Namibian Wildlife

“This is an excerpt From My Master’s Degree Literature Review.  It’s a little out of date (2011), yet probably still good. “

The Sustainable Utilisation of Ungulates (Antelopes) in Namibia

Sustainable Utilisation

 For thousands of years, mankind has been hunting and harvesting wild animals.  On many occasions, large scale exploitations of animals have occurred, with various detrimental consequences, including the displacements of animals from their natural environments; the potential elimination of sub-populations; inhibition of meta-population processes; changes to species’ behaviours or social structures; depression of reproduction; and in the worst cases trophic cascades or the elimination of an entire species (Sutherland & Reynolds 1997; Woodroffe, Thirgood & Rabinowitz 2005).  Examples include various bird extinctions on Pacific islands (Duncan, Blackburn & Worthy 2002); eradication of elks, boars, lynx, wolves, bears and aurochs in Britain (Gillespie & Williamson 2009); the massive depletion of North American bison (Woodroffe, Thirgood & Rabinowitz 2005); more recently, that of the fishing industry’s over harvesting of some species such as cod, now on the verge of collapse (Casey & Myers 1998; Cook 1998); and the increasing bushmeat industry in Asia with its adverse impacts on both antelopes and primates (Mainka & Trivedi 2002).   Even during what might be regarded as more enlightened recent times, a highly populous animal such as the Saiga antelope in Asia, has lost more than 90% of its numbers in the past ten years as a result of hunting, commercial harvesting and poaching (Kuhl 2008).

However there is now general recognition that wildlife cannot be taken for granted as being an infinite resource, and should only be consumed where sustainable, therefore animals should be extracted at a rate lower than that of their renewal.  To establish notional ecological limits (though, not targets) for deriving value from harvesting natural resources, the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) has been developed:  how large could be the number of a species that might be extracted, whilst allowing its overall population to be safely and stably retained, for ongoing utilisation.   By implication, any major extraction of a species requires a detailed understanding of its population dynamics: reproductive rate, life span, natural mortality, susceptibility to disease etc.  Such knowledge must be supported by sound monitoring procedures:  assessing population densities; understanding changes over time; recording whether populations are not overly threatened.  (Sutherland 1997; Du Toit 2001).


Photo:  a pair of kudu

The Harvesting of Ungulates

 Across Africa, wild ungulates (game) are valued as important elements of ecosystems and icons of wildlife:  browsing vegetation; dispersing seeds, trampling and fertilising soil, thus contributing to savannah biodiversity; impacting upon the growth characteristics and composition of vegetation with an effect as significant as that of rainfall or fire.   In addition, ungulates are important to carnivores, being a major source of protein for predators, including endangered lions, leopards, and cheetahs.  (Joubert & Mostert 1975; Estes 1992; Du Toit & Cumming, 1999; Gordon, Hester & Festa-Bianchet 2004).

Most African ungulate populations appear to be stable and not threatened (East 1999).  Nevertheless they are often extracted for meat or trophies by humans, sometimes under controlled sustainable conservation regimes (du Toit 2001; Bothma 2002; Lindsey, Roulet & Romanach 2007), or otherwise in an unrestrained fashion.   Unchecked consumption can have a devastating effect on ungulate abundance.  In the nineteenth century, vulnerable species such as quagga and bluebuck were hunted to extinction by humans (van Bruggen 1959; Kerley et al., 2009).  In the twentieth century, and in more recent years, species such as addax, hirola and Dama gazelle have become critically endangered through hunting, poaching and human encroachment (IUCN 2009).


Photo:  a herd of oryx

Namibia and Its Approach to Sustainable Utilisation

 Large numbers of ungulates inhabit Namibia, a sparsely populated country of 824,000 km2, situated on the south west coast of Africa, with an arid climate and vegetation that is primarily savannah or desert.  (Joubert & Mostert 1975; World Bank 2009).  Most of its land is suitable for livestock, although natural vegetation resources are low.  (Barnes, Macgregor and Weaver 2002).  Here 24 ungulate species are present (Joubert 1981).  Much of their territory is on commercial land, where they are used consumptively.  Yet no one fully understands the impacts of this: monitoring of species and populations is sporadic and inconsistent.  (Erb 2004; Lindsey 2011).

The origins of this consumption arose during the latter half of the 20th century when wildlife conservation philosophies changed from protectionism to utilisation and management.   Namibia, then South West Africa (SWA), was the first southern African country to introduce legislation allowing the consumptive use of wildlife.   Previously wild ungulates had been viewed as a nuisance and as competition to livestock, particularly because they required the same grazing resources.  The SWA Government’s legislation of 1967 and 1975, decreed that ungulates became the property of farm owners or of community-owned lands.  Conditional rights were assigned to landowners for the use and consumption of ungulates, consequently they became economically valuable.  The new laws offered new opportunities for the use of game on ranches, including: trophy hunting; shoot and sell; harvest for meat sale; and the sale of live animals to other farms (Joubert 1981; van der Walt 1989; Owen-Smith 1996; Lindsey 2011).  The result was a situation almost unique internationally, where landowners became the responsible guardians of natural ungulates. (Joubert & Mostert 1975).   Just 10% of wild ungulates now occur in protected areas; 78% are on commercial farms and 12% on communal land.  (Erb 2004).  Many years later, the bio-diversity of Namibia now correlates directly with incomes arising from wildlife consumption.  The utilisation of ungulates has become a compelling rationale for their conservation.  (Barnes & de Jager 1995; McGranahan 2011; Naidoo et al., 2011).

