Ancient Angola Elephant Route to be Demined
JOHANNESBURG − An ancient but now lethal migration route for elephants is to be demined in Angola, paving the way for swelling herds in neighbouring Botswana and Zambia to expand their range, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Angola, which suffered almost three decades of civil war, is one of the world's most heavily mined countries, a situation that is taking a heavy toll on both humans and wildlife.
And sparsely populated northern Botswana has a pachyderm bottleneck, with a fast growing elephant population that is eating itself out of house and home and coming into conflict with poor rural folk.
"An estimated 120,000 elephants, whose numbers are growing at 5 percent annually, would be able to move north into Angola and Zambia if the mines were cleared," the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement.
Environmentalists say the elephants -- famed for their intelligence and long memories -- appear to sense the danger posed by the mines, confining them to an area of 107,000 sq kms (41,320 sq miles) which is being laid to waste by their surging numbers. The unveiling of the initiative coincides with a global conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi which is discussing ways to eradicate the scourge of landmines. UNEP said the $1 million project, backed by the California based humanitarian organisation Roots of Peace and environment group Conservation International, was part of a wider plan to create a vast transfrontier conservation area which would eventually include Namibia's Caprivi Strip.
This could be a boon Angola's fledgling eco-tourist industry as the impoverished southwest African country attempts to rebuild itself after decades of brutal conflict.
Dr John Hanks of Conservation International said de-mining will give Botswana elephants "access to Zambia and back into Angola enabling them to follow ancient elephant migration routes, presently barred by the presence of the land mines."
"If this option is not followed, Botswana is faced with the stark reality of shooting and killing up to 60,000 elephants (to control the population) over the next few years," he added.
The project will initially focus on a 150 sq km (58 sq mile) area of the Luiana Partial Reserve in southeastern Angola.