Following a series of human-lion conflict (HLC) incidents in //Khoadi #Khoas and Torra Conservancies in November of last year, a group of lions, primarily residing in the Klip River, were translocated from Kunene into the Erongo Region near Omaruru. Following the initial HLC incidents, some of the lions were destroyed, while four were translocated, and three fled into the bush. The four translocated lions are now, following protests by Omaruru-area farmers, being translocated once again to Etosha National Park.
The HLC challenge in Kunene remains a difficult one. We are heartened by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s insistence to find solutions to the problem that work for the communities and the lions. Our research, partnering with Kunene communities, aims at providing an evidence-based basis for managing Kunene HLC into the future. Hopefully it will assist in moving towards a management approach that can be proactive, rather than having to be reactive.
Following a meeting of all key stakeholders, hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism from 10-12 September, 2017, there has been a renewed emphasis on positively addressing human-lion conflict in western Kunene. Particularly within the Anabeb, Puros, Sesfontein, and Torra conservancies. One of the key strategies to addressing human-lion conflict will be restarting the Kunene Lion Ranger program, which went dormant due to lack of institutional support after initial efforts began in 2013. The North West Lion Working Group has taken the lead on drafting policy for this program’s resurrection.
A key aspect of this program is that the monitoring of Kunene’s lions, and the steps taken to address human-lion conflict, will come primarily from within the communities themselves. In this way conflict management will be more sustainable and help to grow capacity within the communities. While the program is still in its nascent stages a policy document has been drafted, and management and advisory teams are being put together. The ongoing work of Kunene Conservation Research, in particular our Livestock and Lion Surveys, will play an important part in this program going forward.
Check back as we build the Lion Ranger page of the website.
Over the past two days a strong contingent from the North West Lion Working Group attended the Puros Conservancy Annual General Meeting (AGM). While Puros has been experiencing some intra-conservancy difficulties over the past few months, it was heartening to see that the AGM was well-attended and that discussion concerning the past year and upcoming years in the Conservancy was quite vigorous. Particular issues of note were joint-venture contracts with tourism operators in the Conservancy and balancing the role of Traditional Authorities with the Conservancy Committee. While it may not always be pretty, this is direct democracy at the absolute grassroots.
The AGM also presented an opportunity to complete more farmer surveys, as some of the gentlemen came from difficult to access locations.
Thanks to the Puros Committee, particularly Chairman Allu Uararavi. Thanks to Puros for its hospitality – the portions of meat at the AGM were particularly generous.
Today we attended the Torra Conservancy Annual General Meeting (AGM). Because our base at Wereldsend (World’s End) is right on the border of Torra many of our neighbors were in attendance and it was great to catch up with people. A central topic of conversation put forth by the committee was how to address the ongoing lion problems faced by Torra’s farmers. Torra Wildlife Manager, Vitalis Florry, provided a colorful retelling of how the conservancy staff dealt with two recent lion issues in Torra. To allay farmers’ fears about the cost of livestock losses, the Conservancy Committee publicly affirmed that the conservancy is committed to replacing all livestock lost to lions at full value from here going forward; a policy they referred to as “a bok for a bok.” Hopefully the conservancy will be successful in this ambitious effort.
Thanks to the Committee for allowing us to join. Thanks in particular to Chairman Tomi Adams and Women’s Coordinator Poula Thanises for their hospitality.
Over the past week we performed surveys of farmers in Sesfontein, assessing their experiences of human-carnivore and human-lion conflict. Perhaps more so than Anabeb and Puros, many farmers in Sesfontein displayed a strong antagonism when discussing lion problems. Frequently, frustrations were raised that no one in either the government or responsible NGOs has done anything to lessen the problems farmers face from lions. At farms like Orovero, Ganamub, and Ondorohungu, farmers and their families felt incredibly constrained in their ability to have a meaningful and secure livelihood, because of predator problems. Though leopard, cheetah, and spotted hyena were all more frequently named as threatening livestock, lions unquestionably elicited the most intense negative responses. Of the 28 farmers we spoke to in Sesfontein, all said that members of their conservancy were facing serious lion problems. Additionally, 78% (n=22) said that lions are uniquely dangerous to people. Both of these responses are generally echoed across Anabeb and Puros.
Relative to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the dangers lions pose to people in Kunene appear to be quite low. In contrast to the man-eaters of Kenya and Tanzania, Kunene has one confirmed case of lion-caused human mortality. Yet, this case looms large in the minds of residents. Frequently in our interviews respondents would note that lions have killed people in Kunene. Almost without exception they point to an incident sometime in 1982 (still working to confirm the date). Continue reading
The 14 November edition of The Namibian, ran an opinion piece by Namibian conservationist and IRDNC founder, Garth Owen-Smith. In his piece, Owen-Smith highlights the difficulty that farmers and conservationists working on human-lion conflict in Kunene face when confronted with hostile coverage on social media. In his piece Owen-Smith also cites a “recent survey” performed in Anabeb Conservancy. We were happy to contribute our research to Owen-Smith’s article and our heartened that he gave such clear expression to the issues facing Kunene farmers. It should be clearly stated that the argument in Owen-Smith’s piece is his own. We simply provided evidence in support. A series of prior conversations with Owen-Smith were recorded this past August.
