Landine turns a page on the flip chart to reveal the stock losses. Lions took three calves at Leeukop. The farmer shot one and the Ministry is investigating. Two sheep were taken by Hyaenas at Estorf Pos. The shepherd left the flock to take lunch.

Landine Guim is a shepherd of another kind. Smartly turned out in her dark green uniform with a mop of dyed red hair under her cap, Landine is an environmental shepherd – a game guard – working for #Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy which lies between Khorixas and Kamanjab. It's her day off and her donkeys are grazing somewhere, so no donkey cart. She hitches a ride with a WWF vehicle to find out what happened.

The Leekop farmer is out, but at Estorf Pos a family is perched on a rocky hillside in the shade of a tiny make-do shack: home for seven. Children are scraping pap from the bottom of a blackened pot and dunking it in tea without milk or sugar. A couple of hens peck the barren ground. This is harsh country.

Behind the hut 17 sheep and 23 goats are poorly protected inside a wire fence, watched over by the shepherd, Junias. As far as the eye can see there is no grass.

We have come to hear about the 2 sheep taken last week, but there is a new story: last Sunday Junias saw his flock running from something and he gave chase. But too late; a caracal had killed one of the flock. He shows the carcass to Landine, who records the incident in the conservancy event book, taking care to identify the predator species using pictures that shepherds like Junias can point to.

The event book is important. Game guards use them across Namibia's 79 communal conservancies to record the wildlife they see, as well as stock losses. Landine is the senior environmental shepherd at #Khoadi-//Hôas and she often makes up the monthly report from these daily records. At the end of the year a 'blue book' tallies the annual events which, together with the North-West Game count, give a pretty accurate picture of wildlife in Kunene Region.

The reporting is important for another reason. The conservancy pays some compensation to farmers for stock losses: N$250 for a sheep and N$1,000 for a cow. It goes some way to alleviate the losses suffered by farmers to predators, although market rates are higher.

Game guards are the heart and soul of conservation. Although conservancies earn revenue from trophy hunting, and some do very well from joint venture partnership with lodges, hunting and tourism would make little income if there was no wildlife. Game guards like Landine are the eyes and ears of the community, and since their introduction poaching has dropped dramatically.

Landine left school after grade nine to have her first child. Now she has four, but nevertheless does two month patrols on a donkey cart with her tent and bedroll. She sleeps among the farmers and helps to provide conservancy support services. She brands cattle, repairs water installations, and anything else that will persuade farmers that wildlife conservation is worthwhile.

“Wildlife is part of us,” she says, adding that trophy hunting brings in income, as does Grootberg Lodge, 20 kilometres away. The lodge is wholly owned by the conservancy and profits are vital to conservancy coffers. Tourists pay high prices to see black rhino in the Klip River, not to mention giraffe, gemsbock, mountain zebra and, of course, elephants.

Landine is angry with poachers, although cases are few and far between these days. Last year a local farmer was caught with a kudu he had hunted with dogs and an assegai. He was arrested by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and in court said he was hungry. Other farmers don't necessarily blame him, but don't poach themselves. “He eats alone,” said one.

The benefits from increased wildlife are small, but can make a big difference to an impoverished community. There is meat from trophy and 'own use' hunting which is distributed to households, as well as to pensioners, schools and the traditional authority. Income from trophy hunting and from the lodge is used for community projects, such as separate water installations for livestock and wildlife.

In Kunene water is crucial. This year has seen the return of drought. Landine says that wildlife is leaving the protected areas to look for water. Elephants have always been a danger, but now zebras are invading farms. It's no joke, says Landine. “They bite!” If there is no rain next season the younger cattle will survive because the farms pump water, but wildlife will die in great numbers.

The environmental shepherd is in the middle of it all, assisting farmers, protecting wildlife and balancing the interests of both. Is Landine afraid of elephants? Yes; just recently she was confronted by ten, including calves. She simply turned her donkey cart around. She doesn't mind admitting that she is afraid of lions. “But what must I do?” She asks, “I love my job. I sleep peacefully in the field – no problems.”

Steve Felton
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