by Adam Hartman
NAMIBIAN non-governmental organisation Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) launched its first elephant guard training programme last month at their base camp in Damaraland.
This initiative was funded by EHRA’s educational programme, Peace (People and Elephants Amicably Co-Existing), as well as tour operators ATC Namibia, Gebeco and Futouris.
Traditional authorities worked with local conservancies to identify the most suitable candidates for the training programme. The trainees came from conservancies, namely Sorris Sorris, Otjimboyo, Ohungu and Tsiseb, as well as from the Okongwe, Omatjete and Otjiperongo districts and the Bwabwata National Park at Divundu.
The elephant guard training educates individuals on the resident elephants in conflict-affected regions; how to identify different herds; and also to predict their movement patterns to better combat elephant-human conflict.
Participants are trained on different methods to deter elephants from farms and homesteads, as well as how to effectively handle elephant-related emergencies.
The objective is to equip all elephant guards with the relevant knowledge and skills to teach community members about elephants and conflict mitigation methods. These guards will become the first point-of-contact within their conservancies, and are encouraged to hold training seminars with community members to inform them about elephants, and how to co-exist with them.
“We are extremely proud of this initiative, and truly believe that education is key to creating a positive relationship between elephants and humans. EHRA has been advocating elephant conservation in Namibia for many years, and we are very excited to empower the community to work together to preserve our last remaining desert-dwelling elephants.
“The conservancies have been an incredible support, and we can’t wait to work with this highly motivated group of future elephant guards,” Rachel Harris, managing director of EHRA, said in a press release yesterday.
EHRA will be hosting regular training seminars next year in collaboration with the relevant conservancies and traditional authorities until the participants graduate.
Since 2004, EHRA has helped to foster peaceful relationships between free-roaming desert-dwelling elephants and humans in Namibia.
Due to the devastating successive droughts in the region, elephants can be destructive in their search for water, and out of desperation, they frequently destroy water pipes or drive their tusks through water tanks to get water for the herd.
This behaviour can leave communities without reliable water sources for years.
EHRA works directly with local communities to provide hands-on conservation support through the construction of protective walls, which allow elephants access to water but not to the windmills, water storage tanks, or pumps.
Funding is provided by an award-winning volunteering programme which encourages participants to help with the construction of the protective walls, as well as join elephant patrols. To date, EHRA has constructed over 220 protective walls with the help of more than 2 500 volunteers.
The PEACE project was launched in 2009 in response to the increasing conflicts and intolerance towards elephants.
The project teaches residents important facts about how elephants live and behave, how to interpret elephant behaviour, and most importantly, how to protect themselves and their livelihoods during encounters with elephants.
Through educational workshops, people of all age groups and social backgrounds learn and experience the true nature of elephants, which reduces their fears and changes unfounded beliefs and attitudes, which in turn helps secure a future for Namibia’s unique desert elephants. To date, the project has educated more than 1 635 participants.