By: Garth Owen-Smith, Co-director of
Over the past years the escalating media frenzy, sensational headlines and misinformation over the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s issuing of trophy elephant hunting permits in Namibia has been incredible. Having worked as an agricultural official in the then Kaokoveld (1968-70), I was in charge of the field operations in Kaokoland and Damaraland (1982-1990), and since then been co-director with Dr Margaret Jacobsohn of the Namibian NGO Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, which works with 25 conservancies in the Kunene Region, I would like to give my perspective on the issue.
Let me start with the situation in the late sixties. At the time I estimated the number of elephants in the Kaokoveld (north of Sesfontein) to be between 600 and 800, of which about 200 were permanently, or semi-permanently resident west of the escarpment, in the pre-Namib but which also moved down the larger riverbeds into the true Namib Desert. The only other elephants inhabiting such an arid habitat were in the Gourme Reserve, on the border between Chad and Mali.
When I returned to the region in 1982 the situation was very different. On the highlands of Kaokoland commercial poaching had wiped out all but about 50 elephants along the border with Owambo and the Etosha National Park. An accurate figure was impossible to get because most of this area was then a war zone. Based on Dr PJ Viljoen’s research (1975 to 1983) and an aerial census in 1982, west of the escarpment only six elephants survived on the lower Kunene River and 30 along the lower Hoanib River.
The situation in Damaraland was a little better, with 185 elephants in the Ombonde, Uniab and Huab river catchments, of which between 30 and 40 were in the pre-Namib along the Uniab and its tributaries. There were then no elephants in the lower Huab or in the Uchab catchment. However, as over 80 elephant carcasses were also counted, it was clear that large-scale ivory poaching was now taking place here. [read more…]