The cost of conservation to farmers
Coexisting with wild animals can be costly, especially those animals that kill livestock or damage crops. Occasionally even human lives are lost to wildlife, which can generate fear and anger among the affected communities. Although conflict with wildlife can never be fully resolved, it must be managed and mitigated as much as possible within the CBNRM framework. To this end, MEFT, NACSO and partners work with conservancies on ways to prevent conflict (e.g. predator-proof livestock enclosures, using chilli deterrents around crop fields) and assist farmers who have experienced losses.
The Event Book monitoring system is critical to determining trends in conflict and identifying hotspots in each conservancy, thus guiding the implementation of mitigation measures. Prompt reporting of conflict incidents (within 24 hours) is further required for farmers to receive assistance through the Human-wildlife Conflict Self-Reliance Scheme. Payments through this scheme are intended to offset the cost of the damage, provided that incidents are confirmed through investigation by game guards or MEFT officers and measures were taken to protect the livestock or crops.
In 2021, 79 conservancies reported HWC incidents which include crop damage, livestock attacks, human attacks, and other damage. Elephants were reported to cause the highest conflict in Zambezi by damaging crop fields. In Kunene, cheetahs caused the most conflict.
In some areas, such as the Kunene, the level of conflict is often indicative of drought. In other areas, such as the Zambezi, increase in human population which leads to encroachment of areas where wildlife can roam freely also contributes to the increase in HWC incidents.
Crop raiders such as elephants and predators including lions, hyaenas and leopards reduce the income of farmers in communal areas, and especially in conservancies adjacent to national parks. Losses not only include crops and livestock, but also human life. Hippos and crocodiles are particularly dangerous in areas close to rivers.
Also see The Big Issues: Human-Wildlife Conflict.
A review of 2021
Recorded incidents of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) appear to have increased over the long-term (see the first row in the Table), but in reality this is because over time more and more conservancies are collecting information and reporting on conflict.
|Total number of conflict incidents from all conservancies||2,936||4,282||5,713||5,640||7,095||7,659||7,772||7,298||7,279||9,228||7,774||7,117||6,331||8,067||7,862||9,502||9,043||10,897|
|Number of conservancies||31||44||50||50||53||59||59||66||77||79||82||75||69||71||81||86||84||79|
|Average number of human attacks per conservancy||0.5||0.3||0.2||0.3||0.5||0.4||0.4||0.1||0.3||0.6||0.2||0.4||0.2||0.2||0.3||0.2||0.2||0.3|
|Average number of livestock attacks per conservancy||54.3||60.4||63.5||63.2||82.7||82.6||83.7||74.7||66.0||94.7||69.7||73.0||75.5||91.1||76.1||99.3||84.2||109.8|
|Average number of crop damage incidents per conservancy||35.0||33.4||47.0||43.4||46.7||44.4||45.1||34.4||26.1||18.9||23.6||19.7||13.4||13.1||17.7||8.5||21.3||25.3|
|Average number of other damage incidents per conservancy||5.0||3.2||3.6||5.8||3.9||2.4||2.5||1.3||2.1||2.5||1.3||1.7||2.6||1.8||3.0||2.5||1.9||2.6|
|Average number of incidents per conservancy||95||97||114||113||134||130||132||111||95||117||95||95||92||106||97||110||108||138|
In the Erongo and Kunene Regions, the top four commonly reported species to cause conflict are carnivores that kill livestock, with spotted hyaenas causing the highest number of losses. Elephants in this region destroy infrastructure (e.g. water points) and small household gardens. Drought tends to benefit predator populations initially, as prey species are weakened and congregated around scarce resources. However, this same trend increases conflict incidents, as both domestic and wild herbivores become vulnerable to attack.
In the more humid north-east of Namibia, crop farming in addition to livestock pastoralism are important livelihood activities. Human-elephant conflict is the biggest issue in the Zambezi Region. Crocodiles and hippos threaten the lives of people who use the rivers in the area, while crocodiles also prey on livestock; levels of conflict with these species have remained fairly consistent. Spotted hyaena conflict has declined somewhat, possibly due to population declines for this species.
In the vast majority of conflict cases, the incidents are only reported and the animal is not killed. Yet where there is a perceived threat to human life or the problem is persistent, the animal is killed. Lions are killed disproportionately more than the conflict they cause in the north-west, primarily because they threaten valuable adult cattle or large numbers of small livestock at once, and are perceived to be a threat to human life.
Unlike carnivore incidents, elephant-related conflict in the north-west spiked during 2021 – the most expensive of these incidents involve the destruction of water infrastructure, as elephants try to access water at manmade reservoirs. While less expensive, the destruction of small household gardens by elephants can reduce food security, particularly among poorer woman-headed households.
