Researcher: Dr Tammie Matson
Region: Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia
The Nyae Nyae Human-Elephant Conflict Research Project was developed to help develop effective strategies to reduce human-elephant conflicts in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, where the Ju/’hoansi people live. Such conflicts occur with increasing frequency wherever populations of humans and elephants coexist in Africa, and seem to take place particularly in rural areas on the border of protected areas and specifically at waterholes.
For rural Namibians, elephants pose a considerable threat to their livelihoods – as they destroy crops, damage water points and injure or even kill humans. Thus the relationship between elephants and people is becoming a growing conservation concern. In order to alleviate this tension, a thorough understanding and knowledge of elephant behaviour is necessary, as well as understanding of the problem, local cause and effect and attempts to solve it – all this is vital to develop effective management strategies going forward.
The Nyae Nyae Elephant Project, managed by Dr Tammie Matson, aims to gain a fuller understanding of elephant behaviour that takes place at waterholes, by investigating what influences their patterns of activity there, such as sex and herd composition, time of day and season. This project is taking place in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Khaudum National Park. Although the general behaviour of elephant has been extensively studied, it has never been fully investigated specifically at waterholes. At the same time, an investigation is taking place that looks at the factors affecting incidences of human-elephant clashes in the region and an evaluation of current measures to ameliorate problems.
The serious damage that elephants cause at waterholes during the dry season is of great concern to the Nyae Nyae community, when large numbers of animals and humans depend on them for water. The vast majority of human-elephant conflicts in Nyae Nyae Conservancy take the form of damage to water installations and herds of several hundred elephants have been observed at a single waterhole during the hot dry season in this area, causing serious pressure at this time of year.
The aim of the project is to identify the behavioural, environmental and anthropogenic factors influencing the occurrence of human-elephant conflicts in Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia as a basis for sustainable development and conservation of elephants.
The underlying motivation for this study is to provide the management of Nyae Nyae Conservancy with recommendations for reducing human-elephant conflicts in future. In order to achieve this, as part of the process of problem identification and solving, the objectives include:
- To investigate the behaviour of elephants at waterholes;
- To analyse historical records and current incidents of human-elephant conflicts;
- To review existing methods of ameliorating these conflicts;
- Interview communities in order to determine social perceptions of elephants and conflicts; and
- To use the results of this study as the backbone for an environmental education programme in the community.
The following outputs will be produced by this study:
- Practical recommendations for the future management of human elephant conflicts in Nyae Nyae Conservancy in the form of a report;
- A scientific publication on the factors affecting the activities of elephants at waterholes and their implications for management of conflicts;
- An environmental education programme on human elephant conflicts implemented in the village schools of Nyae Nyae Conservancy;
- In-depth training for at least two community members (trainers) in the recording of elephant behaviour and the implementation of environmental awareness
After the main human-elephant conflict research study in 2005, this year was the time for feedback and implementation of the results. In 2006, two field trips were undertaken in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy to discuss the findings with the Conservancy leaders and implement the results of the research. An initial feedback report was provided to the sponsors and partners in October 2005. This report is a follow up to the first report and provides a summary of the activities that were undertaken in 2006.
Feedback Field Trip, August 2006
The Honourable Chief Bobo and the Chairman of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Kievet were each presented with a copy of the report and this was discussed with each of them on separate occasions with the aid of a local translator. Both leaders expressed their appreciation for the study and encouraged the implementation of results, specifically the building of cribs to provide clean water for elephants away from villages.
Kievet was pleased to receive feedback as this was not usually done by researchers working in Nyae Nyae Conservancy. He told us that conflict with the growing elephant population in the area was one of his greatest concerns and he was pleased that the project was continuing. There seems to be much scope for further crib building in the future. Area warden, Dries Alberts advised that up to 30 cribs may be needed in Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Khaudum National Park.
Also in August 150 copies of the colour children’s’ book, “An Elephant’s Tale” (Matson, Lalley & Kohl, 2005) were delivered to the four operational village schools: Den/ui, //Auru, //Xa/hoba and Baraka. This was the same book that was used as an educational tool when the project partnered with the Children in the Wilderness programme in December 2005 with 12 San children from the Nyae Nyae Conservancy taking part at Palmwag Rhino Camp. Trine Strom from the Namibian Association of Norway, based in Tsumkwe, has arranged for the book to be translated into Ju/’hoansi and printed in 2007. Feedback from the teachers on the book has been extremely positive.
This field trip was funded by remaining funds donated by the Wilderness Trust, the Rufford Whitley Laing Foundation and the Namibia Nature Foundation. A satellite phone was kindly lent by Derek Moore of Satcom. Kalahari Car Hire provided discounted car hire as the company has for the duration of the project.
Implementation Field Trip, December 2006
One of the key findings of the research was that in order to reduce human-elephant conflicts in Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Khaudum National Park drinking points for elephants should be located further from villages than they are at present. It appeared that the presence of cement cribs rather than muddy dams went some way towards reducing conflicts because elephants show a preference for clean drinking water, which may be why they come into villages seeking clean water from tanks and pipes.
In a partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Namibia (Tsumkwe), Ozquest Australia and the Nyae Nyae Conservancy two cement cribs were built in December at two high conflict sites, Tjokwe and Xamsa villages. These sites were identified by myself and area warden, Dries Alberts on the basis of their high conflict intensity. Both village chiefs welcomed the building projects.
81 bags of cement were donated by Warren Tapp of Queensland Directors, 16 bags by Ozquest and transport was provided for sand, rocks, cement and volunteers by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Tsumkwe. Additional funding for transport and communications was provided by the remains of a Local Environment Fund grant from the Namibia Nature Foundation.
The building was initially undertaken by two groups of ten young Australian volunteers from Ozquest and two groups of five Ju/’hoan volunteers, arranged by funding obtained by Anders Wengen and led by staff of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism on the ground, in particular lead crib builder Shikongo, warden Dries Alberts and ranger Doyo Moyo. The Australians and Namibians worked closely together to collect rocks, make cement and build walls in a positive interchange of cultures that stimulated friendship and intercultural education. At the completion of building, the chiefs were collected from their villages and shown the final products.
The Tjokwe crib had leakage problems, thus a third group of Ozquest and Ju/’hoan volunteers were recruited over a three-day period to make repairs under the guidance of the MET. Overall, the building was a success and a rewarding experience for all involved. Plans are underway for further crib building in the future.