In all the necessary noise around COVID-19 and the upcoming elections and the various newsy points of the day, something that affects Namibians in a major, yet unappreciated way, is human-wildlife conflict (HWC).
Too many newsmakers go on as if HWC is not their problem. It is some ‘distant’ issue. One of Namibia selling points for travel, tourism and hospitality is wildlife. This country’s contribution to the worldwide wildlife conservation is EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS.
Entire communities, our fellow citizens who have an equal right to a quality, safe life just like anyone else. And yet, they battle wildlife every day and few are aware of it.
The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) spent a poultry N$4 million on HWC. This was for their program to covers stock loss, crop damage and human impacts in terms of injury and loss of life. That small amount is an insult. But, it shows this government under appreciates the impacts of human-wildlife conflict.
Namibia tells the world that it is the greatest wildlife and conservation story ever told! We tell the world that we have the largest free-roaming lion population in the world. We sing praises at having over 80 registered communal conservancies. We boast that local people have a level of control over the flora and fauna on the land where they live. We make speeches at tourism trade fairs about Namibia’s wide-open spaces. We dance about our desert-adapted elephants and lions. And we protect and celebrate our rhinos.
We must have equal enthusiasm for HWC solutions and raising the money to finance it.
Check out Ultimate Safaris’ fantastic series: www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7KRIw4y05Y, The Covid Chronicles. There are over 50 episodes with new footage posted regularly. They talk in the bush with people who work with the various species being highlighted. The first step in the HWC battle is to LEARN.
Minister of EFT, Pohamba Shifeta said that several people lost their lives to wildlife in 2019/20 and 37 were injured. The Zambezi is the worst affected region. The minister is quoted as saying that 80 percent of injuries and loss of life was caused by hippos, leopards, crocodiles and buffalo.
Most would wrongly assume that people and livestock being eaten by lions or trampled by elephants were our main HWC scourge. Statistically, that is not the case.
The Minister said that over 1,400 livestock were reported to have fallen to predation. If that number was reported, then the real figure could easily be triple that amount. The most affected people are often very remote and resigned to their plight. And in this case, the predation is mainly caused by lions.
Imagine that your livestock is your wealth. Now imagine a pride of lions using your kraal as a drive-through KFC. And, this happens all the time. Imagine your ram or bull, eaten by a leopard after you paid all of your cash to buy it. What would you do?
People criticize those beleaguered rural farmers, who get their rifles and kill the offending lions or leopards. Imagine having your children out playing in the fields and one of them being taken as a nursing mother lion’s supper. This is very possible in Namibia.
Far too many people in power positions or living their best life in the city do not grasp the serious nature of living with the threat of HWC.
It is easy to scream about a community of subsistence farmers killing elephants. But, if all the food you have for half of a year is trampled and eaten by elephants in one night, what would you do?
Shifeta reported that elephants accounted for 93 percent of all crop damage most of it occurring in Kavango West.
Our decision-makers are too far removed from the communities, traditional authorities and relevant NGOs in the area to ensure plans (and the needed BUDGETS!) are in place to address HWC effectively.
It is interesting to note that while hippos, leopards, crocodiles and buffalo caused the most injury and human deaths, the ministry put down 84 problem animals (an official designation that is the hangman’s noose for an animal that beggars HWC programs), most of them lions and elephants.
Remember, conflict also occurs with snakes, jackals, and other wildlife.
The MEFT is doing an excellent job across all regions with a pathetically insufficient budget. The rangers in our national parks and game guards on communal conservancies are unsung heroes keeping the massive wildlife population in check and monitored. They are nature’s first responders and should be paid higher salaries and acknowledged accordingly.
Those who want to be ‘woke’ about HWC should get in touch with the local conservation and wildlife protection community. Contribute money, subscribe to their newsletters, volunteer to assist in their work, advocate with the government for a higher budget for HWC, support tourism facilities inside communal conservancies and, most of all, learn.