Human-elephant conflict also increased in the Zambezi Region in 2021. The main form of conflict with elephants and hippopotamus in this region is damage to crop fields that are grown seasonally by subsistence farmers. Human-carnivore conflict (including crocodiles) continued at a similar level to previous years across all species.
The status of large predators can be a useful indicator of the health of wildlife populations. The remarkable recovery of desert-adapted lions in the north-west in both numbers and range after years of attempted eradication is a clear indication of the health of the prey base, as well as of a greater commitment by local communities to tolerate potential ‘problem animals’ that have great tourism value.
Populations of other large predators in north-western conservancies have generally been stable or increasing. The number of all predators occurring in communal areas remains well above pre-conservancy levels.
The desert-adapted lion population has increased in numbers and range – from 20 lions occupying about 7,000 km2 in the late 1990s to 112-139 lions occupying over 40,000 km2 in 2018.
The on-going drought in the north-west has exacerbated conflict between people and predators. Research in the Puros, Sesfontein and Anabeb conservancies confirmed that cattle herds declined by an average of two-thirds between 2014 and 2017. About a third of reported cattle losses were attributed to predation (mainly spotted hyaenas and lions), while two-thirds of donkey losses were attributed to predation – mainly by lions. Despite these problems, three-quarters of the 85 livestock-owning households interviewed said that they were willing to live with lions on communal lands. However, 40% said they would try to kill lions that killed their livestock.
The Lion Ranger Programme
Reducing the number of livestock losses caused by lions is therefore a key intervention that will benefit both people and predators. The Lion Ranger programme, established by MEFT and a consortium of conservation and research partners, takes a community-based approach to addressing this problem.
Since reactivating the project in 2018, over 30 community game guards have been selected and trained as Lion Rangers. They receive classroom and field-based training from lion experts and form part of Rapid Response Units for human-lion conflict. Lion locations are obtained through an early warning system that is being piloted in the region. A series of five towers have been erected in conflict hotspots that receive data when approached by collared lions (25 have been collared thus far). Approaching lion information is automatically relayed to the Rapid Response Units, who alert farmers in the vicinity and assist them to prevent conflict from occurring. Improving livestock protection by building predator- proof livestock kraals in conflict hotspots is another aspect of this multi-faceted programme. The Lion Rangers respond to livestock loss incidents and provide farmers with information on how to avoid future losses.
The success of this programme depends directly on the conservancies and their residents being willing to live alongside lions. The programme started with Sesfontein, Puros and Anabeb that were earmarked by MEFT as those with high levels of human-lion conflict. The project has since expanded to include Ehi-Rovipuka, ≠Khoadi-//Hôas, Omatendeka, Orupupa, Sorris Sorris, Torra, and Tsiseb, as these have requested assistance with reducing human-lion conflict.
A Human-Wildlife Conflict Policy was established by the MEFT in 2009 to provide national guidelines for conflict mitigation. Although the government coordinates wildlife protection, it cannot be held responsible for damage caused by wildlife. The policy sets out a framework for managing wildlife conflicts, where possible at local community level. Two key strategies seek to mitigate the costs of living with wildlife. The first is prevention – practical steps for keeping wildlife away from crops and livestock. The second is the Human-Wildlife Self Reliance Scheme, which involves payments to those who have suffered losses. The MEFT has provided finance for this from the Game Products Trust Fund, and conservancies with sufficient income are encouraged to match this funding. The Human-Wildlife Self Reliance Scheme makes payments under strict conditions. Incidents must be reported within 24 hours and verified by the MEFT or a conservancy game guard. Payments will only be made if reasonable precautions have been taken.
HWC mitigation measures include predator-secure enclosures to protect livestock, and stone walls to protect water infrastructure from elephants. Several lion-proof kraals have been built in Zambezi region by the Kwando Carnivore Project with funding and technical assistance from Panthera and other donors. Although cattle and goats are safe at night in these kraals, other problems remain. In Erongo and Kunene, where grazing is sparse, cattle have to trek large distances from safe kraals to find grazing. In this area, farmers are encouraged to use predator-proof kraals when lions are known to be in the immediate vicinity, which is facilitated through the Lion Ranger programme. Confining livestock into kraals that are not predator proof may indeed exacerbate the problem: when a predator does get into a kraal, many animals may be killed in a single night. This causes anger in communities and attracts disproportionate media interest.
Elephant-proof water points were provided by government and non-governmental agencies in arid areas between 2012 and 2016. There is a continuing demand for protection as wildlife numbers increase. Other measures include crocodile fences, and chilli, which has been used as a deterrent to keep elephants away from crops. The use of chilli has declined because farmers have not adopted it as a cash crop. As conservancies continue to recover from drought, reinforced land-use planning and conservancy zonation are essential elements to minimise conflicts in the future.