View of Puros
This past week we were in Puros Conservancy, based out of Tomakas and Puros (town) surveying livestock owners. Our surveys primarily focus on the change in livestock numbers during the ongoing drought and the effects of carnivores, particularly lions, on residents’ livestock.
This past year, Puros was home to a series of human-lion conflict incidents that received some attention beyond the region. (See desertlion.info for more information.) It was a privilege and an important part of this project, to spend time with the farmers in Puros who have lived with challenges of almost daily encounters with lions. While there we had a healthy range of perspectives about the challenges of living with lions and spoke to many locals keenly interested in finding productive ways forward whereby the conservancy, the government, and NGOs can work together to support the goals of each.
Thanks in particular to Japi Uararavi and all the residents of Tomakas for their hospitality and sharing their time with us. Against the backdrop of ongoing human-lion conflict in Kunene it was refreshing to remember the importance of folks sitting together to work through difficult problems.
Puros Game Guard Speike Kasupi
This morning Russell Vinjevold, Vitalis Florry, John Steenkamp and I responded to an incident where a group of 8-10 lions invaded a farm just outside of Torra Conservancy in #Khoadi //Koas Conservancy. On our arrival, we found 86 goats and sheep, and one dog, had been killed during the previous night. The herder responsible for the flock, a young man of about 15, was the only person present.
During the night, around 4 am, the young man was awoken inside his rustic hut by lions destroying goats and sheep inside the kraal, not 50 meters from where he was. Luckily the young man acted smartly and remained inside – though he had to listen to the entire horrible ordeal. Only as the sun began to rise was he able to move to the next closest farm a few kilometers away and alert the neighbors. With all the talk about human-lion conflict in Kunene, and the blame that is often cast in different directions, it is worth noting that this young man did everything right. All the livestock was kraaled for the evening and the kraal was well-maintained and nearby the homestead. The young man alerted the responsible authorities appropriately and left the devastation to be properly investigated.
Based on recent surveys conducted in neighboring conservancies, the estimated loss in the value of the livestock at Avantepos is approximately N$ 105,000 (~US$ 7,500). In a region where 39% of the population lives on less that one US dollar per day, this is a sizable loss. While this event is an extreme example, ongoing surveys in neighboring conservancies suggest that Kunene farmers have lost an average of approximately N$ 118,000 (~US$ 8,430) to predators since the recent drought began. As is often the case, careful examination of the data is required before we can draw any conclusions; such numbers are merely suggestive of the magnitude of the challenge.
Conflict between wildlife and people is an often polarizing issue. We do well to remember that it is a complicated, even complex problem. One that resists easy characterization or clear-eyed critique. It is true that carnivores like lions have been decreasing across Africa and that this requires our concerted attention. It is also true that people in rural Kunene continue to struggle against the structural legacies of apartheid and limited access to educational and economic opportunity. Further, it is true that drought stresses pastoralists and wildlife – both competing on a shared resource base. Finally, it is a fact that no person would wish to experience the terror experienced by this young herder, let alone be castigated for not understanding the importance and imperatives of wildlife conservation. Thankfully, he was physically unharmed from the ordeal.
Anabeb Conservancy, view from Ongongo
As part of our work with the North-West Lion Working Group, we spent the past week in the Anabeb Conservancy interviewing farmers and speaking to people about the difficulties they are having with carnivores, in particular lions. (See posts below for further details.) A preliminary analysis of the surveys indicates that farmers in Anabeb have struggled during the recent drought, and that difficulties with predators are exacerbating these problems. On average, farmers in Anabeb report losing between 85-93% of their cattle, 72-74% of their sheep, and 50% of their goats since the beginning of the drought. While direct effects of drought make up the majority of livestock losses, Anabeb farmers report that predators have been responsible for 20% of dead cattle, 29% of dead sheep, and 21% of dead goats. Finally, it was reported that lions alone have accounted for 13% of dead cattle, <1% of dead sheep, and 2% of dead goats. The reported losses in dollar amounts (US) are an average of $13,000 in cattle, $2,100 in sheep, and $10,000 in goats during the drought.
Kathehombua Tjahira and family.
In a region where 39% of the population lives on less than one US dollar/day this can be a huge blow for entire families. Nevertheless, a vast majority of respondents (85%) indicated it is important that Anabeb continue to have lions. “People living in towns should know about and be able to see lions” said Khowareb resident Julia Kasaona. Many in Anabeb indicated that it was important that their children be able to live in a world with lions. Even in the face of great struggle it appears that community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is alive and well in Anabeb. An encouraging sign.
Today we visited a handful of farms in the village of Khowareb, in the Anabeb Conservancy. As the primary Damara settlement in Anabeb, the people of Khowareb generally noted that, while lions are an important part of the conservancy, and are infrequently seen in the village, they remain a danger to livestock and people. “Lions are bringing money to the conservancy” said Mr. Kandukozongombo Mombura. However, “[they] are aggressive… be careful when approaching them.” “Lions are important for tourism… If you see one… inform the conservancy” suggested Herman Ganuseb. “Lions are good, if they are not causing any trouble” said Mrs. Hans Ganuseb.
We thank the people of Khowareb for speaking with us and taking the time to discuss this sensitive and difficult subject.