Most conservancies conduct routine game censuses. The biggest of these is the North-West Game Count, conducted annually since 1999. The count includes all the conservancies and tourism concessions outside of national parks in the north-west and is the largest annual, road-based game count in the world. It covers an area of around seven million hectares and is undertaken as a joint exercise between conservancy members and staff, the MEFT and conservation NGOs.
Similar methodology has been extended to other parts of the country which also carry out annual game counts, but the application of approach has been adaped to local conditions. Conservancies in the east perform an annual moonlight waterhole count, while conservancies in the north-east undertake counts on foot along fixed transect lines. These counts amount to 2,500 kilometres walked annually. All census methods are intended to contribute to and work synergistically with other existing census methods, such as the aerial censuses conducted by the MEFT, and event book data collected daily and collated every month.
In large open areas where animals are free to roam, determining trends is challenging because animals can move into or out of the areas being monitored. In addition, in certain regions, and in particular in desert conditions, animal numbers are driven to a large extent by good and poor rainfall seasons leading to ‘boom and bust’ cycles in wildlife populations. These two factors make the analysis of trend data extremely challenging, particularly over the short-term, and a long-term view has to be taken.
Namibia’s game counts are scientifically based, and are designed to include conservancy members, NGO workers and MEFT rangers in a joint effort that generates both data and strengthens partnerships. The counts provide an idea of where game occurs, an approximate estimate of how many animals there are, but most importantly, they track changes (or trends) in population numbers over time. Figures for wildlife population estimates, which show long-term trends, are used as a key indicator of success or failure in conservation.
Wildlife movement in and out of game count areas (including trans-boundary movements to and from neighbouring countries, which has been actively recorded for some species through remote tracking) is the main explanation for significant annual fluctuations. The data also underlines the value of using different counting methods to gain a better understanding of wildlife dynamics.
Regular aerial censuses have been undertaken by the MEFT in different parts of Namibia. These confirm the long-term trend of wildlife population increases in both the north-west and north-east.
The African Elephant Status Report for 2016, published by the IUCN using aerial and other census data from Namibia, estimated the population of elephants in Namibia at 22,754 ± 4,305, with a possible further 90 elephants in areas not systematically surveyed. Elephants occur across the north of Namibia, mostly in conservancy and national park areas. Their range of 164,069 km2, which is 20% of the country, includes the extremely arid north-west, the central savannah of Etosha, and the riverine and forested north-east. The report details four main populations, the largest being the transfrontier population moving through the Zambezi Region to and from Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe (the KAZA area). Due to the transfrontier movement of elephants, numbers in this area make up the bulk of the Namibian population. Despite an upsurge in wildlife crime over recent years, the population has continued to grow, bringing increased opportunities for tourism-based income, but also increased human-wildlife conflict. Other populations occur in Khaudum National Park adjacent to Botswana, and in the north-west Kunene Region, sometimes referred to as ‘desert elephants’.
The Event Book is used by community game guards to record suspected poaching incidents, human-wildlife conflict, and wildlife sightings.
This highly successful management tool was initiated in 2000 and has been continuously refined ever since. It is used by almost all registered conservancies and is systematically introduced to emerging conservancies during their formation. The simple but rigorous tool promotes conservancy involvement in the design, planning and implementation of natural resource monitoring and management.
The annual audit of the books produces data, which is used by the conservancy in its adaptive feedback management, is also sent to the MEFT and NACSO to update national data and produce trend analyses of monitored events.
The Event Book monitoring system is at the heart of natural resource management. This system is often implemented before a conservancy is officially gazetted to allow emerging conservancies to start monitoring their resources as soon as possible. Without a monitoring system, conservancies could not tell if they have enough of any particular species to use it sustainably. Although game counts are done annually, and aerial surveys are completed every few years, there is no replacement for day-to-day monitoring on the ground using Event Books.
The Event Book system starts with small yellow books that community game guards keep with them at all times while on duty. They use their books to record incidents relating to wildlife (Events) during their daily activities. Incidents or events include cases of human-wildlife conflict (e.g. crops damaged or livestock killed), suspected poaching or wildlife deaths from unknown causes, sightings of locally rare species, wild fires, or any unusual observations. Which species sightings are monitored and what constitutes an Event that should be recorded is defined by the conservancies themselves, rather than externally, to increase ownership over the data collection process.
Once a month, the game guards report to their conservancy office and transfer the information from their yellow booklets to a blue monthly reporting chart. The chart is a simple bar graph that is filled in based on the number of Events recorded for that month (e.g. animals seen). This blue book contains monthly records from all game guards for that conservancy. Records from the blue book are transferred into a red book on an annual basis during an Event Book audit. These books are all kept at conservancy offices, such that interested conservancy members can access them.
Members of the NRWG transfer the information from the paper books at the conservancy offices to a computer each year as part of an Event Book audit, which allows further analysis at a national level. These audits provide opportunities for examining the quality of the data and speaking directly with game guards and conservancy managers to clarify any unusual records.