The environment ministry has railed against critics of the government’s auction of 170 elephants.
The ministry’s executive director, Teofilus Nghitila, said the decision was not taken lightly and is fully in line with Namibian laws and policies as well as various international agreements to which Namibia is a signatory.
The ministry took the decision to put 170 elephants up for auction in an effort to relieve the pressure from human-elephant conflicts on communities in the four hotspot areas of Omatjete, Kamanjab, Grootfontein-Kavango Cattle Ranch, and Grootfontein-Tsumkwe.
However, this has been received with heavy criticism by both local and international animal activists, who claim that auctioning off jumbos has the potential to reduce the elephant population, among others.
Nghitila yesterday hit back that government is fully confident that it will not jeopardise the overall population and health of elephants in the country at large, which currently stands at 24 091, as stated in the census of the 2016 elephants survey.
There are an estimated 1 172 elephants in the northwest Kunene region.
“Most of our critics fail to recognise that Namibia’s conservation has been a success because people have accepted to co-exist with animals. However, this co-existence is truly threatened by cases of human-wildlife conflict, and we would not want to imagine what could happen when people in their frustration no longer accept sharing their living spaces with wild animals. Both human and animal lives matter, and we will continue to make difficult decisions to ensure our continued co-existence,” he remarked.
Nghitila gave an update that out of the 170 adult elephants offered for sale, only 57 were successfully sold and the buyers were Namibian entities, who by virtue of being the successful bidders became the legal owners of those elephants.
Once the successful bidders have ownership of the elephants, they are within their rights to utilise them in any way, provided it is within the confines of domestic and international laws.
On 5 March 2022, the 22 elephants captured from the Kamanjab commercial farming area in the Kunene region and supplied to one of the successful bidders, were exported to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The elephants arrived in the United Arab Emirates on 6 March 2022, and are reportedly doing well.
“I wish to clarify in this case that the export of these elephants was a private transaction between the private owner of the elephants and their clients in the UAE. The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism had no stake in this transaction, apart from providing the necessary permits as were applied for by the owner,” he added.
Similarly, he explained that the 22 elephants exported to the UAE were captured from 3 to 5 September 2021 in the Kamanjab area, and generated a total of N$3.3 million (average price per elephant of N$150 000).
The 15 elephants bought by N/a’an ku sê were captured from 31 August to 1 September 2021 in the Khorixas area (part of the Omatjete population). This generated N$1.125 million (average price per elephant of N$75 000). He gave the assurance that the money for all supplied elephants is paid into the Game Products Trust Fund.
The National Elephant Conservation and Management Plan states that elephant population reductions should be considered in certain instances.
Therefore, he defended reducing wildlife population numbers in certain areas is in fact a conservation tool and a conservation management strategy that has proven to be effective in Namibia, where they routinely translocate threatened and endangered animal species to other parts of Namibia as well as to other countries.
In recent years, the ministry has been troubled over escalating incidences of human-wildlife conflict, seen as one of the most difficult challenges they face.
“Complaints of damage from wildlife, particularly elephants, to crop fields, livestock, humans and infrastructure such as fences, gates and water installations are complaints we as a ministry need to respond to and deal with on a constant and consistent basis. Those who trivialise this issue ought to be more sensitive to the plight of our communities and farmers, and recognise as we do that human-wildlife conflict is a serious challenge. If it is not managed carefully, it has the potential to reverse all our conservation gains, including the increased elephant numbers across the country,” Nghitila reacted.
He furthermore cautioned Namibians to follow conservation methods in the country at all times to understand how and why some decisions are taken, and not only to react negatively after a decision is taken. He reiterated that most people will criticise without understanding the basis of the government’s decisions, even when these are anchored in the existing laws, policies and plans.