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2016 Annual Conservation Report

Status and distribution of the desert-adapted elephants

in the Ugab and Huab River drainages in Namibia

Prepared by: Rachel Harris1, Christin Winter1, Dr. Betsy Fox1

1Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA)

Download this Conservation Report PDF here .

Correspondence regarding this report should be addressed to:
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Phone: +264 (0)64 402501

Note: The following data on the desert-adapted elephants of the Ugab and the Huab rivers is based on exact counts and known individuals from our photography ID database. The database is updated on weekly elephant patrols twice every month since 2003.

1) The Ugab River population

This river and its surroundings are inhabited by 3 breeding herds and 5 breeding bulls.

    1. Mama Africa herd (13 elephants):

          • 4 adult females (all between 30-40 years of age)
          • 2 young males (14-16 years of age)
          • 2 immature males (both 9 years of age)
          • 1 immature females (7 years)
          • 2 female calves (2 and 5 years of age)
          • 2 male calf (4 and 5 years of age)

Note: In 2016 3 out of 3 new born calves died. 2 are due to natural reasons, 1 was separated from its herd by a farmer and was since rejected. 1 adult female died of old age.

b. Guantagab 6 herd (6 elephants)

  • 2 adult females (all between 30-45 years of age)
  • 1 young male (14-16 years of age)
  • 1 immature male (7 years)
  • 1 immature females (7 years of age)
  • 1 female calf (5 years of age)


    • Note: 1 out of 1 new born calves died of unknown causes. 1 breeding age cow was shot by farmers due to conflicts. 1 adult female died of old age.

      c. Ugab Small herd (6 elephants)

            • 3 adult females (35-50 years of age)
            • 1 immature female (8 years of age)
            • 2 female calves (both 5 years of age)

      Note: 1 out of 1 new born calves died of unknown reasons.

      d. Bulls (5)

            • 2 prime breeding bulls (30-35 and 40-45 years of age)
            • 3 mature breeding bulls (25-30 years of age)

    • Summary:
      5 out of 5 new born calves died in 2016, 1 of them due to Human Elephant Conflict (HEC).
      3 adult females were lost, 1 of them due to HEC.

      fig1 ehra ugab desert elephant population trend

      Figure 1. Ugab river desert-adapted elephant subpopulation trend from 2010-2017.

      2) The Huab River population

      This river and its surroundings are inhabited by 2 breeding herds and 5 bulls.

            1. Oscar’s herd H1 (11 elephants)
              3 adult females (30-35 and 40-50)
              1 young male (15-16 years of age)
              2 immature males (10-13 years of age)
              1 immature female (10 years)
              3 female calves (5, 2 and 1 years of age)
              1 male calf (3 years of age)


b.Rosy’s herd H2 (16 elephants)

5 adult females (30-45 years of age)
2 young males (18 and 17 years of age)
2 immature males (13 and 14 years of age)
2 immature females (7 and 8 years of age)
3 male calves (5, 4 and 1 years of age)
2 female calves (5 and 1 years of age)


Note: 2 out of 4 new born calves died of reasons unknown in 2016.

c. Bulls (5)

3 mature breeding males (30-35 years of age)

2 sub-adult males (16-20 and 21-25 years of age)



2 out of 5 new born calves died of unknown causes. The surviving 3 calves seem to thrive, especially after the country received good rains.

fig2 ehra huab desert elephant population trend

Figure 2. Huab River desert-adapted elephant subpopulation trend from 2015-2017.


The total number of resident desert-adapted elephants living in the Ugab and Huab river of the southern Kunene and northern Erongo region of Namibia is 62 elephants.

In general, the trend of the desert subpopulation in the Ugab/Huab region is not sustainable and besides a few new born calves, the population has been declining. Of specific concern is the loss of breeding females and most other adult females being of old age. 7 out of 10 new born calves and 3 adult females died in 2016.

In total since 2010-2016 43% of the 21 known mortalities in the southern rivers have been due to humans, only 24% was natural and the rest unknown or under suspicious circumstances.

Summary and Activities of EHRA

Elephant Human Relations Aid is a Namibian registered not-for-gain organisation (registration number 21/2003/630), which was founded by Johannes Haasbroek in 2001. It was launched as a result of the escalation in competition for and conflicts over water and other natural resources between the desert-dwelling elephants and human inhabitants of the communal lands in the northern Erongo and southern Kunene regions.  EHRA aims to find long-term sustainable solutions to the ever-growing challenge of facilitating the peaceful co-habitation between the subsistence farmers, community members and the desert-adapted elephants.

The importance of Namibia’s desert-adapted elephants

With a current estimated 28,000 African elephants lost every year to poaching, human-elephant conflicts and habitat loss and a total number of 350,000 elephants left in the wild, conservation efforts should address specifically endangered subpopulations such as the desert-adapted elephants.

