EHRA's PEACE Project
PEACE Project leaders Hendrick Munembome and Dr. Betsy Fox demonstrate elephant teeth structure to Otjimbojo Conservancy members attending a seminar near their homes in the Ugab River.
The PEACE (People and Elephants Amicably Co-Existing) Project, a community-based education program for the people of the southern Kunene and northern Erongo Regions, focuses on people living in the communal areas along both banks of the Ugab River (the southern boundary of the Kunene Region in Northwest Namibia) and extending north to the Palmwag and Hobatere Concession Areas where many of the desert-dwelling elephants also live.
It is state-owned land primarily used by farmers for subsistence livestock farming, where conflicts between people and their elephant neighbors happen frequently. Many are due to misunderstanding and lack of information about the true nature of elephants. Many local people are unfamiliar with elephant behavior, resulting in a high level of fear and dislike of elephants which then resulting in pressure on the Namibian Government to remove, cull or otherwise “get rid of” the elephants. Some people resort to shooting and wounding them out of frustration and anger when they damage a water source or homestead garden or injure livestock or break fences.
Very few people receive any benefits from this major tourist attraction living among them. Often, the only way people benefit from the elephants is through trophy hunting or hunting those declared as “problem animals”.
Attentive members from !Khoro !Goreb and Audi Conservancies listen as PEACE Project leader Hendrick Munembome describes the many functions of an elephant’s trunk.
EHRA’s PEACE Project seeks to change that. Many people in the area have asked for information about elephants and how to live with them, as well as for information about the environment and ecology. This project aims to address these requests with a combination of educational programs, public and schools talks and a brochure for resident adults and students, tourists and the general public. Besides seminars for community residents, field time observing elephants is part of the program.
Excited staff of the Damara Living Museum and Aba-Huab Conservancy members join PEACE Project leader Dr. Betsy Fox after the field trip where they watched a herd of peaceful elephants in the Aba-Huab River. The vehicle and driver for the trip were provided by the Twyfelfontein Country Lodge.
With this project, EHRA seeks to help people live with their elephant neighbors and to decrease conflict through education, raising awareness, and promoting ventures to enhance their livelihoods. It features two-day seminars for all residents, including students, lodge employees, chiefs, headmen, conservancy members, officers and game guards. The first day is filled with factual information about elephants and tips to stay safe if elephants are around, including a slide show if possible; the second day takes participants to the field to bring them face-to-face with elephants to experience the true nature of these giants which share their homeland.
Since the beginning of the project in 2009, project leaders Hendrick Munembome and Dr. Betsy Fox have driven to communities to conduct these seminars. Many people are surprised about the facts of elephant society and behavior, and particularly to learn they can safely come close to elephant herds and large bull elephants and watch them quietly without disturbing them or provoking a charge. Most come away with totally different perceptions and attitudes towards elephants, and especially with reduced fear. Such changes in people’s ideas and beliefs are the driving force behind the creation of the PEACE Project, and the reason we plan to continue.
Community residents from Otjimbojo Conservancy safely observe Mama Africa’s herd resting near the Ugab River during the field trip following their PEACE education seminar.
The PEACE Project receives no funding from either the government or EHRA’s operations budget; it depends solely on donations, grants and other funding sources to print educational materials for seminar participants, including a certificate of attendance; a brochure for self-drive tourists outlining information about the region and its people as well as important safety tips to follow if they encounter elephants while touring in elephant habitats; and the fuel needed to get to the communities to conduct the seminars.
The entire program aims to produce more informed and safe residents and tourists who then can appreciate elephants as a major asset in their lives.This hopefully will lead to more relaxed, less aggressive elephants as well.
Check out this short documentary about EHRA, the challenges facing elephant conservation and the PEACE Project, including interviews with the EHRA project leaders.