Desert Elephant Conservation – Interview with Dr Laura Brown and Rob Ramey

1956862_582654165145060_1503394533_oDesert Elephant Conservation promotes the long-term conservation of Namibia’s desert elephant population through research, monitoring, and the sharing of knowledge. Laura Brown and Rob Ramey have been studying the elephant populations of the Uniab, Hoarusib and Hoanib since 2005.

TOSCO contributed 9000 NAD for petrol to their field work end of 2013. Afterwards, they gave an interview to TOSCO:

What is your mission ? 

In 2013 we spent 5 weeks surveying the Uniab, Hoanib and Hoarusib elephant population. We started these annual surveys in 2006, with the objective of doing a complete inventory with photographic identifications of each individual elephant in the population. This effort to photo ID the elephants was initiated in 1999 by Keith Legget (and before him by Slang Viljoen in the 1980’s) and has been maintained by us (Laura Brown and Rob Ramey) since Keith’s departure from Namibia in 2009.

What are your results?

The field season in Nov-Dec 2013 was very successful, we got good identifications on the following elephants:

  • 41 elephants in the Uniab
  • 6 in the Hoarusib (2 breeding females, 3 juveniles, 1 young bull)
  • 21 in the Hoanib (15 females with young, 6 males)

We found more elephants than the previous year in the Uniab, maybe an extra 5 or so. There might be few individuals out of the river, although unlikely, as the drought brought most of the elephants into the river drainages. It was a good time for the inventory.

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What is your impression of the situation?

Unfortunately, the Hoarusib herd is past the tipping point and will probably disappear in a few years.  There are no female offspring that have survived in the past 6 years, so when the last two breeding females that reside in the Hoarusib pass away, there will be no more new generations.

Is there any good news?

There has been slow but successful reproduction in the Hoanib, with a new calf each year for the past five years. And the Uniab elephants seem to be maintaining their numbers, for now. However, in the Hoanib and Hoarusib several of the older matriarchs and mature bulls have died or disappeared, and some have been shot. We are very concerned about human/elephant conflict, and the fact that this population is very small.  Whenever an elephant is shot (either by local people or as a problem animal) it is a significant blow to this small population. Their reproductive rate is very slow and they are living on the edge in an extreme habitat.  With pressure from human expansion in the east, and the uninhabitable dunes of the Namib Desert to the west, these elephants are basically being squeezed into a finite area and cut off from their traditional migration routes into the interior of Namibia

What needs to be done to improve the situation?

More patrols and control.  We need Elephant Officers (like the Lion Officers in Puros), initiated by the conservancies and concessions in the area, to work with the local people to help reduce the causes and consequences of human/elephant conflict.

When will you come back?

We plan to be back in June 2014 if funding allows, to keep up our long term data collecting.

And TOSCO?

TOSCO’s support of 9000N$ this year allowed us to cover a portion of our fuel expenses and field vehicle maintenance. We also really appreciated the Tourist Information brochure produced by TOSCO for the self-drive tourists. As initiated by TOSCO, we need to build a bridge between different stakeholders in the area: scientists, tourism professionals, and local communities, in order to help each other and keep on top of what is happening with the different sub-populations or herds of elephants.

Please write to us regarding the elephants in the northern Kunene area, especially in the Uniab, Hoanib and Hoarusib rivers. We are eager to receive photos, observations of elephant behavior, concerns, etc.  Our website is desertlionandelephant.org and personal e-mail is:  lauramacbrown@gmail.com

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http://desertelephantconservation.org/

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