An animal conservation group warns that Namibia's desert elephants face a severe blow because the government has issued permits to kill some breeding bulls. Permits to kill six of the bulls have been awarded for trophy hunting. The government says the elephant herds can handle the loss.
Johannes Haasbroek is the operations director for the group Elephant-Human Relations Aid. From Swakopmund, Namibia, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the permits to kill the breeding bull elephants.
"Basically, it's not really a question of culling (thinning the herds). The situation is that they've given out trophy hunting permits for some of the large bulls in the area to be shot. And our main concern is that the sustainable population of the area definitely cannot handle an off-take like that in the slightest. And basically the decision has been made with very limited records of what is exactly happening on the ground," he says.
Haasbroek says the size of the desert elephant population has been "grossly over inflated." He says, "We're sitting with a situation where potentially the population could collapse."
The government has issued six trophy permits. But Haasbroek says there are probably only about 20 bulls left in the hunting area. "Five of those six have been shot already, in fact, in this season," he says.
Asked why the loss of six bulls would greatly affect the desert elephant population, he says, "An effective breeding ratio is probably one of these large bulls per 10 cows. We're looking at a current situation where there's about one bull left now per 30 cows in the same area."
He also says with the loss of the bulls comes a loss of knowledge. "Desert elephants are particularly special because of their ability to survive in these very harsh climates…. And elephants with this sort of intelligence…I wouldn't say very far off to humans, (their) knowledge needs to be transferred from the older generation…. They (older animals) need to be there to teach the rest of them where to go in times of drought, where to find water, where to graze. And that's one of the key issues we're incredibly worried about," he says.Haasbroek says there are few options available at this point. He's scheduled to meet with a government official on Wednesday, at which time he'll call for a total ban on desert elephant hunting and a thorough census to accurately determine the size of the animal's population.