26 May 2017

Namibia: How to Conquer Human-Wildlife Conflict

opinion

READING the newspapers and watching the news has become quite painful for me lately. Seeing the brutality with which our precious lions are being mercilessly killed while also imagining the frustration and anger the affected farmers must be going through, breaks my heart into a million pieces.

Human-wildlife conflict has a negative impact on both people (and their livestock) and on the wildlife or its habitat.

Lately, we have seen renewed evidence of this between the so-called six Etosha 'escapee' lions and the farmers in the Omusati region. Most, if not all, of these lions were killed, and others injured. The farmers have also, obviously, lost some livestock.

My question is: what is being done to make sure that the loss of both predators and livestock is minimised or eliminated? Have Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) officials sent out teams to investigate, and given the affected communities the support they need in such times?

Are there any plans to remove/relocate the lions back into Etosha, and to make sure that they do not get out by fixing the fence and maintaining its condition in the long term? I am very curious to hear the ministry's answers to these questions.

Farmers on the one hand need to realise that being a farmer in the 21st century is not the same as it was in the 19th century. Clearly, in the early days of farming, man and beast had less to worry about when it came to sharing the resources of mother earth.

Man had at his disposal enough land and resources he needed for himself and his family, while predators had enough territory and accessible prey to live and feed on.

But today, we find ourselves in a world where there is human encroachment on animal habitats, thus forcing animals to live and survive on limited resources. The wildlife in their own kingdoms are now fighting one another for territory, where it is a case of survival of the fittest, and the defeated are often forced to move on and find other places in which to survive. If a broken fence provides opportunity to escape the fighting grounds, then they will take it.

Moving into this new environment where livestock are left alone to graze with no herder or any kind of protection provides easy prey for this tired and hungry predator, and the process will continue if no protective measures are taken.

How can we as humans want to blame the predator for simply 'being a lion' when we fail to protect our livestock? Why do we then run for our guns to kill these animals so mercilessly? Is it because this predator cannot talk and justify its own actions, or is it because humans think that they are the more superior species, and all their actions more relevant over any other living creature on this earth?

We need to change our mindsets and understand the bigger picture from both sides, and then strive to take responsible action and implement reasonable methods to mitigate this conflict between humans and wildlife which we are dealing with so badly.

On another note, I would like to urge the MET to start acting and responding to the cries of the communities timeously to prevent the carnage.

These lions are part of our national heritage, and it is the ministry's responsibility to make sure that they are protected at all times before they are completely wiped out because of pure ignorance.

Turning a deaf ear or telling people thatSelma Amadhila 'we are still investigating' without any visible action does not help the situation at all. MET has offices all over the country, with employed wardens and officials, who are assigned the duties of dealing with such cases.

We need to know the reason why they are not dispatched immediately to deal with such situations. MET should live by its motto, and help the nation by serving them like they should.

Finally, I would like to urge all farmers who are facing any kind of human-wildlife conflict not to always resort to killing. Please, have the contact numbers of your nearest MET office at hand, and call them to come and assist. If for some reason MET is not able, farmers, even in their anger and frustration, can contact registered non-profit organisations, which are also able to assist in situations like this.

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." (Baba Dioum, 1968.)

- Selma Amadhila is an AfriCat administrator and conservationist in the making.

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