Five southern African nations plan to start the first-ever aerial survey next year of an area larger than California where more than half of the world’s African elephants live to get a more accurate idea of their numbers.
The survey, using fixed-wing aircraft, of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which includes the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Victoria Falls that lies between Zimbabwe and Zambia, is a step to help the countries better manage the animals, Nyambe Nyambe, the executive director of the zone known as Kaza, said. Namibia and Angola will also participate.
“In the absence of data, it would be like fishing in the dark,” Nyambe said by phone from Kasane, in northern Botswana. “You need data and information on the elephants’ distribution, numbers and migration patterns to better manage them.”
The countries where about 220,000 elephants live, most of them in Botswana and Zimbabwe, are having to deal with a host of elephant-related issues.
Botswana (130k), Namibia (22k), Zambia (26k) and Zimbabwe (85k) together hold the biggest reservoir of elephants worldwide.
While endangered elsewhere, the number of the animals in southern Africa have surged in recent decades, resulting in an increase in sometimes fatal clashes with farmers whose crops they eat. Elephants also damage trees needed by other species to survive.
Still, poaching is on the rise in some parts of Kaza, Botswana has attracted international criticism for allowing the resumption of African elephant hunts and oil exploration is taking place on the fringes of the conservation area in Botswana and Namibia.
Governments across the region have argued with conservationists that the three million people who live alongside the elephants need to derive some economic benefit from their presence.
The survey is expected to cost US$4M.