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Greed blamed for killing of iconic elephant

Greed blamed for killing of iconic elephant

Niël Terblanché
AN urgent letter addressed to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s deputy director of the North Western Regions, Christoph Munwela, and written by the management of conservancies neighbouring the Ohungo Conservancy in the area of Omatjete to prevent the killing by a hunter of one of Namibia’s most iconic wild animals, one of the last remaining desert adapted elephant bulls, shows that a flagrant error was made when the hunting licence was issued.
Besides the fact the management committees of the Otjimboyo, Sorris Sorris, Tsiseb conservancies asked Munwela for a meeting to discuss ways to avoid the killing of one of the oldest living bull elephants in Namibia they also informed the MET official that the elephant, known as Voortrekker (pioneer), in the sights of the hunter is in fact not part of the herd that has been bothering the community of the Ohungu Conservancy in the area of Omatjete.

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Pictured: Voortekker, the incomplete tourist lodge of the Ohungo Conservancy near Omatjete and the purported damage done to the infrastructure of a cattle farmer inside the conservation area. – Photos: Courtesy of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and contributed

“We understand that complaints have been received from communities living in the Omatjete area. The Ugab West population of the desert elephants do not cross into these communities. Data on their movement patterns (some of the elephants are fitted with tracking collars) shows their easterly reach to be as far as Ozondati. It is not correct that elephants from areas outside of the zone of complaints are shot,” states the letter addressed to Munwela.
Despite the facts being pointed out clearly by people on the ground that ekes out a meagre living from tourist dollars from visitors to the conservancies, the sustainability of the income in their opinion outweighs the nominal damage the elephants of the area has done to infrastructure of cattle farmers that has systematically infringed on the conservation area and the communities that lived there before their arrival.
In defence of their decision to issue a hunting licence for Voortrekker the MET has published almost 70 photographs that, if studied more closely shows that neglect rather than elephants, is the actual cause of the damage to infrastructure. Most of the photographs depict a state of general disrepair but some of the damage like broken plastic water tanks and a few uprooted trees could very well be attributed to the elephants. Cattle farmers in the conservation area also blamed the death of a single cow on the desert adapted elephants.
In order to help the community of the Ohungu Conservancy the MET availed N$1, 1 million dollars to build a community run tourists lodge in 2011. Eight years later and N$3 million more donated by the foreign empowerment body, the Millenium Challange Account, the lodge is still not finished and the substandard work shocked the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta to such an extent that he asked for an official report on the wasteful spending.
The minister was quoted as saying: “I am shocked to see that it took so many years to build this (incomplete) infrastructure. The contractor has done sub-standard work and they had to demolish some parts of it. I require that a report is provided to me to see what action is to be taken. I suspect that someone invented this kind of project to make money for themselves. Millions were lost here. I don’t think if it was honestly done, we couldn’t be standing with an infrastructure like this and people having abandoned everything.”
Shifeta reportedly said that dishonest people manipulated the system to serve their own greed and self interest which resulted in the loss of millions of dollars.
The life and movements of Voortrekker and his family in the areas of the Ugab and Huab Rivers in the north western Namib Desert was possibly one of the most closely studied subjects by conservationists locally and abroad. The elephant bull and its family’s journey back to the desert shortly after the war for independence ended and the eventual establishment of conservancies is so well documented that 11 years ago people from all over the world donated thousands of dollars to buy the hunting licence from MET in an effort to save him from greedy professional hunters and their rich overseas clients. US$12 000 was paid to MET to keep Voortrekker safe in 2008.
The sustained rescue mission of Voortrekker by various conservationists and organisations over the past ten years has come to nothing after he was shot by a hunter who officially paid N$120 000 for the kill.
Johannes Haasbroek who devoted a large portion of his life to minimise human wildlife conflict with especially the unique desert adapted elephants through his organisation Elephant Human Relations Aid said in a social media post: “The iconic bull Voortrekker has been murdered by a trophy hunter on Tuesday morning. He was the last large dominant bull amongst the 120 desert dwelling elephant left in the North West deserts of Namibia. He was targeted not for anything but his fame. We bought a license to hunt him in 2008 and for 10 years the hunting outfitters and their sick clients conspired to get this gentle giant declared a problem to justify a hunt. He never stepped out of line. I lived and fought and cried for that gentleman. I have no words anymore. Let the planet die now. With him. All that is left for me is to watch and weep. See you in a better world my friend. This one was not meant for us. I failed you. Rest in peace Voortrekker.”
The MET spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said in a statement four days after the hunt that the elephant was shot in Omatjete area after it was declared a problem causing animal.
“It was shot to generate funds for the affected communities. We had the elephant hunted as a trophy and we do not entertain the naming of wild animals. That is one of the characteristics that separates wild from domestic animals. Naming animals also triggers emotional attachment to a certain or specific animal which may overshadow our judgement in wildlife conservation. It should be noted further that the MET is not here for a popularity contest. We make decisions based on what is good for our conservation based on the existing principles, policies and legislation. It’s unfortunate that the elephant was put down but we were left with no other alternative after this specific animal continued to cause damages to property in the area.”
Meanwhile the management committees of the Otjimboyo, Sorris Sorris and Tsiseb Conservancies in their letter addressed to Munwela said they would like to see a more sustainable solution to the elephant problem.
“These elephants are also generating income for our conservancies. We believe in working together in building protection walls, changing of diesel pumps to solar pumps, educating our people to live with elephants and how to generate money from our live elephants to compensate for the damage. Our people are in general accepting of the elephants’ presence and want them to remain in the area.”
The conservancy committees also pointed to another problem which comes from the random killing of the elephants in their area.
“It is our belief that the shooting of elephants does not solve the problem. In fact this only makes it worse. We want to keep our communities safe and to do this we need to ensure that our elephants are calm and relaxed when entering villages. It is our belief that the shooting of elephants or scaring them off with gunshots, screaming or chasing them off result in aggressive animals and this cannot be tolerated.”

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