Sven-Eric Stender In a single night two lions killed more than 170 sheep at the Brandberg Mountain last week. In November already lions had caused havoc amongst sheep and goats in the Kunene Region. And some months earlier lions from the overpopulated Etosha National Park wandered into communal farmland. No doubt – the conflict between the big cats and man increases. And the lion always comes off second best, although he, like no other animal, embodies wild, unspoiled Africa and Namibia as a tourist destination likes to advertise with him. Affected farmers demand that the big predators must be removed from their area, or they reach for rifle or poison. The sad reality is: The only home left for the king of beasts, the symbol of the African Wilderness, seems to be in national parks. Habitat shrunk to 8 percent Namibia seems to follow the general trend on the entire continent. According to a study of Riggio et al from the year 2013 the remaining available habitat for lion in Africa south of the Sahara represents only 17% of the lions historic range. A more recent study conducted by Baur et al in 2015 for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species “the situation is even more dramatic”. According to this study only 8% of the historic lion range is still available. Agricultural development and human expansion have taken up most of what was lion habitat before. This alarming development was reason for the Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary for consideration, and eventually the decision, taken at the AGM 2015, to make habitat available for lion in this private nature reserve. One of the most recent examples for the conflict between lion and stock farmers was the lion pride, which in the Kunene Region killed 250 sheep and goats in two nights. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) immediately sent officials into the area. Although it turned out that the farmers had not built lion-proof small-stock pens, five of the big cats were immobilized to relocate them. But where to? Etosha has a lion overpopulation already and the still young problem animals are very likely to be killed by resident prides. The same applies to other national parks, which would qualify. So the MET phones the private nature reserve Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary (EMRS) in the Erongo Mountains, with which, within the Black Rhino Custodianship Program, they have a close and successful cooperation for ten years already. Erongo area needs lions The EMRS agrees. According to the chairperson of the Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary Trust, Kai-Uwe Denker, the sanctuary, consisting of 24 member farms, at their AGM 2015 already took a unanimous decision to in principle make habitat available for lion. The sanctuary, encompassing an area of approximately 180,000ha, is not only well suited for these big cats – lion moreover should serve as a natural regulator for species like kudu, Hartmann zebra and giraffe, of which the sanctuary has an overpopulation. For years already the sanctuary conducts very effective anti-poaching measures – not least because of the black rhino in the area. There is a high game-proof fence on the three sides bordering the commercial farmland and the EMRS has contracted its electrification towards the Omaruru townlands. Moreover the lion would be an additional attraction for tourists. According to the EMRS, 18 different tourist establishments were formed in the area already due to the project (lodges, guest- and hunting farms and campsites) which are visited by 20,000 tourists annually. More than 200 tourist-related jobs were created and 38 game guards conduct anti-poaching patrols and ensure general security within the sanctuary. Threat to humans and livestock? Nevertheless there is protest. The family owning the farm Eileen, who have a camping site in the area and according to EMRS members keep goats, highlights the danger to humans and stock on several forums. This is somewhat inconceivable to the EMRS-members, because leopard and other predators are plentiful in the Erongo Mountains. According to the MET fewer attacks by lions on humans are reported than attacks by leopards – and leopard attacks are rare enough. According to the EMRS, the danger to firewood collectors is cited, but there are no firewood collectors in the sanctuary. A petition, which the lion opposition from Eileen promised to supply is still outstanding. The small farm Eileen is located inside the sanctuary and gains from the increased tourism potential and the anti-poaching operations and security measures of the sanctuary, but according to Denker right from the beginning has not cooperated with the EMRS. Like elsewhere it is a conflict between stock farmer and lion. But the protest has consequences. On 10 January the MET, seemingly on direction from high authority, announces that the lion will be captured and translocated again, this time to a national park. During a meeting with the MET a representative of the EMRS learns that some uninvolved third person has created the impression of being a party affected by the lions and has offered to capture and translocate the lions. However, this person is not known to the EMRS and is not living in the area, seemingly however has a good connection. The rumour is around that there was a plan to sell the lions to South Africa, where tuberculosis-free Namibian lions fetch prices of up to R500,000. The MET did not take up the proposal, but the lions will nevertheless be translocated a second time – this time to Etosha. • This article by Sven-Eric Stender of Bush Telegraph was commissioned by the Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary (EMRS).
2018-01-26 10:16:40 7 months ago