A report that hunting permits had been issued in Namibia for six desert elephants to be killed for meat in exchange for villager votes in favour of the ruling party, SWAPO, has raised a storm of protest from conservationists worldwide.
According to the article, the meat-for-votes deal was made against the advice of qualified scientists and conservationists working for the protection of the desert elephants.
A spokesperson for the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Romeo Muyunda, confirmed the permits had been issued, saying: “The local people need to benefit from the elephants in some way or another, or they will begin poaching them.”
He declined to comment further.
Stung by the storm of protests, the Ministry issued a press release urging the public to “ignore these inaccurate, false reports and assumptions on our elephants and sustainable utilisation practices”, and threatened “illegal” NGOs “working against the wildlife conservation activities of the government” to “refrain from this irresponsible behaviour before an action is taken.”
However the press release does not refute the issue of hunting permits, attempting instead to show that there is no such thing as desert elephants, claiming they are normal African elephants adapted to living in desert conditions.
The press release, rather ominously, then notes the need to cull “problem” elephants and points out that trophy hunting “has grown to be one of the most important industry (sic) in Namibia in terms of its strong contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, employment creation and the well-being and social upliftment of our rural people.”
According to Laura Brown, Director of Desert Lion and Elephant Conservation, desert elephants are unique in that they have adapted to extreme fluctuations in the desert climate where the annual rainfall is below 100mm a year.
The government insists that there is no problem with the size of the population and claims there to be around 300 desert-adapted elephants in the Kunene region.
Conservationists, however, estimate there to be no more than 100 and only about 18 mature bulls, for which hunting permits are claimed to have been issued for six.
Efforts to buy the hunting permits and replace the elephant meat with beef to keep the elephants alive have been unsuccessful.
“We note with regret that hunting permits have been issued,” said Anton Louw from Live Trophy, a non-profit organisation that has the aim of buying up trophy hunting licences to stop them falling inot the hands of trophy hunters.
“We confirm that we are offering to buy the permits as well as to supply an equal measure of meat. We are prepared to assist in establishing sustainable food production initiatives to support the affected communities.”
The offer has been ignored.