In late August 2019, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation & Tourism announced an "open hunting season" starting from 3rd of September 2019 and ending on 30th of November 2019. This was shortly followed by the public release of the 2019 hunting quota and the commencement of licensed citizen hunting operations on the 1st of November 2019. The 2019 quota had allocated numbers for a wide range of wildlife species and for different areas around the country, including NG3 where KWT's primary community conservation project is located.
Faced with this alarming development, an intensive effort was made by KWT and the affected NG3 communities (from August through to October) to persaude the Ministry to reverse its decision to permit hunting in NG3 and not go ahead as planned. This was done by way of repeated written correspondence and meetings of community representatives with District officials (District Commissioner, Department of Wildlife (DWNP)). Amongst the motivations put forward were that:
- No consultation with affected community stakeholders in NG3 had yet taken place;
- Hunting in NG3 was against the wishes of the affected community as it threatens their conservation / tourism activities & goals:
- NG3's existing, drought-stressed wildlife populations could not sustain the proposed offtake levels;
- It would cause an increase in aggressive behaviour in resident elephant populations thereby posing a danger to residents and tourists.
These efforts were unfortunately to no avail in reversing the decision or having it modified in any way. Faced with the looming prospect of an invasion of hunters licensed to go anywhere in NG3, KWT's efforts in late October and November were then directed towards trying to persuade the professional hunter assigned to lead 5 of the 7 elephant hunting license holders, to not hunt in the core project area. KWT and the community also undertook intensive monitoring in the field during the November 2019 hunting period and pleaded with the DWNP to not allow hunters to drive north of Dobe border gate due to the risk of hunting promoting more aggressive behaviour in elephants, thereby placing community members regularly walking along the fence-line at risk of attack. Although the hunters did not attempt to hunt in the core project area, the Community's request for DWNP to not allow hunters to the north of Dobe gate were ignored and 2 elephants were shot close to the border fence north of Dobe gate (including a collared bull).
Long-lasting damage has now been done to the age structure of the resident elephant population (est. at less than 100 animals) due to the hunting of 7 of the largest and oldest elephant bulls. One of the effects has indeed been a noticeable increase in aggressive behaviour and two near fatal charges by elephant bulls on community members. The incidents took place on the 8th December 2019 and on the 20th January 2020 and involved unprovoked attacked by bulls on community members walking through the bush. These are as a direct consequence of the November 2019 hunting activities as the only known unprovoked attack prior to November 2019 was in September 2017, when a wounded bull elephant from Namibia crossing over the fenceline intercepted two community elders on their way back to their village. It is clear that shooting at elephants creates problem elephants.
Much to the relief of the NG3 stakeholders, the DWNP in December decided to set the 2020 quota for NG3 to zero for all species including elephant, meaning that there will be no legal hunting pressure on wildlife inside NG3 in the 2020 hunting season (i.e. April to September). Unfortunately only NG3 will be spared as all the surrounding areas will be hunted in, and at higher numbers than what was allocated for 2019.
Our aim is to persuade Government to implement no hunting zones in critical areas in NG2 and NG8 as well, so as to create a "hunting free corridor" linking Kaudom N.P with the Okavango Delta. Crucial to this are the new wildlife boreholes in NG3, which are vital watering points for all migratory wildlife in Western Ngamiland including elephants. Furthermore, NG3 is currently the only safe refuge area available to elephants anywhere west of the Okavango Delta where they can escape disturbance from hunters. Urgent financial support is needed to enable KWT and the community members to maintain the new wildlife boreholes and protect them and the surrouding habitat areas from the growing threat posed by criminal syndicates, poachers and hunters.
As a further note on the sustainability of the 2020 hunting quota for Western Ngamiland: A total of 70 bull elephants will be killed in NG1 to NG9 this year between April and September. As a semi-arid area, NG1 to NG5 in particular have relatively very low densities of elephants in comparison to the Okavango-Linyanti-Chobe region. For example, DWNP's dry season aerial surveys in 2004, 2005, 2012 and 2013 recorded no elephants in NG4 & NG5 and numbers in these two areas have to date not exceeded 64 in either wet or dry season surveys in the last 15 years. This suggest that removing 20 bulls in one year from NG4/5 will have a severe and potentially irreversible impact at a localised ecological level. In instances where scientific understanding of the potential impacts of a proposed development or activity is lacking, the application of the "precautionary principle" is the standard, internationally accepted approach in environmental science. It is also evident that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be a prerequisite to the determination of hunting quotas, as the Environmental Assessment Regulations (June 2012) state, inter-alia, under Schedule 1. List of activities, locations and thresholds for which an environmental statement is required: 16 (e): a project whose implementation will result in substantial use of a natural resource in a way that prevents the use or potential use of the resources for any other purpose.