Over the past three days we met with a variety of farmers and families in the Anabeb Conservancy along the main road from Warmquelle and Khowareb to the Palmwag Concession. Spending time at farms and engaging local farmers in oral history interviews and semi-structured surveys makes up the majority of our research. By meeting people on their home-ground we can better appreciate the challenges that farmers in Kunene are facing when it comes to carnivores, in particular from lions. Thanks to Desmond Karajiva, Marcus Tjieraso, Karutjoveni Tjoveni, Seven Tjiraso, and Botes and Julia Kasaona for discussing their perspectives on a wide-range of issues facing farmers in Anabeb, in particular their willingness to discuss, in-depth, challenges from carnivores and possible productive ways forward. Thanks also to the Anabeb Conservancy Committee – a much-valued partner in our project.
Over the past two days we were based in the Puros Conservancy, at the town of Puros. During that time a productive meeting with the Puros Conservancy Committee provided useful insight into problems conservancy residents are facing from lions. The Committee as a whole contributed useful advice for how to move forward with the project
and showed considerable interest in receiving periodic updates on how members are coping with conflicts with carnivores.
We also met with Peter Uraravi, a headman in the conservancy who keeps livestock at his farm at Tomakas. Mr. Uraravi has long been a noted conservationist in the region and speaks with great force and passion about ensuring that humans and carnivores in Puros are able to co-exist in a sustainable fashion. Mr. Uraravi is supportive of our research and we look forward to joining him for an extended stay at Tomakas in the near future.
Over the past three days a series of wide-ranging conversations with Garth Owen-Smith provided indispensable insight into the development of wildlife conservation in Kunene and the formation of the communal conservancies. Mr. Owen-Smith has been instrumental in the formation of Namibia’s communal conservancy system and has dedicated his life to ensuring that local people are represented and respected as the owners of wildlife inhabiting their communal lands. Mr. Owen-Smith, along with his partner, anthropologist Margie Jacobsohn, founded Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), an organization that continues to work with communal conservancies in Namibia to ensure that they are viable representatives of local interest when it intersects with environmental management.
Himself a long-time resident of Kunene, Owen-Smith repeatedly emphasized the importance of extending ownership to conservancy residents, taking the time to build relationships so that challenges can be met together, and providing the necessary support for conservancies and conservancy residents while allowing them to set the agenda. Mr. Owen-Smith is an unrivaled fount of information about the practical implementation of community-based natural resource management and has been internationally recognized for his pioneering work. He at times voiced positions of optimism and concern about CBNRM as a means of unifying wildlife conservation and rural development in the future. Owen-Smith’s memoir, An Arid Eden: A Personal Account of Conservation in the Kaokoveld, is enthusiastically recommended for anyone who wishes to gain a more complete understanding of the challenges facing community conservation and the history behind CBNRM’s current place in Namibia.
IRDNC is supporting this research.
Thanks to the Anabeb Conservancy Chairman Titus Rungundo and the entire Anabeb Conservancy for hosting an interesting and productive meeting of the Kunene Regional Community Conservancy Association (KRCCA) these past two days. With representatives from six conservancies in attendance, the key item on the agenda was disagreements over unsanctioned land settlers – a problem that member conservancies have now been facing for almost five years. KRCCA Chairman Gustaph Tjiundukamba presided over the meeting and was superlative in smoothing-over areas of dispute and ensuring that all interested parties were given a chance to have their voices heard.
Meeting participants were also kind enough to allow John Heydinger and Craig Packer to introduce our research examining human-wildlife conflict in Kunene. While a handful of participants voiced questions about what type of impact such research would have for conservancy members, Anabeb Chairman Rungundo, Sesfontein Chairman Useil Naub, and the assembled members of the KRCCA agreed that the research should go forward and stated specific interest in learning from our findings. (KRCCA has recently requested that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism authorize increased trophy hunting quotas for lions and elephants to alleviate human-wildlife conflict in Kunene.) We look forward to joining Conservancy Game Guards in their field patrols in the coming weeks and to interviewing conservancy members in the months to come.
