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.