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Extraction Industry’s Hunt for Fossil Fuels Near Okavango Delta Threatens to Trigger “Genocide” of Africa’s Last Elephants
Caption: The African elephant, the planet’s largest terrestrial mammal was recently listed as endangered and critically endangered on IUCN’s Red List; oil and gas extraction projects throughout the African Continent threaten to hasten the animal’s demise. Credit: © Joaquín Rivero, elephant in Okavango Delta.
May 2021 (Namibia/Botswana/South Africa) – With ~50 million years of evolution buttressing a complex matriarchal social structure, elephants demonstrate heightened intelligence, intense emotions, are self-aware and mourn their dead . Known to be sensitive to drilling-related seismic activity, elephants alter migratory patterns in response . If ReconAfrica’s activities persist within the Delta, the elephants of the Okavango, already refugees of poaching and habitat loss, simply have “no place left to go”.
Where will the giants roam? At present, ReconAfrica is installing “test wells” over an area larger than Belgium; one that straddles Namibia and Botswana. The extraction project represents the world’s ‘largest oil play of the decade’, per Oilprice.com ; the region is a critical migratory corridor for an estimated 18,000 African elephants ; these elephants form a significant portion of a full third of Africa’s last elephants, specifically, the 130,000 who call Botswana home . ReconAfrica’s extraction efforts in the Okavango region are likely to result in a catastrophic disruption of Africa’s last and largest remaining population of elephants. The consequence is tantamount to the genocide of earth’s last great walkers, to the “genocide” of sentient creatures, millions of years old.
Anthropogenic causal factors have delivered devastating losses to earth’s biodiversity; two-thirds of all wild animals have disappeared in the last fifty years and just 3% of the world’s ecosystems remain intact . The impacts of heightened Climate Change may have already caused a mass die-off of elephants in the region; between 2019-2020, hundreds of elephants exhibiting symptoms of neurological disorders literally fell to their deaths in the Delta . Scientists believe an excessive bloom of Cyanobacteria, a toxic bacterium occurring in water sources, led to the mass die-off. The bacteria thrive in warmer waters; unmitigated Climate Change will increase the frequency of toxic blooms, exacerbating the risk to elephants and all animals using water resources in the Delta . It is ironic that the Namibian government and ReconAfrica have engaged in a collaborative enterprise poised to release more carbon into earth’s atmosphere by drilling within a pristine ecosystem where hundreds of elephants met their death just months before from a toxic bloom linked to Climate Change.
“What we see of oil exploration and distribution is the tip of the iceberg. The associated infrastructure and subsequent rendering of the landscape easily accessible does equal damage and leads to bigger risks or losses. The landscape loses its intrinsic value. But that is hard to quantify, unless you can grasp the concept of wilderness.” says Craig Spencer, founder of Transfrontier Africa and the Black Mambas and Retired Head Warden of Balule Nature Reserve and Warden of the Olifants West Region in South Africa.
The Red List status for savannah elephants was recently revised to ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature . Yet savannah elephants are not the only species threatened by ReconAfrica’s plans for the Delta. The IUCN reports that ReconAfrica’s operating license covers the habitat of four critically endangered species, seven endangered species and twenty species listed as vulnerable. Among the species affected are the African wild dog, the grey crowned crane, the white-backed vulture, the black rhino, the Temminck’s pangolin and the martial eagle .
Ecotourism is a primary source of income for Namibia; it accounts for a whopping 14.1% of Namibia’s GDP . The Okavango Delta itself generates millions each year in sustainable revenue and is a prime tourist destination. These revenues sustain the lives and livelihoods of Namibia’s people. The decision to drill within the Delta has the potential to yield chronic ecological, economic and reputational losses for Namibia. Compounding the problem, roads built to service the extraction project will increase access to the region and render the area more vulnerable to poaching . The outcome of increased poaching will have a devastating impact on the already dwindling rhino population of the Delta .
