October 2015 – Wilderness Safaris is delighted to welcome the principle researchers of Desert Elephant Conservation, Laura Brown and Rob Ramey, to Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia, to spend two months researching and monitoring Hoanib’s desert-adapted elephant population in an effort to promote its long-term conservation.
Both with PhDs from Cornell University, US, Laura and Rob have been studying the elephant populations of the Uniab, Hoarusib and Hoanib since 2005. Through annual surveys, they have created a complete inventory of the desert-adapted elephant population with photographic identifications of each individual.
“Our Hoanib Research Centre is nearing completion and we are extremely excited to have this as the base for Laura and Rob to continue with this important project that will ultimately add to our knowledge of Namibia’s unique desert elephant population and be used in the country’s ongoing conservation efforts to protect it”, said Mike Wassung, Wilderness Safaris Namibia MD.
As of 2014, Laura and Rob’s research results show that the number of elephants in the lower Hoanib and Hoarusib Rivers has dropped by 30% in ten years. The decline seems to be caused by natural and human-caused deaths, low rates of reproduction and offspring survival, and emigration. The two researchers also report that elephants live in resident herds that are connected by occasional movements of individuals, especially males; a “metapopulation” that was once spread out across the north-west of Namibia. This information is important for conservationists as they strive to protect these subpopulations.
Finally, their studies have illuminated amazing insights into the uniqueness of the elephants that live here. Desert-adapted elephants are no different genetically to savannah elephants; they are all part of the same species of Loxodonta africana. But what sets the elephants of Hoanib apart is that they have learned to live in extreme desert conditions. “Intelligence, long life spans, sociality, and the capacity for learning and innovation are the key behaviours that have allowed the elephants to colonise and persist in this desert”, states Laura Brown in their 2014 Research Report – even during drought!
“It is so important therefore that the knowledge and experience of the matriarchs of the remaining herds is preserved and passed on to the next elephant generation. We will therefore do all we can to assist Laura and Rob to monitor these animals through our Hoanib Research Centre, which is being established with this very purpose in mind – to become a base for researchers from all over the world, seeking to learn more about the unique area that is north-west Namibia and share this with our guests”, Wassung added.