Kate on Conservation

Namibia’s PEACE Project is saving elephants (and people)


Sitting in my home in the UK, it’s pretty clear that I’m far removed from many of the endangered wild species and exotic megafauna that I write about on the pages of this blog.

As such, it’s easy to think that saving wild animals in their native environments is simply a given. In many cases, however, living in close proximity to large, powerful and sometimes dangerous creatures, comes with a number of caveats concerning human safety.

I got to speak with the team at Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) Namibia about their PEACE Project to help communities to co-exist with desert elephants.

Introducing Namibia’s desert elephants

Desert elephants or desert-dwelling elephants have made their home in the Namib desert in Namibia, Africa. They are small, diminishing herds that experience both biological and physical struggles for survival and subsequently, these elephants exhibit small adaptations to the extreme temperatures and terrain.

Desert-dwelling elephants are not a genetically distinct species, but are African bush elephants with unique characteristics (Africa’s only other species of elephant are forest elephants).

They can survive without drinking water for several days, surviving by eating moisture-laden vegetation that grows in riverbeds. Sometimes, they must travel long distances to reach a water source.

Elephant guard, demonstrates conflict mitigation measures.

Elephants, livestock and humans are sharing the same waterpoints, which not only sparks conflict, but also results in human and elephant fatalities.

Shared land, resources and an ongoing drought in the region leaves communities and animals without much food or water.

Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA)

Since 2003, Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) Namibia has helped to build peaceful relationships between free-roaming desert elephants and local communities.

“EHRA aim to find long term sustainable solutions to conserve the free-roaming desert dwelling elephant and to mitigate conflict between elephants and villagers,” Shannon Diener, ERHA’s PEACE Project Manager explains to me.

ERHA has appointed ‘elephant guards’ from five different areas which are hotspots of Human-Wildlife-Conflict, that work on a volunteer basis.

Elephant guards giving training

“They are a point of contact in a case of emergency in villages. They have had intense training with EHRA on tracking, conflict response, conflict mitigation measures, and elephant physiology. They work with EHRA stuff on seminars and they work within their own communities giving mini trainings and advising residence how to safely co-exist with elephants and other wildlife.”

The elephant guards form part of a wider project to mitigate the human-elephant conflict Namibia faces, known as the PEACE project.

“The PEACE project was established in 2009, due to an increase in conflict between humans and elephants in the Kunene and Erongo regions. Most of these conflicts lead to fatalities of both elephants and humans.”

The PEACE Project team

With an aim to carry across the message of wildlife conservation and ecology, PEACE was established to work on the ground level of communities, to understand the people’s grievances and to jointly come up with solutions.

EHRA’s effective PEACE Project teaches residents essential facts about how elephants live and behave, how to interpret elephant behaviour, and how to protect themselves and their livelihoods during encounters with elephants.

Elephant guard training session

What is the PEACE Project?

The PEACE Project is an elephant-focused conservation education programme for the communities living in the southern Kunene and northern Erongo regions, where many of Namibia’s desert elephants roam.

“The land is state-owned and primarily used by communal farmers for subsistence livestock farming, where conflicts between people and their elephant neighbours happen frequently,” PEACE Project Manager Shannon Diener shares.

“Through educational PEACE workshops, people of all age groups and social backgrounds learn and experience the true nature of elephants, which decreases their fears and changes unfounded beliefs and attitudes.”

PEACE Project Field demonstration

As a result of the successful implementation of this programme, EHRA’s PEACE Project team extended the curriculum to host a variety of different seminars, depending on the outcome required.

A PEACE Project school seminar teaching

“From school seminars and community workshops, we also conduct elephant guard training, game guard training and tour guide training – all with a specific focus on the conservation of Namibia’s desert elephants.”

Reason’s for conflict between human and elephants

As is often the case, the conflict between the desert elephants and human population comes from a number of factors, which have seen these two species pushed together.

Historical events and influences

During the Namibian War of Independence, elephants fled further north for safety, returning to the Ugab River in the mid-1990s. New residents that moved to the region had never encountered elephants before and thus did not know how to live with them. 

Ministry of environment and tourism game guards training

Insufficient knowledge about desert elephants has caused people to react negatively towards elephants passing by. This could result in conflict situations which can injure humans, elephants or livestock, or worse; it could be fatal.

Habitat fragmentation and land conversion

Conflict between elephants and humans exists due to increased competition for land and water resources, and a lack of knowledge on how to live together peacefully.

Successful completion of community seminar

Lack of income and benefits

Desert-adapted elephants are one of the country‘s biggest tourist attraction. Lodges and campsites draw thousands of tourists into the area. Unfortunately, most subsistence farmers that live with elephants only experience the downside of having elephants as neighbours, with no financial benefit.

conflict mitigation measures; chilli bombs around vegetable garden.

Limited resources and competition

Limited resources in arid areas such as the Kunene and Erongo regions in Namibia, can cause competition for water and food that usually escalates quickly. Desert elephant often visit farms or schools in search of water and food in gardens and pose a potential threat to residents.

How you can support the PEACE Project

The PEACE Project receives no funding from the government or EHRA’s operations budget; it depends solely on donations, grants and other funding to provide training to communities free of charge. These donations help pay for the educational materials, transportation and meals.

The entire program aims to produce more informed and safe residents and tourists who can appreciate elephants as a significant asset in their lives. This hopefully will lead to more relaxed, less aggressive elephants as well.

You can find out more and support EHRA’s work with a donation here: www.ehranamibia.org/peace-project-ehra

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8 thoughts on “Namibia’s PEACE Project is saving elephants (and people)

  1. Hi I am Cheroline I have attended quite most of the seminars done with school children and the communities of anigab it’s always a privilege to be part of this generous program 8 years and counting. Thanks EHRA I have learn alot.

    1. Hi Cheroline, thank you for your comment. It’s great to hear from someone who has actually been on the program! I’m so pleased to hear that EHRA has helped you.

  2. Loved reading about this, thanks for the article. It makes a change to read about positive action, at the moment! My friend works on a similar project in east africa,that focuses on bees to reduce human/elephant conflict. And your question – what do I love about elephants?
    It’s their emotional intelligence and fantastic support structure. Seeing their support to a little one slipping in the mud; the way they return to graveyards…elephants give each other more love and support than many humans do, sadly. Yet another example of how we can learn from the natural world.

    1. Thank you Kathryn for such a lovely comment; it’s so true! Elephants really do know how to take care of one another, and there’s so much that we can learn from that. I’ll check out the use of bees to deter elepants – I know EHRA use chili plants!

  3. So nice to hear of positive efforts that are happening with wildlife and other parts of the world. Besides being majestic animals, I so admire elephants for their compassion with one another and they’re strong social bonds. We have a lot to learn from elephant families.

    1. Thank you Alanna, I completely agree. Compassion is such a wonderful quality for any animal to have (including humans!), and our human societies would benefit from showing a little more of it, I think. As always, there is much to learn from the natural world. Thank you for your comment

  4. I love elephants as they are the most compassionate, family orientated & thoughtful animals on the planet. They are nature’s gentle giants. Earth would be right without elephants 🙁

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