Why is Namibia killing its rare desert elephants?
On Saturday June 21, one of the few desert elephants in the Republic of Namibia was shot dead by a hunter’s rifle. Unlike most other elephants that die on any given day in Africa, this particular elephant was legally killed. Namibia has reportedly sold nine hunting licenses to foreign hunters for undisclosed amounts. Two of the bulls, the first of which was killed last month, are “problem” animals that have come into conflict with local humans. The other seven will be killed for their trophies.
Desert elephants, which are only found in Namibia and Mali, are not a distinct species or subspecies. They are, however, particularly suited to their arid environments. The animals show some morphological differences compared to savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), especially their slimmer body and wider feet. They also possess a number of unique behaviors shared by no other African elephant, such as digging wells to purify their drinking water. Tourists regularly travel to Namibia to volunteer in elephant conservation and organizations such as Desert Lion and Elephant Conservation have been established to protect and study them.
Namibia’s desert elephants were nearly wiped out by poachers before the international ivory ban was first established in 1989. The country says it is now home to around 600 desert elephants, a number that environmentalists dispute. According to the Conservation Action Trust, only about 100 desert elephants remain in Namibia, including only 18 adult males. Slaughter would wipe out half of these males. According to the organization, the loss of adult role models would create more behavior problems in the future and also lead to a loss of the unique ways of the population.
Namibia, however, does not view its desert elephants as different animals from other elephants within its borders. In a press release (pdf) sent in early June, Simeon N. Negumbo, permanent secretary of the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, wrote that the country is home to more than 20,000 elephants and the region where the hunts will take place. has a total of 391 elephants with a sex ratio of 55 percent. He called the desert elephants “tourist attractions” and said all the elephants in the country are “no longer rare … but only potentially valuable”. He noted that human-wildlife conflicts are on the increase and some humans have been killed by elephant attacks.
Particularly ironic given this last point, a hunter named Johann Louw was attacked and trampled by a Namibian elephant on July 5. Louw and his team of hunters are said to have received one of nine desert elephant hunting permits. Louw was hospitalized. The fate of the elephant that attacked him is unknown to this day.
This whole situation echoes so many of the problems elephants face today. In many regions, animals are poached into oblivion. In a few others, they are mostly protected and reproduce well, but are also increasingly crowded into increasingly reduced habitats, bringing them into conflict with humans and their own species as they vie for power. food and space. I have been writing about elephants for 25 years now and it is impossible to say how it will all play out. Tragically, the only sure result I can see these days is death.
Photos: Desert elephant Taurus and cow photographed by Vernon Swanepoel. Used under Creative Commons license