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Human wildlife conflict

May 2006

If someone was to pose the question “What is the greatest threat to wildlife?” most of us would probably answer: Man.

And in that answer most of us would probably be fairly close to the truth. But if man is the greatest threat to wildlife, then what does the rural African consider as one of his greatest threats in trying to carve out a life for himself in deepest darkest Africa? Wildlife. 

So it’s a conflict zone with each defending his own territory and occasionally making forays into the other’s. Thus today the term “problem animal” is out and “Human wildlife conflict (HWC)” is in. Although many animals can be said to cause HWC the major ones are the large carnivores (lion, leopard, cheetah, hyaena, wild dog) and the elephant.

The government of Namibia represented by the Ministry of Environment has recognized this conflict as one of the key issues to successful conservation and sustainable development, and has courageously taken up the gauntlet in an attempt to try to moderate between the two warring factions.  A Human Wildlife Conflict Management in Namibia workshop was held in Windhoek in May of last year.   Dr. Mark Jago, the new Executive Director of The AfriCat Foundation attended in his capacity both as Africat’s Director and as the Chairman of the Large Carnivore Management Association of Namibia (LCMAN).   He was very impressed with the excellent manner in which the Ministry has begun to tackle this difficult issue.

In an opening address the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Dr Malan Lindique, defined the problem into three categories. Whilst recognizing the first, wildlife on commercial farms, as a very important one worthy of its own meeting, he identified the other two, wildlife on communal conservancies and wildlife on other State land, as being areas “where wildlife-related conflicts have more immediate and serious implications concerning land use and the livelihoods and welfare of vulnerable people.” He went on to say,  “ There are considerable problems with wildlife in conservancies, basically in my view because the costs and benefits from wildlife are not equally distributed within the larger human community that constitute an individual conservancy. It appears that in most cases, the benefits from wildlife can not be easily used to offset the often dramatic costs suffered by individual households in a way and time that truly meets the needs of the affected household”.

The need for accurate information on HWC situations is essential, for only by building up a substantial database can decision makers make well-informed recommendations for solving problems. The need to consider decentralization of governance to a local level in order to deal with local problems in a timely and appropriate fashion was also highlighted.  One novel and potentially exciting new approach to dealing with HWC situations is that of Self-Insurance. It has been recognized for some time now that compensation in itself is unsustainable, requiring considerable amounts of funds to continually come in from outside sources. However if a pool of money can be established by a community at the conservancy level from the utilization of game on a sustainable basis, this could then be managed by the conservancy to pay out to individuals who suffer from HWC in a rapid and appropriate manner just as in an insurance scheme.

In March of this year a second HWC meeting was held at which 3 presentations on work carried out in the intervening period were presented. These covered; a Situation Analysis of HWC in Namibia (Dr P Stander), Results and recommendations from the Survey on HWC characteristics on the Northern Etosha Boundary (University of Namibia), and Results and recommendations from the Survey on HWC realities in Ehirovipuka and Omatendeka Conservancies (Dr P Stander). A first draft of a National Policy on HWC Management was also presented. There is still considerable ground to be covered, but Namibia is taking a very proactive role in this critical arena which has a direct bearing on the countries large carnivore populations.

AfriCat was initially primarily involved in trying to mitigate and alleviate the HWC problem on the commercial farmlands where so many of the free-ranging cheetahs live. This work will continue unabated, but to complement the national effort, AfriCat has already begun to assist in the communal areas as well.

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