Animal husbandry, herding & livestock movements in the northern periphery of Etosha National Park
Villages in rural Africa are multifunctional and play important ecosystem services in providing space for grazing, crop cultivation, rainwater absorption and carbon cycles. They also provide habitats for a diversity of wildlife especially the ones which are close to protected areas. However, since wildlife and humans occur in close proximity in these rural areas there are multiple coexistence challenges. They range from birds foraging on kitchen gardens to lions killing livestock through elephants raiding crop fields.
Livestock are immensely important for rural populations as they provide meat, milk and acts as a social asset for the families. In spite of their economic and social importance, livestock are often not managed ideally to prevent theft or depredation by predators. Eventually the animals are left out for grazing unsupervised especially during the day.
Historically, herds were supervised throughout the day and driven back to the kraals by evening. The problem today arises from unavailability of people to supervise the animals. Unsupervised livestock are easy prey for jackals, hyenas, caracals, leopards, cheetahs and lions who frequent settlement areas in the periphery of wildlife reserves. The retaliatory killing of carnivores preying on livestock can have severe consequences on the ecosystem and economic services they provide in general.
With this issue in mind, we have teamed up with the communal conservancies in the northern periphery of Etosha NP in north western Namibia where people practice livestock farming. This project is part of the Greater Etosha Carnivore Programme which is a collaborative research effort between international and Namibian institutions.
Our primary objective is to develop a human-carnivore coexistence model which starts by understanding a range of issues surrounding human-carnivore interactions within the Greater Etosha Landscape. One of our major research focus is to investigate how livestock use the village lands surrounding the national park and how they are herded.
Between April and July 2022, we approached several livestock farmers, traditional authorities, communal conservancy representatives and village headman and encouraged them to participate in our monitoring program. After several meetings and discussions, we identified potential livestock owners who agreed to participate in the project. Between July and December 2022, we have been able to tag 32 heads of livestock, both cattle and goats, from different farms. For each herd, we selected the lead individual or a dominant adult female for GPS tracking as they provided representation for the entire herd movement. We use solar powered GPS ear tags (CERES) which transmit their GPS position every 6h to satellite and we access these directly on the internet the internet. These tags should be able to record and transmit GPS locations for a period of at least 2 years.
These tags will provide information on usage of areas close to the national park and daily & seasonal movements of the herds in relation to water sources and forage availability for instance. Additionally, we interact regularly with the herders and the farm owners to understand their perception towards human-carnivore coexistence, carnivore occurrence near the kraals and the techniques used to deter wildlife in order to prevent losses. This project will also allow us to understand how agropastoral communities engage in natural resource management while coexisting with dangerous wildlife within shared landscapes of southern Africa.