Sharing water with elephants

Standing on a rocky hillside after a stiff climb, Mike and Sue, two lucky tourists, stare at the elephants climbing the opposite hill. They drink huge amounts of water a day, explains the guide, Erenst Garoeb. “I don’t know where they would get all that water here,” exclaims Sue. The answer lies back on the other side of the gravel road, where a small farm is pumping water for livestock. Erenst saw the elephant tracks on the road, crossing from the farm to the hills, before he put the Land Cruiser into an almost impossible climb up over the rocks to search for the elephants.

The guides at Grootberg Lodge go out every day looking for elephants and black rhino, but finding them is not guaranteed. A herd of elephants can move 70 kilometres overnight, and rhinos are elusive creatures, easily hidden by bush.

Tourists at the lodge often spend time looking at a display in the entrance, which tells the story of the conservancy that owns it, and of ordinary farmers and the problems they have, living with wildlife.

Take water. Elephants are not fussy drinkers. To get at the precious water they will rip up pipes, break concrete dams, and knock over expensive diesel and wind pumps. However, there are solutions. With government and donor assistance some farmers have built elephant proof walls to protect their pumps, with piping taking water to dams where elephants and other wildlife can drink, away from the troughs reserved for livestock.

Erenst explains this to tourists who have come to see wildlife, but are equally interested in the plight of local farmers. Erenst’s family farm has also been overrun by elephants looking for water, so anything that can protect farms, whilst preserving wildlife, is of special interest to him.

With the Wildlife Credits scheme in place guides like Erenst will be able to explain the contribution that tourists can make by adding extra to the pot if they see iconic wildlife such as elephants, rhinos and lions. The money will go to protecting water points and livestock, and will help to keep Namibia’s wildlife on the land.