For tourists, the new Galton Gate is an entrance to the west side of Etosha National Park, and a new gateway to the resorts of Okakuejojo, Halali and Namutoni. It’s the kind of infrastructure that is vital to the Namibian economy; and the survival of iconic species, such as rhino, plays a key role.
Standing outside the beautifully constructed entrance, Fanuel Ndjiva declares that “cut lines are no good”, referring to the fence that separates the park and its wildlife from the communal land where he lives, in Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy.
Now 75 years old, Ndjiva spent many years as a park ranger in Etosha, and he has a deep respect for wildlife. He is pained, he says, by the current level of poaching. “If I could go back to help to stop it, I would.”
His father was born inside the current park area, in 1904, thinks Ndjiva. In 1937 he remembers that the people were chased out to the west by the South African administration. They tried to return, and to negotiate for land, but their cattle were shot. Those that remained alive were constantly harried by predators. The Herero herders would patrol at night with burning mopane branches to ward off the lions.
There should be more wildlife on the communal land to the west of the park, but there should be more cattle too, says Ndjiva. In the old days there was more grass, when there were no cut lines. But it’s not just the problem of fences and recurring drought that reduces the pasture. Ndjiva believes that there are too many people in his area around Onguta village, and he explains: “The population can grow, but the land cannot.”
There may not be as much wildlife as in the past, but what remains still preys on his small cattle herd and even smaller flock of goats. Like most farmers here, Ndjiva has lost livestock to hyaenas, lions and leopards. As a member of Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy, he receives compensation if he can prove that a cow or goat was properly protected in a kraal when it was taken. But the money paid out is well below the market value of the animal.
Protecting livestock is not easy. When Njiva was growing up, the young boys looked after the sheep, the older ones herded the goats, and the young men went out with the cattle. Now the boys go to school, and it costs too much to hire a herder and to build strong kraals.
The conservancy provides some hope for Ndjiva. Although the children go to school, there are few job prospects for them in the arid landscape between Kamanjab and Opuwo. The conservancy provides some jobs for game guards, but it has pinned its future hopes on a new lodge, a joint venture with the private sector, on the main road passing Galton Gate. A lodge would provide jobs for tour guides and lodge staff.
Tourism is the main growth industry in the area. Nearby Hobatere Lodge re-opened two years ago and is doing brisk business, providing income to neighbouring ≠Khoadi-Hôas Conservancy. The new Dolomite Camp inside Etosha, accessible from Galton Gate, is also providing jobs. The local economy is changing from cattle to wildlife.
Ndjiva pines for the past, but he hopes for the future. “I am old now,” he says, “but I still have a lot of knowledge that I want to pass on to the youngsters. I try to teach them to conserve wildlife. I don’t want my children to see rhinos only in pictures.”