Getting to know Etosha's neighbours
As with other protected areas in the world, Etosha National Park in north-western Namibia has similar problems with humans and dangerous wildlife cooccurring together. People have two major sources of livelihood here i.e., livestock and game farming. The park is surrounded by farms on all sides and large mammals frequently damage crops, property and kill livestock. With a lack of timely compensation for losses, people resort to retaliatory killing of wildlife. It was the summer of 2021 and we decided to meet the park neighbors for our new project on monitoring human-carnivore interactions in the greater Etosha landscape. The National Park is vast and it takes several hours to drive from one end to the other. So, we decided to explore the eastern periphery of the park first and started from the Anderson’s gate on the southern side. The Toyota Hilux was the perfect ride as we drove across bumpy roads, rocks, stones, bush and savannah. It was an interesting day as we saw plenty of game (vast herds of blue wildebeest, plains zebra, springbok, giraffe and oryx). There seems to be a gradient in game numbers as we drove from the water hole at Okaukuejo eastwards towards Namutoni. We also came across stretches where there was active bush fire and the ground was jet black, filled with ash from the burnt vegetation. However, springboks i were feeding from the burnt ash, probably nibbling at the new green buds or looking for some specific material from the ash. After a long drive, we eventually reached our destination i.e., the Von LindeQuist Gate in the north of the Park by 5 pm.
The park staff at the gate was very helpful and helped us to get accommodation at the nature interpretation camp nearby. We set up fire and cooked our meals by the camp side. While camping there, we met couple of wildlife staff who agreed to join us for dinner. One of them told us about his problems with elephants on the western side of the park, and how he has to find his own mitigation measures. He narrated a recent event where an elephant herd came across his maize, mahangu fields, destroyed part of the growing stock and even injured the boy who was taking care of his crops. He seemed to be clueless in dealing with dangerous large mammals even while working for the wildlife department. The major concern he had was lack of timely and specific compensation for losses to wildlife. Though people are tolerant towards big game, we could feel that more effort should be put in to find peaceful human-wildlife coexistence measures. As we chatted along, I could hear spotted hyaenas calling in the far background. From the interactions we had in the next few days, I became confident that the major problem for livestock owners in the landscape was hyaenas. Smart and adaptive, hyaenas are the perfect predators here, as they scavenge from other carnivores, kill livestock and avoid human presence. I guess our project will go a long way in understanding the behavior of these animals and finding solutions for human-carnivore coexistence.