As one out of only two desert-elephant subpopulations worldwide, Namibia’s desert-adapted elephants form an essential part of Namibia’s biodiversity heritage, balance in the desert ecosystem and annual revenue through tourism for the country. The presence of elephants in the desert is vital to the local environment as elephants dig for water, making these resources available to other animals (Viljoen 1992) and their deep tracks in the mud during the short rainy season are said to provide an ideal environment for seedlings (Viljoen 1992).

In recent years these elephants have experienced a constant population decline. Overhunting can have severe impacts on large mammal populations in extreme environments at low density (Petersen et al. 2010), especially because desert elephants have a lower reproductive rate than other savannah elephants (Leggett et al. 2011). Since 1975-2016 this subpopulation has experienced a decline of 73% (Ramey and Brown 2016) and by 1980 poaching had already resulted in the extirpation of the northernmost desert subpopulation, inhabiting the Kunene River mouth and Marienflus valley (Viljoen 1987). Human-elephant conflicts, poaching and uncontrolled trophy hunting have a severe impact on the health and survival of the desert elephant subpopulation of Namibia.

If desert elephants were extirpated, they might not readily be replaced by other savannah elephants that had not learned the behaviours needed for desert survival. If no action will take place to prevent further human-caused mortalities of these desert-adapted elephants, their fate will be local extinction.

The PEACE Project
People and Elephants Amicably Co-Existing

As a Namibian registered not-for-gain organization, EHRA introduced the PEACE Project in 2009 as a response to increased human-elephant conflicts in the Kunene Region of Namibia. PEACE aims to help community members and elephants co-exist more peacefully through education, exposure and elements of protection.

PEACE helps people (community members, school learners, MET officers, tour guides and game guards) to understand elephant behaviour, social structure and biology by conducting seminars and training courses about how to stay safe during elephant encounters. Further, the PEACE program for school learners and teachers increases knowledge about elephants and creates awareness and appreciation of the elephant’s existence through educational weekends in the field. The entire focus is to harmonize the relationship between humans and elephants by developing a long-term education and safety program to help ensure the survival of the unique desert-adapted African elephant and to use their presence to generate income on a household level for the local communities.

Note: PEACE has since been running on an ad-hoc basis whenever funds were available. We are aiming to run PEACE full-time to be able to attend to as many conflict affected communities as possible.

PEACE Projects conducted since 2015

Between 2015-2017 we have been running 38 PEACE workshops and seminars with a total of 679+ participants. Our target groups are farmers and other community members that experience conflicts with elephants, students and school learners, conservancy game guards and MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) officers. Our immediate priority is to decrease conflicts through education and elephant training workshops and protect the remaining subpopulation of desert-adapted elephants in Namibia’s desert northwest. Since 2009 we have reached out to more than 1500 community members and attitudes towards elephants have changed and fear and intolerance have been reduced.

Detailed overview of PEACE Seminars 2015 - June 2017:

YEAR LOCATION # of seminars # attending
2015 Otjiwarongo, Khorixas, Huab conservancy, Damara adventure camp, ≠Khoadi//Hoas Conservancy, Puros, Ongongo, Otjiu-West, Otjikongo, Ohungu Conservancy, Ongongo and Otjiu-west Conservancies, Okongue (Ugab River east), Ongongo and Otjiu-west Conservancies, 11 237
2016 Huab Conservancy, Okongue Primary School, !Doro !Nawas Conservancy, Ongongo, Ozondundu (Otjomatemba)Conservancy, Petrusfontein, Witrand, Halt Post, Olifantsput, Tussenby, Witrand/Tsaraxa-Eibes (Fransfontein area), Tsiseb and Sorri-Sorris Conservancies, White Lady Lodge, Anixab School, Omatjete School, Fransfontein area:  Gudi Post, #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy         19 340+
2017 (until June) Fransfontein area, Farm Petrusfontein, Sesfontein and Anabeb Conservancies, Ultimate Safaris, Matiti Safaris, Farm Garubib, Khorixas Community, Ehirovipuka and Otuzemba, Sorri-Sorris Conservancy 8 102+
PEACE Leader Hendrick Munembome and Dr. Betsy Fox


















  1. Ishida, Y. 2016. Genetic connectivity across marginal habitats: the elephants of the Namib Desert. Ecology and Evolution.
  2. Leggett, K. E. A., L. M. Brown, and R. R. Ramey II. 2011. Matriarchal associations and reproduction in a remnant subpopulation of desert-dwelling elephants in Namibia. Pachyderm 49:20–32.
  3. Ramey, R.R. and L.M. Brown. 2015. 2016 Annual Research Report: Desert-dwelling Elephants in the Hoarusib, Hoanib, and Uniab Rivers
  4. Viljoen, P. J. 1992. The desert elephants of Namibia. Pp. 131– 133 in J. Shoshani, ed. Elephants. Simon & Schuster Ltd., Singapore City, Singapore.