 There are presently over 3,500 commercial farms in Namibia and whilst 90% are cultivating traditional cattle livestock (Lindsey 2011), between 15 and 25% are now also involved with wildlife production (Lindsey, Roulet & Romanach 2007), with wildlife itself representing 29% of all livestock biomass.  (Lindsey 2011). Ungulate species on Namibian farms include red hartebeest (Alceplaphus buselaphus), kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), steenbok (Raphicerus campestris), oryx (Gemsbok) (Oryx gazella) and common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) (Van der Walt 1989; Lindsey 2011).  For the farmer, game species holds advantages over traditional livestock: being more robust and tolerant of the environment; are able to forage more effectively; can endure for longer periods without water; and are less susceptible to disease; overall requiring much less effort.   (Bothma 1992).

By 2004, the contribution of wildlife based land use to the Namibian economy had grown to a significant amount, being approximately N$ 1.5 billion (Barnes 2009).   Commercial farms have now developed their wildlife based activities to become large scale game enterprises: 24% are involved with wildlife meat production; 35% are conducting trophy (safari) hunting.  Game meat production is the largest contributor, providing 16,000 – 22,000 tons per year and being valued at N$ 500 million. This compares credibly to the domestic livestock industry which is worth N$1.9 billion, derived from 92,000 tons of meat.  Examples of ungulate species’ contributions to meat production include: hartebeest 842 tons; kudu 3,477 tons; oryx 5,993 tons; springbok 2,210 tons and warthog 559 tons.   (Lindsey 2011).  The Namibian wild meat production industry is now regarded as a global model for conservation and economic development by organisations such as World Wildlife Fund (Van Schalkwyk 2011).  The second largest game industry is that of trophy hunting, with revenues of N$ 360 million, derived from 6,900 tons of meat (Lindsey 20110).  These enterprises are considered highly profitable: creating an incentive to invest in wildlife on private land (Humavindu & Barnes 2003).  Volumes of game extractions are large:  hunting records from 2002 show more than 18,000 animals taken including: hartebeest 1,654; kudu 2,648; oryx 3,380; springbok 2,216; and warthog 2,597 (Erb 2004).  In addition to these two major industries, game meat also serves as a primary source of food security for some 22,000 agricultural workers.  Overall there is a burgeoning compulsion to increase wildlife utilisation, with organisations such as TRAFFIC highlighting that Namibia is not achieving as much wildlife-income as other African countries.   (Lindsey 2011).


Photo: hartebeest

Impacts of Sustainable Utilisation

It is generally acknowledged that the attribution of economic value to Namibian wildlife has led to their being more carefully cultivated:  from 1972 to 1992, their numbers increased by 70%, with biodiversity increasing by 44% (Barnes & de Jager 1995).  Population numbers have grown at different rates between species.  From 1972 to 1997 increases included: kudu from 180,000 to 338,000 animals; oryx from 66,000 to 278,000; springbok from 231,000 to 354,000; and warthog from 86,000 to 188,000.  (Erb 2004).   At the same time harvesting has continued and by 2009 species’ consumption has been reported in the following proportions: hartebeest 9%; kudu 9%; oryx 14%; springbok 18%; warthog 8%.  (Lindsey 2011).  So whilst ungulate numbers have increased, so has their utilisation.

Furthermore, the impacts of specific farming interventions upon ungulates have not been properly understood.   Potentially positive conservation contributions include the provision of year-round surface water with artificial waterholes (Erb 2004) and the removal of excessive livestock to aid the recovery of degraded land (Lindsey 2011).  Negative factors may include the establishment of perimeter game fences which may prevent wild ungulates’ natural migration patterns and metapopulation processes (Hayward and Kerley 2009), leading to trophic impacts on savannah biomes (du Toit & Cumming 1999).   Changes in behaviour, including depression, have occurred where animals are fenced in (Mattiello et al., 2004).  Changes in population structures have arisen from different consumption regimes such as hunting or meat production (Annighofer & Schutz 2009).  Caro (1999a) reported that few studies have validated the impact of harvesting on ungulates’ behaviour, his own investigations at that time also proving inconclusive.

 Population Estimates

 The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has suggested that ungulate consumption is sustainable and below full potential.  (Barnes 2009).  Yet such statements must be based upon much scientific knowledge and data.  The principles for determining consumption rates (or even such as the MSY, mentioned earlier) are complex, involving a multitude of factors: not only population sizes and changes; but also sex and age structures, harvesting quotas and actual extractions, climate and environmental effects including resource (vegetation) renewal.  This myriad of influences implies population models and quotas that may be sensitive and vulnerable to mis-estimations (Sutherland 2001; Gordon, Hester & Festa-Bianchet 2004).

