Jornal de Angola

March 1, 2020

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Eleven national citizens died, 5,000 hectares of cultivated land were destroyed and 600 families abandoned their plots since 2002, due to the invasion of elephant herds in the regions of Beira-Alta and Caboco, in Cuanza-Norte.

The municipalities of Banga, Ngonguembo and Golungo Alto are the most affected by elephant feedings. In the municipality of Golungo Alto, eight people died when trying to react to the attacks of elephants. Four of the fatalities were members of the Angolan Armed Forces deployed in the Nzenza do Itombe barracks.

The Jornal de Angola report traveled 430 kilometers, over four days, to verify on the ground the drama experienced by the peasant communities of Banga, Ngonguembo and Golungo Alto, where elephants are leaving the forests to recover their former habitat, which has now been transformed into a agricultural fields and housing areas.

The most devastated crops are banana, coffee, mango, potato, peanut, palm and cassava. Speaking to Jornal de Angola, Soba’s wife from the Beira Alta region, Golungo Alto municipality, says the situation has become “unsustainable” due to the death of people and the destruction of agricultural fields.

Zita Agostinho says there is a feeling of fear among the hunters, who stopped going to the woods to hunt animals for their own sustenance. In order to survive, he added, the population, who used to produce abundantly, dedicates themselves to the sale of mucua (fruit of the baobab tree), to obtain money to buy cassava, bombó fuba and other products in the market of 30, in Luanda.

In the past 10 years, elephants have destroyed hundreds of fields and left 350 families without food in the municipality of Cavunga, which is 18 kilometers from Quilombo dos Dembos, Ngonguembo’s municipal headquarters.

The governor of the municipality of Cavunga, António Nzagi, said that the population of the Gombe-Anambua region had to leave their homes and fields, fearing the giant mammal. Another affected area is the town of Songuelo, three kilometers from the commune of Cavunga, where palm trees and a tuber known as “cocoa”, have made elephants their favorite “sanctuary”.

According to the governor of Cavunga, in the past it was difficult to hear reports of elephant invasion of fields, which although they were seen in the forest, did not cause any damage. “Currently, the situation is worrying because the animal sometimes parades through the communal headquarters, in broad daylight, under the eyes of children and the elderly,” he warned, adding that in the region there was still no record of deaths, but he fears that late or soon the misfortune will occur.

Creation of a Reserve

António Nzagi urged the Government to create a reserve for the control, preservation and conservation of elephants. In July of this year, he said, an elephant calf, which appeared to be two months old, died in a trap installed by a hunter from the region, who intended to catch a wild boar. Elephant meat was consumed by the population.

The governor of Cavunga ensures that there is no record of elephant slaughter in the region, as the population is informed about the extinction of the animal species. “Elephant hunting is prohibited, as it is an animal of great value and which breeds little. Any action against it, we will report it to the municipality’s authorities,” said the governor.

Gombe-Anambua chief Francisco Morais reveals sadness at having been forced to leave a place where he saw his children born and grow up. That traditional authority is disappointed that nothing is being done to safeguard the crops and the integrity of the population.

The situation takes on other shapes, at a time when the agricultural fields created around the communal headquarters are also being devastated by elephants, jeopardizing their survival. “Last year, I had to receive donations from family members to support the people in my household,” reveals Francisco Morais.

The municipal administrator of Banga, José Teixeira, regrets the situation of the population of Caboco and Besenguele, where a multisectoral commission was present, transmitted some methods of chasing away the animals and surveyed the real situation of the place.

The population of the village of Besenguele, 50 kilometers from the municipal headquarters of Banga, says that the animal destroys everything it finds on the way, so they use bells and fires to try to chase it away.

Professor Silva Adão said that since 1992, eight elephants have been killed in the region. He believes that conflicts between elephants and humans can worsen if measures are not taken to safeguard the interests of both parties.

Situation in Angola and the Southern Africa Region

An investigation by ecologists from “Elephants Without Borders” (EWB), a wildlife and natural resources conservation organization based in Botswana, and the University of Massachusetts, concludes that the end of the war is not necessarily sufficient for the recovery to long-term exposure of wildlife populations.

