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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Melton

Monitoring wildlife crossing the fence between Etosha and the surrounding human landscape

As the global human population increases, the competition for space and resources results in increased human-wildlife interactions from conversion of natural habitats into human-dominated areas. When landscapes are changed to accommodate the demand for the development of permanent settlements and structures, this forces wildlife coming into increased contact with people, their livestock, and crops, which can result in the loss of livelihoods for people and retaliatory killings against wildlife. In order to preserve natural ecosystems and limit human encroachment, wildlife managers and national park officials have created protected areas to protect remnant wildlife populations. Protected areas commonly use conservation fences in an attempt to further decrease conflict with people living in adjacent areas. While conservation fences provide positive benefits to both people and wildlife, fences can also restrict wildlife movement and historic migration corridors and prevent both people and wildlife from accessing limited resources, specifically in dryland ecosystems. Overall, conservation fences and their role in management plans are still poorly understood since we lack the knowledge of longer-term or broad-scale effects on the social, ecological, and economic impacts, resulting in contentious debates on their overall effectiveness for conserving species and trans-frontier conservation areas.

Locations of study sites in the Greater Etosha Landscape

In the Greater Etosha Landscape, Etosha National Park (Etosha) lies in the middle of a mosaic of communal and private lands that differ in land use and tolerance for wildlife. An 820 km conservation fence surrounds Etosha that consists of a 2-meter-high fence with a wire mesh on the lower half of the fence, however the wire mesh is not consistent around the entire perimeter. Along the southern border runs a veterinary cordon fence to delineate the “red zone” to prevent the spread of food and mouth disease from North to South. Areas where elephant crossings are frequent are reinforced with strong steel cables. Some areas of the fence are electrified while others are not. A key issue is that many parts of the fence have large breaks and sections of the fence are completely down.

Hole and breakage in the Etosha fence.

Lions, spotted hyenas, and elephants are all known to leave the park regularly, which has caused conflicts in the surrounding farms and communal livestock areas. Also, cattle and domestic dogs have been seen in the park which need to be prevented from happening as this can lead to the spread of diseases between wild animals and livestock.

Domestic dog crossing the fence and cattle walking alongside it.

For my MSc, I am trying to determine how land use and fence structure affect crossing behaviors of the animals living on the periphery of Etosha. I placed 47 motion-activated cameras along the Etosha fence in three different land use areas in five separate locations. The cameras are along the fence at Ongava & Onguma Game Reserves, Ehi-Rovipuka & King Nehale Communal Conservancies, and Stillerus Private Farm.

Deploying the camera traps on the Etosha fence.

I will be monitoring the cameras for a year and will go through the pictures to determine which species cross the fence and other factors such as time of day, time of year, habitat type, type of fence break, number of fences in the area, and if the fence is electrified or has wire mesh. This information will be valuable to Etosha park managers on how to better manage the fence and limit animal crossings and breakages.

A few shots from the fence cameras... Many more to come!

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