Transparency and accountability are recurrent casualties in ReconAfrica’s hunt for oil in the Okavango. Local communities in Namibia report that they have not been informed of operations and were not consulted prior to the production and conclusion of the Environmental Impact Assessment initiated by ReconAfrica . Rural and indigenous communities are on the frontlines of Climate Change; they are the first victims of unpredictable weather, of prolonged droughts, of depleted water sources and of chronic pollution. Indigneous populations are significant sources of knowledge, information and adaptation in the context of vulnerable biodiversity and complex landscapes . The international community must demand a revision of ReconAfrica’s EIA with full stakeholder participation.
ReconAfrica has a license to drill in Botswana, just as it does in Namibia; ~13.1% of Botswana’s GDP is derived from tourism . Will Botswana heed the ecological unravelling in Namibia and establish policies that enhance economic viability through ecotourism, or will it disregard lessons learned?
“ ….It would be a travesty for Botswana, in particular, to get lured away from its proven and very successful developmental pathway, to shiny objects and false promises along the developmental pathway,” said the late globally recognized IPCC scientist Bob Scholes in a recent interview.
The UN Biodiversity Conference is in October 2021 and May 22 is International Biological Diversity Day . It is of vital importance that the international community amplify the ecological significance of the Okavango Delta between May 22 and October 2021. A global policy to ‘keep the wilderness wild’ must be advocated for, envisioned and enforced. COVID-19 has amply demonstrated the indispensable necessity to sustain intact and healthy human-wildlife interfaces. The disruption of wild places and the exploitation of wild creatures leads to the evolution of pathogens, sponsors spillovers and sets the stage for extinction events .
“At a time when wildlife populations have plummeted by two-thirds in just 50 years, and Africa’s elephants are critically endangered, we must do all we can to protect and cherish earth’s largest terrestrial mammal, a creature symbolic of Africa’s wild heritage and one who wordlessly captures the human imagination.” – Rosemary Alles, President & Co-Founder of Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER).
The Okavango Region is home to Africa’s largest remaining savanna elephant population, under fire by the oil and gas industry with projects across the continent. Credit: © humanape
Notes to editor
GMFER is a global grassroots movement that amplifies the voices of indigenous peoples on behalf of earth’s last wild creatures. We believe that the call for equity must be for all, human and non-human. The peoples’ voice is at the heart of the vision of a livable earth for all; together, we must build human communities that see non-human communities as deserving of justice.
About Friday’s For Future
FFF’s principal goal is to place moral pressure on policymakers, and demand they listen to the scientists, so as to take forceful action to limit global heating. FFF is independent of commercial interests and ideology and knows no borders. FFF protests for our planet and for each other. There is reason to hope humanity can change and avert the worst of climate disasters, and build a better future.
Established in 2019 Friday’s For Future Windhoek seeks to raise awareness among Namibians of the Climate and Ecological Emergency. The locally lead youth organisation has rallied behind calls to stop oil and gas drilling in Namibia’s treasured Kavango region to avert a true planetary disaster in our own backyard.
We are very pleased to share an article written by Margaret Bear for BCnature magazine Spring edition 2021.
Elephanatics was instrumental in assisting with information gathered for this article and we thank Margaret for her deep love and concern for elephants. The Canadian government needs to act immediately and close the domestic trade in elephant ivory in Canada. Our petition is now at 627, 000 signatures. African savannah elephants are now on the endangered IUCN Red List and African forest elephants are on the critically endangered list.
What is Canada waiting for?
By: Kellie Diguangco
Elephanatics is an elephant advocacy organization based in Vancouver, BC, Canada that offers free educational programs all about elephant conservations. We spoke to President and co-founder, Fran Duthie all about how elephants fight climate change and how you can be an advocate too.
Key findings from the study include:
What is the value of protecting Biodiversity?
