Living with lions

The severe drought in the Kunene Region in recent years has exacerbated human-wildlife conflict, but coexistence is possible if the proper measures are taken.

25 March 2021 | Environment



The Namibian Lion Trust has 16 lion guards who cover an area of 300 square kilometres to protect the lions as well as mitigate lion-farmer conflict in the Kunene Region.

The trust's main emphasis is the protection of the lions, but also community support as well as education and conservation, said trust director Tammy Hoth.

“Coexistence is definitely doable. It is just that everybody has to be on the same page. If the conservancies do not talk the talk, how will farmers understand that this is how they must now farm and function? I think that is the biggest problem, because it all has to do with culture and tradition and who is in charge,” said Hoth.

She said when they first started to address the lion-farmer conflict in the region, it was as the Afri-Leo Foundation in 1997.

They then became affiliated with AfriCat in 2010 and in 2019 the Namibian Lion Trust was started.

Hoth said their aim was to address the conflict on the southern boundary of Etosha on commercial farms, where she realised there were many lions being shot.

“Is there the will to coexist? That is the big question, whether you are a game farmer or a livestock farmer or have a lodge. What is your level of tolerance? That is always the difficult thing to measure. Because lions here along the southern boundary and these commercial farmers have zero tolerance. But then your communal farmer is expected to tolerate it, because he will then get support from tourism, whether it is hunting or photographic.”

She said they identified hotspots where lion-farmer conflict was common and these were divided up into lion guard zones.

“These were basically the hotspots where lions would be moving out of Etosha and out of Hobatere.”

She said the concept was to identify where the hotspots are and support farmers in these areas firstly with bomas (kraals).

“Those communities that were hardest hit were supported with bomas. Our lion guards therefore identify these communities and where support and bomas are needed.”

She stressed that the bomas are for the community and not for individuals and must be maintained by the community after the trust builds them.

“Basically, the concept is to allow the farmers to have ready protection for their livestock and therefore lose fewer livestock as a result of lion conflict and therefore the retaliation will also decrease,” said Hoth.

She pointed out that this is also a measure of coexistence. “If you have a proper boma and maintain it and bring your animals in when it cools down in the evening and do not let them out until it gets hot, the animals are better protected.”

Hoth added that there are certain times during the day when lions hunt and it is therefore better to keep animals in a kraal.

While she said the ministry is trying to do a good job in addressing human-wildlife conflict, she added that the areas that have to be covered are just too vast, while the problem is just too massive.

“It sort of got out of hand because of the drought. We just had the drought for too long.” According to her, there has been drought in Kunene since 2013.

“During 2017/2018 there was a little bit of respite and then came 2019 that knocked the socks off everybody.”

Petrina and Mbatata Tjavira

Mbatata (26) and his mother Petrina (69) farm at Marienhöhe, about 50 km south of Kamanjab.

Marienhöhe is a communal farm in the #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy.

A total of 24 family members live in the area where Petrina has been farming for more than 25 years.

According to Mbatata, they have experienced severe drought since 2014. They farm with livestock, which includes 49 cattle, 38 sheep and 18 goats.

He said since 2014, they have lost about 200 cattle to drought, while they have not received much drought relief from the government.

“Only last year we received some things. In all those other years, we did not receive anything.”

Petrina further said lions are threatening her livelihood as she makes her living from livestock farming.

“I was thinking, how will I survive, what will I eat, how will I put my children through school? The government does not assist with anything, they just say people should live with wildlife.”

From 2012 to 2019, lions killed about 44 of her cattle, while she lost five cattle since last year.

Mbabta said to prevent lion conflict, they release their cattle from the kraal around 10:00 in the morning and bring them in before sunset, because lions mostly hunt at night.

He added that the Namibia Lion Trust warns them when collared lions are in the area so that they can protect their animals.

However, some lions are not collared and then it is a problem for the trust to inform farmers.

He said they are trying to upgrade their kraals to better protect their livestock against lions.

Frederick Clay

Frederick Clay has been farming at Marienhöhe for 25 years. He currently has 10 goats.

He said he first used two dogs to protect his livestock, but these were killed by lions. After this, Hoth assisted him in strengthening his kraal and also with flickering solar lights which scare off lions in the night.

Clay has also installed pieces of white cardboard on his kraal fence, which reflect light at night and scare away elephants and lions. He has added thorn branches around his kraal, which helps to keep lions out.

He said the environment ministry should work with the Namibian Lion Trust, because they know how to handle a lion.

Clay said that would ensure that the trust would help the ministry to catch problem lions, collar them and control them.

He also said they have not really received drought relief.

“Last year we received some maize meal and oil, but this year, nothing.”

Hoth further stressed the importance of the carrying capacity of the land.

“If you go back to the pre-60s this family (living on the Marienhöhe Farm) was probably maximum 12 strong.”

She said Marienhöhe is probably a 6 000-hectare farm.

“They could just barely make a living out of it. Now between 60 and 80 people live on a 6 000-hectare farm that could hardly carry 12. Just do the math.”

She said there is actually no way that people should be farming there.

“This area all the way to the Skeleton Coast park up to the Kunene should be a wildlife area.

People can live there obviously, because they have their ancestral homes, but no livestock.”

She said if they want to farm, the government needs to come up with a plan.

“There are enough farms that people have given up. Especially now.”

Hoth pointed out that resettlement farms have become a total failure. “They just bought the land, put these people on and there was no training.

So, I do believe there are places where these people can farm, but not in this area, which is actually just going to provide enough sustenance for wildlife.”

She added that research plays a big role within the trust.

“We have a wonderful group of lions that live in Hobatere North, which includes three females and their cubs, which totals about 12 to 13 lions.”

She said it is essential that the Hobatere Lodge loves and looks after these lions so that they can stay alive.

Susanna Hoaes, Hobatere lodge manager, said should these lions be killed, it would be an incredible loss for the lodge.

“If there are no lion sightings, there would be no interest from guests and we would not be able to attract our guests when we don't have lions. That is why our staff is really very informative when it comes to lions and their protection.”

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