Researcher: Dr.Keith LeggetRegion: Omusati Region & Etosha National Park, Namibia
BackgroundIn almost every area in which elephants live in Africa, the issue of long-term management of these populations has become a challenge. In addition, confrontations with humans are increasing as both human and elephant numbers grow – and the elephants in the Omusati Region are no exception. In this study, the elephants involved inhabit both the protected area of the Etosha National Park and the communal farming areas and Uukwuluudhi Conservancy of the Omusati Region and the study aims to gain an understanding of these in both areas.
Opportunities exist for the improvement of this situation to the benefit of all: the local farmers, rural populations, the environment and wildlife populations. Firstly, the conservancy approach in Namibia provides the vehicle for solutions to some of these problems and the rights of use over wildlife have resulted in a far more positive attitude to elephants. Elephants are now potential assets to rural populations and benefits are being generated through consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife. This broadens livelihood options, increases rural job creation and skills, as well as providing communities with local development funds. However, more information is needed on the elephants in the Omusati Region for managers and decision-makers at all levels to integrate it into their planning and management of the area.
The project to identify and monitor elephants in the Kunene and Omusati regions of Namibia is an extension of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) policy related to the consumptive utilisation of resources. In July 2001, the Namibian Elephant and Giraffe Trust (NEGT) was formed, with the overall aim to provide scientifically gathered data on elephants and other large mammals to local, regional and national decision-makers.
The project was initially based in the Kunene Region, but in May 2005, the MET requested that NEGT undertake a detailed study of the elephants in the Omusati Region of Namibia. This project is the result and is designed to be a collaborative research effort between NEGT, MET and the Uukwuluudhi Conservancy.
- To assess the current seasonal and annual ranges of elephants in the Omusati/north-western Etosha area.
- Carry out identification, social and behavioural studies on resident elephants.
- Establish the age structure, reproductive and survival rates amongst the study elephants.
- To assess the potential human-elephant conflict with communal farmers.
- Provide appropriate elephant data to MET and Uukwuluudhi Conservancy decision-makers.
- The establishment of long-term movement, behavioural and social characteristics of elephants in the focus area.
- Provide detailed information on the movement, range and social structure to MET.
- Interim and final reports for policy makers and donors;
- Regular meetings with interested and affected parties, with visual material such as slide shows, pamphlets and posters. Awareness materials as appropriate (e.g. poster, radio tape, video, and environmental education materials), as well as publications in the international scientific literature.
- Presentation of final research results to conservancy committees, traditional leader, decision-makers, relevant government, NGO and public forums.
MethodologyIn October 2005, four GPS collars were fitted to free-ranging male elephants of various ages (14 – 50 years old). All four GPS collars are deployed in the central Omusati Region, both inside and outside the Uukwuluudhi Conservancy area. Once the collars are attached to individuals, they record the location of the individual for up to two years. The time interval between location readings can be altered from hourly to daily or even weekly.
All herds in the research areas and their social behaviours and individual characteristics are being identified using observational and photographic techniques. This information will be collected into photographic libraries, and will include aspects of population dynamics such as social behaviour, population structure and age distribution within the herds.
Uukwuluudhi Conservancy members will be trained to identify elephants and monitor their behaviour. Conservancy game guards will also receive a copy of the photographic libraries developed by the researchers for identification purposes.
In conjunction with conservancy members and GPS collar data, local “hot spots” for elephant damage and threats will be identified (HEC questionnaires have already been developed) and then a strategy of how best to approach the problem can be addressed per area. Once the characteristics of the area can be defined, it may be possible to come up with preventative strategies to stop the elephants raiding and if this fails, other more active management strategies may be necessary (in conjunction with MET).
Since the start of GPS collaring for this project in September 2002 there have been five separate collaring operations in north-west Namibia. By August 2008 all of the GPS collars fitted between 23rd and 28th October 2007 had failed and no data was available. Only two of the collared elephants were observed continually throughout the rest of the year; the 2009 wet season was one of the highest rainfalls on record, resulting in widespread dispersal of the elephants. It also made observations and field trips difficult between February and May 2009, with many of the ephemeral rivers still flowing during this time.
Behavioural studies continued however, with an observed change in feeding behaviour: from mostly browsing during ‘normal’ years to mostly grazing during the current year. It is too early to tell whether the increase in the abundance of vegetation will have any effect on the elephants’ reproductive potential. However, after two good wet seasons back to back (2008 and 2009), it is expected that there should be an increase in reproduction rate.
Recently the seven years of data were analysed for annual variations in home range. Only five elephants out of the 21 that have been collared were analysed in detail. This was due to the fact that either the collars failed before two consecutive years of data could be gathered or insufficient data was gathered over the time-span of the collar. The home range of the elephants was determined by minimum convex polygon (MCP) analysis.
GPS collaring will take place again as soon as additional funding becomes available.