Two years ago last month, legendary Namibian desert elephant Voortrekker, pioneer of the Damaraland desert elephant population was shot. He was killed as a trophy, under the guise of being a problem animal. Another casualty of that day was man’s inability to associate Voortrekker with sustainable tourism value, community benefit, ecological integrity or a sense of wonder. Instead he was killed for short term greed.
Some friends have asked me to re-post an article that I wrote a few days before the incident. Unfortunately it turned out to be prophetic. Here it is .....
Amidst an iconic and ever-changing desert landscape, legendary Namibian elephant bull Voortrekker has a story to tell. It goes something like this.
During the turbulent war years of southern Africa that preceded Namibian independence, the desert elephant population was virtually decimated. Some found refuge from the poacher’s guns deep within the remote and desolate gorges of Kaokoveld in the north. As a result, the Ugab and Huab River systems, the southernmost ephemeral waterways of Damaraland, were devoid of elephants for well over a decade.
Voortrekker, one of the bulls to trek north during the conflict years, returned home in the early 2000’s, commencing a relay of south-bound expeditions, penetrating deeper and deeper into the dry and uncertain landscape before commencing with an epic traverse through to the relative bounty of the Ugab River. It was a marathon across arid plains and ancient craters that would ultimately redefine what we know of elephant endurance, intuition and behaviour. Just how he navigated, or knew where to find water, is anyone’s guess.
But his legacy does not end there.
For over two successive summer seasons he returned north, returning each time to the Ugab with a small family unit in tow. An elephant patriarch. These elephants are still resident in the region and have formed the nucleus of three distinct breeding herds, making the Ugab/Huab Rivers perhaps the most viable desert elephant habitats in the world. Voortrekker continues as the Godfather, a true legend of the Ugab. His ancestral knowledge has been passed down to a new generation of desert dwellers. What a legacy!
For me, all of this addresses one of the most crucial fallacies of elephant conservation, trophy hunting, and the notion of sustainable consumption: that older bulls have no value to an elephant community and can be hunted under the banner of ecological benefit.
This is a fundamental calamity.
If Voortrekker’s right of way is conserved, then so too will a vast landscape of conservation, employment, education, financial viability , hope and possibility.
ELEGEND. He is actually showing us the way if we take a moment to realise it.
And is precisely why Voortrekker’s story needs to be told to a wider audience. I invite you to share widely. Elephant, generally, are considered as a keystone of an ecological circuit, but THIS elephant could be considered as a keystone of elephant consciousness.
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