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, KWT and the affected NG3 communities (from August through to October) then engaged with the Ministry asking it not go ahead as planned. Amongst the motivations put forward were that:
- Consultation with affected community stakeholders in NG3 had not 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;
- Hunting would cause an increase in aggressive behaviour in resident elephants thereby posing a danger to people.
These efforts were unfortunately to no avail in reversing the decision. Faced with the 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. Although the hunters did not attempt to hunt in the core project area, the Community's request that DWNP 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 as far as NG3 is concerned shooting at elephants creates problem elephants.
Much to the relief of the NG3 stakeholders however, 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 still be hunted in.
Our aim is to persaude 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.