The cost to farmers of conservation

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.

Farmer Simushi Mbanga lost a leg and an arm to a hippo in his field
Farmer Simushi Mbanga lost a leg and an arm to a hippo in his field

A review of 2018

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.

  2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
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
Number of conservancies 31 44 50 50 53 59 59 66 77 79 82 75 69 71 81
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
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
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
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
Average number of incidents per conservancy 95 97 114 113 134 130 132 111 95 117 95 95 92 106 97

A more accurate measure of HWC trends over time is to examine the average number of incidents per conservancy (depicted by blue dots). This illustrates that whilst HWC was increasing up to 2009/10 (probably as a result of recovering wildlife populations) it then subsequently declined and has more or less remained stable at around 100 incidents per year per conservancy. Obviously, however, this is a generalisation and there are individual conservancies which would have experienced extremely high levels of human-wildlife conflict in the last few years. This might have been due to shifting movement patterns of humans and wildlife in response to drought, and an increase in predation on livestock as the plains game prey base declines.

Human Wildlife conflict in conservancies
Human Wildlife Conflict incidents per conservancy

In terms of the breakdown of damage caused by HWC, it is evident that attacks on livestock are the most dominant, followed by crop damage, then damage to infrastructure, and finally attacks on humans. This does not necessarily reveal the relative level of cost or importance of damage (for example, one cannot value human life against damage to crops or livestock), but it does show that livestock attacks and crop damage form the bulk of HWC incidents, having the greatest effect on people in conservancies.

The relative increase in livestock attacks against crop damage over the past few years is probably as a result of drought which has: (i) driven predators to seek alternative prey; (ii) increased pressure around water points; (iii) reduced cropping; and (iv) reduced plains game numbers. Another factor possibly playing a role is that the more recently established conservancies are largely in areas where there is very little cropping, and these new conservancies are distorting the data.

Species causing the bulk of HWC (and how people retaliate)

The orange graphs indicate the number of conflict incidents per species in the Zambezi Region and Erongo-Kunene.

In the arid north-west of Namibia where there is little crop-farming, large predators are the source of most of the conflict although elephant are also an important problem causing species as they break water infrastructure and pose a danger to both humans and livestock.

In the more humid north-east of Namibia, crop farming in addition to livestock pastoralism are important livelihood activities. In this landscape elephant are normally responsible for most of the HWC incidents (i.e. crop raiding), but during 2018 large predators caused most of the incidents. This was probably because many crops failed or were not established as a result of the drought.

The red graph (at base) indicates the number of animals destroyed as a percentage of the number of conflict incidents recorded for that species in Erongo-Kunene. As in previous years lions were disproportionately targeted because of the danger or perceived threat they species pose to farmers: people and livestock.

Conflict species and their control: 2018

Predator management

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.

Lion range expansion

 Lion range expansion

Numbers of the iconic ‘desert’ lions have increased dramatically from a low of around 25 individuals in 1995 to approximately 150 in 2018. The maps show the equally dramatic range expansion over this period extending to the Skeleton Coast.

Lion management

During 2017 a North West Lion Management Plan was developed by the MET and conservation partners, recognising that: "the increase in wildlife numbers has led to heightened conflict between lions and the local people. While income-generating enterprises such as tourism, trophy hunting and crafts have thrived at conservancy level; considerably less attention has been paid to reducing human-wildlife conflict. In most conservancies the costs experienced by conservancy members that suffer livestock losses from lions exceeds the selected income they earned from their respective conservancies."

Lion management

HWC policy

A Human-Wildlife Conflict Policy was established by the MET 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 MET 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 MET 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. Mobile kraals under development may be a partial solution to this problem. 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.

Salambala Conservancy chief game guard Martin checks the HWC policy with a Zambezi Region farmer
Salambala Conservancy chief game guard Martin checks the HWC policy with a Zambezi Region farmer
A cow killed by a lion close to Botswana’s Chobe National Park, across the border from Namibia
A cow killed by a lion close to Botswana’s Chobe National Park, across the border from Namibia
Predator-proof kraals keep cattle safe at night
Predator-proof kraals keep cattle safe at night

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.

An elephant-proof water point in Kunene
An elephant-proof water point in Kunene
This page was last updated on: 9th December 2019