“Biodiversity is an all-encompassing term for what many regard as nature-related risk. It includes the food we eat, the soil, clean water supplies, landscapes, and forests. Nature-related risk affects all those who rely on nature’s services in their supply chains, from fashion, to farming and construction. Today our concern is climate risk; tomorrow it will be about biodiversity and everything that is beyond carbon.”
cr. Andrew Mitchell Co-Founder, Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) Founder of Global Canopy and CEO of Equilibrium Futures
Please sign this petition to #EndWildlifeTrade – https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-3015
OwlCrate Jr is an award-winning subscription book box for kids aged 8-12. Each box includes a new
novel, a letter from the author, plus cool activities, and fun goodies. Their theme for the March box is
“Elephants on Parade”! While we can’t reveal the name of the book just yet, it is a story about the
magical connection between elephants and humans.
Each March box will contain an Elephanatics’ fact sheet and bookmark. You can subscribe for 1, 3 or 6
months at owlcratejr.com and use READMORE2021 to save 15% off a new subscription.
Teachers and Educators: For a variety of elephant education lesson plans for youth aged 8 to 14
(including how elephants fight global warming), books, videos, and apps, please visit our website:
Dear Loyal Supporter,
Elephanatics has joined forces with partner organization Mara Elephant Project for the #HolidayGiving season.
We are asking for your support this year to assist MEP in providing for an additional 10 Loita rangers. The Loita Plains and pristine Loita Forest are in immediate need of additional resources to help mitigate human-elephant conflict, reduce elephant poaching, and increase protection of elephant habitat. With the onset of COVID-19 and the lack of tourism, the need for more rangers to protect these pristine areas is even more crucial. The poaching and illegal trade of Ivory has increased substantially because of the loss of tourism in both Asian and African countries. People are suffering greatly from economic losses. The increase in human-elephant conflict is rising as is the bushmeat trade. With no eco-tourism dollars supporting local communities, people are reverting to poaching to feed their families and in turn, is creating national security and stability issues due to natural resources being threatened with overexploitation and species extinction. Rangers are on the frontlines fighting these issues. The importance of preserving our biodiversity and wildlife couldn’t be more apparent as a raging pandemic has proven. Globally, we need to protect our wildlife and their ecosystems for the sake of our own species survival.
Mara Elephant Project’s Maasai rangers are at the forefront of anti-poaching operations, human-elephant conflict mitigation efforts, and stopping deforestation through boots on the ground initiatives. The rangers live out in the field for up to two months at a time in mobile camps. Rangers are the backbone of MEP’s organization and their presence in an area increases the protection for wildlife, communities, and habitat.
The 10 new MEP rangers are responsible for responding to conflict and collecting information on all conflict incidents to analyze in MEP’s EarthRanger system. The information gathered, when combined with the elephant movements from collared elephants, will be used to inform spatial planning to protect elephant habitat and test and modify different conflict mitigation techniques within the community. In addition, they will be tasked with increasing security in the area for wildlife by reducing poaching and illegal habitat destruction activities. These 10 men and women were recruited from Loita because MEP works closely with local communities to protect Kenya’s iconic elephants and the habitat upon which they depend.
Your donation will go directly towards funding these rangers who are vital to the protection of elephants and their habitat during this critical time.
Our mission is to assist global elephant conservation efforts by educating Canadians about issues of ivory poaching, habitat loss, and the continued exploitation of elephants by humans, and to connect Canadians directly with elephant conservation partners in Africa and Asia.
The MEP connection comes from Dr. Jake Wall, co-founder, and African elephant specialist, with Elephanatics. Dr. Wall has worked as the Director of Research and Conservation at Mara Elephant Project since 2019.
For more information on Mara Elephant Project please visit: maraelephantproject.org
Please consider a gift this season to assist Mara Elephant Project.
Marc Goss | CEO Mara Elephant Project
Fran Duthie | Elephanatics Team
*Disclaimer: Donations to Elephanatics are not tax-deductible.
While this team is a necessary expense for MEP to incur, your support in this endeavor to expand our ranger presence is vital to ensure MEP can increase our areas of operation and our net of protection.
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