Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Rare desert elephants under threat

7 August 2008

Categories: Elephants Campaign News, Homepage News

Serious alarm has been raised over official plans to allow the shooting of 6 elephants in the Kunene region of Namibia as trophies for big-game hunters. The quota includes three elephant bulls from the rare desert-adapted population, which conservationists fear could cause a collapse in their dwindling numbers.

The following letter has been sent to the Namibian authorities expressing the concerns of Born Free and 10 other organisations about the decision.

To: The Hon. Minister Netembo Nandi Ndaitwah
CC: Deputy Minister, Mr Leon Jooste
Director of Wildlife and Parks, Mr Ben Beytell
Permanent Secretary, Dr Shangula

7th August, 2008

Honourable Minister,

It has been brought to our attention that the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism has recently issued permits for the hunting of 6 elephants in the Kunene region, two or three of which may be taken from among the c.160 “true” desertdwelling elephants. We would like to express our serious concerns with regard to the potential impact of the removal of these ‘trophy’ bull elephants from this unique and rare population and to respectfully request the immediate suspension of all hunting activities to allow for a thorough scientific assessment of the long-term impact of the removal of individuals from this fragile population.

As you will be aware, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) requires that for any export of a CITES listed species, a non-detriment finding (NDF) should be made that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species, which in the CITES context means any “species, subspecies, or geographically separate population” (Article 1 of the Convention). Has the MET undertaken such a finding for the export of elephant trophies specifically from the Kunene region, and could this NDF be made publicly available? Whilst we are aware that the desert dwelling elephants are not a different species from savannah elephants, we feel it would surely be inappropriate for the MET not to differentiate this unique population when undertaking such an NDF.

The removal of any individual animal from such a small and fragile population can have serious impacts on the biological integrity of that population, including potentially skewing the age structure of breeding bull elephants. Given that the reproductive rate of desert elephants, probably due to the challenging environment in which they live, is significantly lower (at 1.8%) than the reproductive rate of savannah elephants, and calf mortality is particularly high, any influence which could further negatively affect breeding rates must be fully assessed and mitigated against.

Furthermore, the impact of removing the largest and fittest bull elephants as trophies, in a region where conditions are so harsh and reproductive rates so low, is such that any reduction in fitness as a result of the removal of targeted bull elephants could have serious consequences on the long-term survival of the population.

In addition to the loss of bull elephants through trophy hunting, we have also been made aware that a significant number of elephants are being killed for problem animal control in the region. We understand that 12 bull elephants were killed between September 2006 and September 2007 for problem animal control, and that the impact of this is so serious that numbers of breeding bulls in certain areas have reached critically low levels. In Ugab River, for example, we have been informed that there is only one bull elephant left of breeding age. This cannot be a sustainable solution to the problem in the region. Are alternatives to lethal management being investigated?

Given the above concerns, it seems clear that it would be highly inadvisable to continue a regime of trophy hunting in the Kunene region until a co-ordinated scientific assessment of the impacts of trophy hunting in combination with problem animal control and other factors affecting the survival of this elephant population, is carried out.

We look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

Shelley Waterland

Programmes Manager
Born Free Foundation

On behalf of the following organisations:
African Ele-Fund
Animal Welfare Institute
Born Free Foundation
Born Free USA
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Environmental Investigation Agency
Humane Society International
Humane Society of the United States
Last Great Ape Organisation
Pro Wildlife

Born Free Foundation
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, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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