Over the past week, Professor Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota Lion Center and Department in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, joined the research team. Professor Packer has worked for more than 45 years as a zoologist studying lions in Africa, first in Tanzania and most recently teaming with SAN Parks in South Africa. In the past twenty-plus years, one of Packer’s signature efforts has been addressing the challenges of human-lion conflict facing rural pastoralists. Because Kunene has a healthy, perhaps growing, free-roaming population of desert lions, human-lion conflict is a pressing issue in many conservancies. As noted by Dr. F. Stander of Desert Lion Conservation, human-lion conflict is the greatest threat to Kunene’s lion population. In meetings with local stakeholders, Packer reiterated that the challenges facing Kunene pastoralists are not dissimilar from challenges that have been productively addressed in other parts of rural sub-Saharan Africa. Already Prof. Packer has added great insight and we look forward to collaborating with him. The University of Minnesota Lion Center is a partner in this research.
Thanks to Dr. Chris Brown for a wide-ranging discussion this morning. Dr. Brown is the CEO and founder of the the Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE) a forum where environmental organizations can come together to craft policy and lobby government. The NCE also supports and maintains the Environmental Information Service of Namibia, an online repository for environmental data, reports, documents, etc.
Among many other topics touched-upon, Dr. Brown provided interesting insights into the lion populations around Etosha National Park’s northern and western borders. Dr. Brown has worked extensively with Namibia’s conservancies since before their inauguration and identified many important ways forward for conservancies to thrive in the face of both economic and environmental challenges.
Dr. Craig Packer, of the University of Minnesota Lion Center (a project partner), also participated and offered some important comparative insights between environmental challenges facing Namibia and those in east Africa and South Africa.
In the early 1960s, as the South African apartheid government was ramping up its ‘homeland’ policy, the government commissioned a study into the creation of possible ethnic homelands in what was then South West Africa. Following the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, what was formerly German South West Africa became a Class C Mandate protectorate of the Union of South Africa. Part of South Africa’s charge by the League of Nations was to govern South West Africa as though a part of South Africa, but with an eye towards moving the territory towards its own independent status.
Thanks to our partnership with IRDNC, this research project is being based out of Wereldsend Environmental Centre, along the border of the Palmwag Concession and the Torra Conservancy in the Kunene Region. Formerly a settler farm, under the Odendaal Plan (1964), the farm’s inhabitants were relocated and the area became a part of Damaraland, one of South Africa’s ‘ethnic homelands.’ Since the 1980s Wereldsend has been used by different local conservation organizations as a base of operations. In the shadow of Wereldsend Mountain (photo from summit, above) the base-camp is run entirely on solar electricity. IRDNC permanent staff members, Wandi Tsanes, John Steenkamp, and Alfeus Ouseb maintain the base-camp and provide an indispensable link between operations around the Kunene and on-going field research and conservancy efforts.
Thanks to the Otjitanda Conservancy for hosting the IRDNC Bi-Annual Planning Meeting for the Orupembe cluster. These meetings are an important chance for developing conservancies to come together with IRDNC field staff to present successes and challenges emerging out of the past six months and plan for the rest of the year. In addition to the updates provided by conservancy committees and game guards important information was disseminated to the various communities. Karen Nott of IRDNC reviewed new changes to laws concerning the harvesting indigenous products. Jeff Muntifering, representing Save the Rhino Trust, provided updates on efforts to develop community responses to threats to the region’s rhino. Representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism requested that communities keep a particular eye on local populations of Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), as it is possible that the population is changing its behavior in response to the on-going drought. Beyond the formal meeting, important discussions took-place about designing region-wide responses to problems of human-carnivore conflict. Thanks again to Otjitanda Conservancy for their hospitality and for providing a beautiful campsite.
Today an outline of the research program was presented at Macquarie University as part of the Department of Geography and Planning, Seminar Series. The presentation generated thoughtful discussion about how the research is being structured and a healthy dose of clarifying questions from folks interested in learning more about Kunene. Thanks to all who attended. Special thanks to Emily O’Gorman, Sandie Suchet-Pearson, David Baker, and Richie Howitt for further reflection on the project and suggestions.
This project is taking place under the supervision of Professors O’Gorman, Suchet-Pearson, and Baker at Macquarie and Professors Susan Jones and Craig Packer at the University of Minnesota. The project is being supported by the Macquarie University, Department of Geography and Planning.