There are growing fears that Namibia is about to sell off hunting rights to a third of the remaining adult bull desert elephants in the country. With an estimated population of just over 100 elephants and just 18 of those being adult males the loss of a third of the breeding males would be devastating for the long-term viability of the famous desert elephants of Namibia.
Living in harsh conditions such as the desert has forced this population of elephants to learn new techniques to survive and this has been passed down through the generations. As the population grows smaller and the mature adults are killed the ability for the herd to maintain it’s knowledge in living in these highly stressful conditions diminishes.
While the Namibian government claims that the population is strong at over 500 elephants local conservationists believe the actual numbers are around 100 elephants. Of far more concern is the ratio between males and females. Previous hunting and poaching has reduced the breeding bull elephants to such an extent that there is now 13 females for every male elephant. This ration will grow even larger if 6 more mature bull elephants are killed in the prosed hunt later this year.
Desert living elephants are a rare group of elephants. While they are not genetically distinct from other African plains elephants they have a special herd knowledge that allows them to survive I the harsh conditions of the desert. Apart from the Namibian population the only other group of elephants with this specialist knowledge and skills can be found in Mali.
With so few elephants now with the skills and knowledge to survive in these conditions the loss of any adult elephants takes away essential skills and the ability to pass that knowledge down through the generations. The unnatural ratio of males and females also breaks down the social connections within the herd that allows the herd to survive the hard conditions.
The life of the desert elephant is harsh and the herd knowledge allows the herd to continually migrate from one watering hole to another using memory to deal with differing climate conditions.
Maintaining a viable population of mature adult bull elephants is important as juvenile male elephants leave the family group at about 12 years of age and many will attach themselves to a mature male in order to learn both practical and social skills that they will need as they come into breeding adulthood.
Namibia’s desert elephants live in the arid region of Kunene in north west Namibia. In the earlier 1900′s there were as many as 3,000 elephants in the desert herds.
Prior to the 1980′s one population of Namibian desert elephants would regularly undertake a long-distance migration between Kunene River on the Angolan border, to the Hoarusib River. It was a migration of 100′s kilometres mainly undertaken at night when temperatures were cool. Sadly this population became extinct following the Angolan war and heavy poaching.
The hunt is expected to take place in the Namibian election campaigns in November and the meat from the elephants is expected to be distributed to local rural communities in an attempt by the current government to win their votes.