic of hunting desert elephants in Namibia, I thought I would give a brief comment.

When the Namibian community-based conservation program started in the 1980s there were about 70 elephants using the desert. The rest had been poached. Today there are approximately double that number, thanks to communities, conservation NGOs, government and donors, including WWF, working together.

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The above picture was taken from a vehicle. But Namibia’s desert elephants were not always so calm and habituated to vehicles. When we started working on community-based conservation initiatives in the 1980s the remnant population of surviving elephants fled at the sound of a car, hiding and making a security circle around their young. Today tourists and tour operators are reaping the benefits of two plus decades of community conservation work. And elephants are both increasing and spreading in parts of Kunene – hence the increasing conflicts with people. Where communal conservancies have been formed there are legal ways to return some benefits from living with dangerous wildlife to local people. Not all conservancies have a good record of equitable benefit distribution to their members yet but improving their governance is a major focus of NGO and government work with these community-based organisations.

There are another 400 to 600 elephants living outside the desert zone within the Kunene Region. Without the conservation partnership of the last 30 years I have little doubt there would be no elephants left in the Kunene, let along desert elephants, and little other wildlife.

The six trophy elephant permits over three years come from the non-desert zone – approximately 0.5% of the population per year. Two non-trophy permits could come from the desert population close to people.

I personally do not think ANY desert elephants should be hunted. And I cannot imagine how people can enjoy shooting elephants, desert dwelling or not. But as I do not live among elephants and I know first-hand how much they can impact on local people’s lives and economies, I feel I have no right to push my emotional opinion. The reality is that in the last few years a number of Kunene and so called desert elephants, including breeding cows, have been shot at – and killed and wounded – by community members who were trying to chase these animals out of their living/farming spaces. For every one local person quoted as not wanting elephants hunted, I am afraid we could find 100 community members who don’t want the danger and damage. Community conservation is a tricky line to walk, as Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism knows well. The best interpretation of MET’s issuing of these controversial and unpopular hunting permits is that this is an honest attempt to head off direct action against elephants by some local people, as well as generate some income for communities.

Energy goes where one’s attention is and I would urge people to look at the rest of Africa – if it is true that around 35 000 elephants are being killed a year as one correspondent claims, then we should be promoting community based conservation in those countries instead of attacking the Namibian government which has the best conservation record in Africa. Similarly WWF deserves all credit for its long-term support of community conservation.

I am glad over-population was mentioned by some correspondents and add two other of the biggest challenges facing our planet – affluent consumerism and the gap between the haves and have nots.

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Dr Margaret Jacobsohn is a Namibian anthropologist, writer and community-based conservation specialist who has been working in Namibia's communal areas for the last 30 years.

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