Perhaps the first matter that demonstrates the knowledge for the assessment of sustainable consumption of ungulates is then: How many of each species are there?   Recently there have been two estimates for wildlife populations on freehold farm land, constructed by leading experts:  Jon Barnes (MET) providing estimations based on aerial and ground surveys; Peter Lindsey (University of Pretoria) estimating from extrapolations of data taken from surveys of 250 commercial farms.

Table 1 Recent Estimates of Namibian Ungulate Populations

Species Barnes’ Population Estimate of 2004 (000’s) Lindsey’s Population Estimate   of 2009 (000’s)
Hartebeest 122 186
Kudu 345 449
Oryx 350 502
Springbok 621 762
Steenbok No data No data
Warthog 174 423
And overall wildlife totals… 1,812 2,814

(From Barnes 2009; Lindsey 2011)

The differences between the two estimates are vast (Table 1).  If harvesting and management were to be based on the larger estimation, yet the smaller estimation were the correct figure, then severe and damaging over-harvesting would take place.  Even if the larger estimation were the true number, that substantial population size in itself would not guarantee these ungulates’ survival.  Examples of severe declines in large populations include one from the Serengeti in 1993, where drought led to the demise of half a million wildebeest (Mduma, Sinclair & Hilborn 1999); and in Namibia where a rabies outbreak in the late 1970’s reduced kudu numbers by 75%.   (Van der Walt 2006).

 To arrive at ungulate population estimates and consumption quotas, MET assembles and reviews wildlife data, gained from visits to freehold farms, undertaking counts every four years (Lindsey 2011).  These activities are not without critics: survey quality and staff skill levels are alleged to be inconsistent (Erb 2004).  In addition, a large portion of ungulate habitat is excluded, being some 27% of farms that are surrounded by wild-life proof fencing (Lindsey 2011).  MET then also conducts aerial surveys, although such methods are again often challenged.  Concerns exist for potential under-counting biases of up to fifty percent, variations in results because of animal behaviour and movements, and hampered sightings occurring for cryptic species such as kudu that hide in thick bush (Joubert & Mostert 1975; East 1999; Erb 2004; Baker 1997).

Quotas are set, to allow up to 20% of game species to be taken.  (Lindsey 2011).   Yet there is economic pressure to increase quotas (Lindsey, Roulet & Romanach 2007) and it could be speculated that bias could arise within local ungulate surveys: a larger count implying a larger quota might be acceptable.   Opinions about quota management differ.   Baker (1997) suggests that for activities such as trophy hunting to be sustainable, population management principles must be in place, including basing quotas on scientific population estimates and then ensuring the quotas are properly enforced.  Sutherland (2001), however, dismisses the validity of quota-oriented monitoring, suggesting that assessing a species’ overall population size is more important.

 For the commercial farm owner who is seeking to quantify their own local ungulate populations, surveys methods may vary from a quick “drive around the farm” to waterhole counts, known group counts, or more sophisticated strip counts.  (Bothma 2002; Botswana Game Ranging Handbook 2005).   Such practices may vary in effectiveness, consistency and are open to bias.  However, even if some farms had the skills or resources to be able to conduct robust surveys, with there being so many of them (more than 3,500), it remains a huge challenge of co-ordination and leadership to create a national picture of ungulate abundance, particularly against the contexts of varying ungulate densities and different ecosystems between farms (Erb 2004).

Scientific Wildlife Population Monitoring

Despite these practical challenges, the concept of sustainable wildlife consumption can only be credible, when it incorporates scientifically sound monitoring and wildlife management practices.   Where people wish to utilise wildlife sustainably, this requires regularly taking an inventory of resources, understanding the limits of sustainability and ensuring that consumption does not exceed those limits.   (Stander 1995; du Toit 2001; Sutherland 2001).  Regarding the earlier examples of African ungulate species that have become critically endangered (such as addax, hirola, Dama gazelle (IUCN 2009)), whilst these are more extreme cases than the relatively populous Namibian ungulates, their fate still compellingly illustrates the need for governments and wildlife managers to monitor ungulate abundance.

Such classical wildlife population studies often consist of the quantification of the density of animals, utilising observational surveys or samplings of species, endeavouring to account for ecological variables, and applying statistical inferences to produce estimates of population parameters and characteristics that are as accurate and precise as possible (Morrison et al., 2010).   Various creative methods for conducting such studies have evolved over the past 100 years (Norton-Griffiths 1978; Buckland et al., 2001; Sutherland 2006; Morrison et al., 2010).  Ungulate monitoring methods have included aerial surveys (Norton-Griffiths 1978; Jachmann 2002), strip counts (Caro 1999b), indirect evidence surveys such as dung counts (Plumptre & Harris 1995),  innovations such as spotlight surveys (Roques-Rogery 2008) and Distance methods (Buckland et al., 2001; Waltert et al., 2008).


Photo: With binoculars like these you can do a good monitoring job


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“OK – so – if you have scrolled all the way down to here – what did you think of reading about all that hunting and then the challenge of counting up the animals to see the impact on their population?” 

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