Namibian

News – National | 2021-04-16Page no: 1

CHRISTIN WINTER

TODAY is Save The Elephant Day, and a great opportunity to look into the status of the African elephant on a global and local scale.

It is also an opportunity to explore what challenges elephants are facing and what makes protecting them so difficult.

As of 25 March 2021, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is listing the African savannah elephant as endangered (previously threatened) and the African forest elephant as critically endangered. It’s a very complex issue.

Decades of ivory trade, the continuous loss of habitat, and habitat fragmentation due to human encroachment into wildlife zones have decimated the African elephant population.

Today less than 415 000 elephants survive in Africa. [KS: This is the lowest estimate – IUCN African Elephant Database figures show therecould bet at least 130,000 more.]

Specialists say the population has declined by over 60% in the last 50 years.

However, with an expanding human population plus a change in climate, thus a change in suitable elephant habitat, conflict between people and elephants are constantly on the rise.

It seems bizarre: There are fewer and fewer elephants, yet more and more conflict.

What are the solutions and why do we need to save the elephant? Elephants are known as one of the most charismatic animals to walk this earth.

They resemble hope, health, luck and positivity in many cultures around the globe.

Ecologically speaking, elephants are ecosystem architects.

They create pathways through thick forests, enabling smaller animals to navigate through dense vegetation, transforming small water holes into big pans, which helps to collect rainwater for other wildlife.

Their dung is brilliant fertiliser and an important food source for insects, birds and small herbivores.

Elephants are also called an umbrella species, which means many other species depend on the presence of the elephant for their long-term survival.

Their presence attracts tourists from all over the world, increasing their economic value to African countries.

But elephants are migratory animals.

They need to eat about 5% of their own body weight every day.

A grown-up bull of 6 tonnes therefore needs to find 300 kg of vegetation every day. Females, who carry their unborn baby for 22 months, need to eat a variety of different vegetation types to satisfy their nutritional requirements.

Therefore elephants need to move if their home range dries up.

They may leave their protected areas and venture towards human-dominated landscapes where they can find enough food and water – and here is where problems occur.

In Namibia, hundreds of elephants live outside of national parks’ boundaries. They venture across several conservancies and, increasingly, over commercial farmland.

For an elephant, fences do not represent much of a deterrent, and so they move over or through it, creating constant headaches for farmers who need to keep their domestic animals in.

Solutions for these kinds of conflicts are not easy and there is no quick fix. Long-term coexistence solutions need be explored and implemented because elephants, although not increasing in population size, will continue to shift their home ranges, depending on rainfall and drought.

If wild elephants and the species that depend on their presence are to survive on our planet, sustainable coexistence strategies have to be in place.

As humans, we are dominating almost every corner of our precious planet, modifying habitat to suit human needs.

By doing so we are increasingly destroying the intricate web of life that supports our own survival. We have to create space for umbrella species, such as the elephant, that foster biodiversity.

Saving the elephant by saving its habitat results in protecting other invaluable wildlife and, in the bigger picture, in saving ourselves.

– Christin Winter is the conservation programme manager of Elephant-Human Relations Aid, a Namibian NGO focusing on human-elephant coexistence.