The research points to the need for “active protection”, with measures to combat poaching and limit human invasion of protected areas. According to the EWB, in Angola it is still possible to reverse the ongoing decline of elephants, if the Government commits to “active protection”, says Scott Schlossberg, the first author of the study, published in the scientific magazine “PLOS ONE”.

By the end of 2015, Angola had more of 3,000 elephants. Before the 1970s, the country had about 70,000 elephants, one of the largest populations in sub-Saharan Africa at that time.

The war, between 1975 and 2002, not only caused a great loss of human life, but also led to the large-scale killing of elephants.

In 2004-2005 the EWB did a survey in Angola and found a “small but apparently healthy and growing population, estimated at 1,800 elephants”, according to Curtice Griffin, professor of environmental conservation in Amherst.

A new survey carried out in 2015, through aerial surveys and satellite monitoring, allowed the identification of 3,395 elephants in the province of Cuando Cubango. The figures were highlighted in 2016 by the Angolan Government, which in that year dedicated Environment Day to the protection of the elephant and the fight against ivory trafficking.

Comparing data for a specific region that had already been studied in 2005, there was a 21 percent decrease in the number of elephants. A research project was recently launched in Luanda, which aims to save elephants in Angola, led by the British NGO against illegal ivory trafficking “Stop Ivory”.

The project, valued at over £300,000, will be implemented in four years, according to the president of the British NGO “Stop Ivory”. The official said that the sum is used to finance research activities, improve the research capacity of species at the country level, as well as the existing links in terms of illegal trade between Angola and neighboring countries.

Botswana, with 130,000 species, has the largest elephant population on the African continent, bringing together about 37 percent of Africa’s threatened elephant population.

In short, elephants in Africa are declining, mainly due to illegal hunting motivated by the international and domestic ivory market.

Prudence and Vigilance

The provincial director of Environment working in Cuanza-Norte, João dos Santos Agostinho, asked the peasants for prudence and vigilance, advising the carrying out of fires, the ringing of bells and other noises to chase away mammals.

He said that the National Biodiversity Institute created a project to include hives in order to scare the animal away. This method, he added, has already been used on an experimental basis in the commune of Cambondo for three months and has been giving satisfactory results. “The project will have a second phase for the expansion of hives in other affected areas”, he guaranteed.

Conflicts between elephants and the population are frequent in the municipalities of Banga, Cazengo, Cambambe, Ngonguembo and Golungo Alto. The elephant, he explained, essentially lives in forests, where communities work. This attitude, he said, is a factor that goes against environmental rules, because in the forests there are wild animals that eat most of the food grown.

“The elephant has a strong instinctive power that leads him to remember paths or trajectories of the past, even after many years. Therefore, the return of animals to these areas should not be strange, ”said João dos Santos Agostinho, adding that it is the population that has been occupying the animal’s habitat.

Characteristics and Ways of Living Elephants

João dos Santos Agostinho states that elephant is the generic and popular term by which members of the Elephantidae family are called, a group of large mammals, with three species, two African (Lexodonta) and one Asian (Elephas).

Elephants are the largest terrestrial animals today, with a body mass of four to six tons and measure an average of four meters in height. They can lift up to 10,000 pounds. One of its most distinctive features is the ivory tusks.

They are essentially herbivores, feeding on herbs, grasses, fruits and leaves of trees.

Given its size, an adult elephant can eat between 70 to 150 kilos of food per day. Females live in herds of 10 to 15 animals, led by a matriarch.

The gestation period of females is long (20 to 22 months), as well as the development of the animal that takes years to reach adulthood. Puppies can be born with 90 kilos. Adolescent males tend to live in small flocks and isolated adults, meeting females only in the reproductive period.

Due to their size, elephants have few predators. They have a strong influence on savannas, as they keep trees and shrubs under control, allowing pastures to dominate the environment. They live about 60 years and die when their molars fall, preventing them from feeding on plants.
African elephants are larger than varieties in Asia and have more developed ears, an adaptation that allows to release heat in high temperature conditions. Another important difference is the absence of ivory tusks in Asian elephant females.

During the mating season, increased testosterone production makes elephants extremely aggressive, causing them to attack even humans. Accidents with elephants used in rituals are usually caused by this reason. About 400 humans are killed by elephants each year.