Desert oranges for the elephants


Namibia is a land of contradictions. Laurencius Antabo’s farm is by a river side, but it is as dry as the semi-desert around it. But in the sandy soil, Laurencius grows apples and oranges, and even has a banana tree.

He’s an enterprising man, but he has a large problem: elephants. In the dry /Goanta≠gâb riverbed, herds of them forage for food and drink. Water is provided courtesy of a diesel pump protected by an elephant proof wall, and is pumped down to a dam where the thirsty giants can drink. But afterwards they break down the wooden fence around the farmer’s home and rip up his fruit trees.

The answer may be a stone wall around the house and garden, but Laurencius doesn’t have enough money for that. The elephant proof wall around the pump was built with money from the Millenium Challenge Account. Unfortunately, the farmer was away when it was built, and the contractors placed the drinking points for wildlife and livestock together, instead of separating them, so there is constant competition for water.

There’s another problem: Laurencius can’t afford to keep pumping water for the elephants from his own pocket. He lives in Sorris Sorris Conservancy, which is reconsidering its human wildlife conflict strategy and its benefit distribution plan, to target assistance to farmers in a better way in the future. That may include diesel to pump water for the elephants at the farm, assuming, that is, the conservancy can earn sufficient money from Sorris Sorris Lodge, run as a joint venture with private sector investor Namibia Exclusive Safaris. Compensation for losses will also be reviewed.

At the moment, the conservancy will pay only N$1,500 to a farmer who loses a high quality stud goat to predators. Laurencius bought a ram costing N$13,000, which was taken by cheetahs. That’s a big loss.

The conservancy is close to Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site and the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest peak, where fabulous rock art is preserved in high caves. Four wheel drives rented by visitors roar past the farm, but tourism doesn’t benefit Laurencius much. It’s a contradiction that the farmer struggles with. He likes the elephants as much as the tourists do, but not in his garden.

Steve Felton
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