Environmental shepherds going the extra mile in the ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy

On patrol - ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy environmental shepherds, Maleska Harases, Romanus Guibeb, Abram //Gaseb and Ensina /Ames (L/R)
On patrol - ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy environmental shepherds, Maleska Harases, Romanus Guibeb, Abram //Gaseb and Ensina /Ames (L/R)

Today more than ever, community game guards play a crucial role in monitoring wildlife and other resources in 83 registered conservancies throughout Namibia. Being a game guard is not an easy task, and the work that they undertake is often not given the recognition it deserves. Nowhere is this more true than in ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy, where the game guards are known as environmental shepherds.  This name was chosen above ‘game guards’ (or ‘rangers’, which is also used in some conservancies) to reflect the fact that in ≠Khoadi-//Hôas, their duties extend well beyond wildlife management.  ≠Khoadi-//Hôas located in the Kunene Region, takes its name from the Khoekhoegowab phrase for “elephants’ corner.”

The conservancy was registered in June 1998, becoming the second such communal conservancy in Namibia after Nyae Nyae Conservancy, which was registered earlier that year. It covers an area of approximately 3 364 km2, and has just over 2 000 members. The conservancy currently employees eight environmental shepherds and an environmental shepherd coordinator, and is planning on hiring additional shepherds. The main tasks of these shepherds are to carry out monthly fixed-route patrols, rare and endangered species patrols, and area or farm patrols. They also undertake joint patrols with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, explains Albert Guruseb, the environmental shepherd coordinator. “We also provide an advisory service to our farmers, especially when it comes to reducing human – wildlife conflict” as Albert explains below.

“For example, we now have a case where a homestead is also close to the water point. In the evenings the elephants come to drink, and after drinking they enter the homestead yard to eat the cactus plants that are growing there, so we are now helping to remove these plants. We hope that the elephants will not enter the yard once the cactuses have been removed, but they have become accustomed to entering the yard, so we will see.”

While all environmental shepherds in the conservancy play a vital role, there are also some individuals who should be recognised for the valuable leadership they provide within the group. Once such person is Maleska Harases, who has been an environmental shepherd for the past eight years, having started out as a junior in 2009 before becoming a senior shepherd in 2016. Maleska, who is now 39 years old, was born in the small village of Erwee, located between Kamanjab and Palmwag, beneath the imposing Grootberg mountain.

“I grew up on the farm, and one of my chores as a young girl was to watch over the goats in the field. While I was doing this, I also saw wildlife, and I remember how the graceful way giraffe ran used to fascinate me. It was while watching them that I decided that I wanted to work with wildlife one day.” This is how Maleska Harases describes the origin of the journey that would lead her to becoming a senior environmental shepherd at ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy.

Maleska sees value and purpose in the work she does: “It is so important to continue the work we do and to educate our children so that they will still be able to see wildlife in our area in the future. I like the work I am doing, and I enjoy being in the field by myself – it is fulfilling. I would like to get more training so that when I am older I can act as a tour guide and an educator in our schools.”

Human – wildlife conflict incidents have increased recently, largely because of the persistent drought that has afflicted the area for the last three years. Lorna Dax, the conservancy manager, explains that because of the drought, many species of wildlife have moved out of the core wildlife areas in search of grazing and water. “The problem is that predators have followed these animals, and are now closer to the farming areas, resulting in livestock losses to predators such as lions and hyenas. In addition, many of the natural springs have dried up, and so elephants are making use of the farmers’ water points. To compensate for this, we provide additional diesel to farmers who pump water where the elephants are drinking.”

Human – wildlife conflict remains one of the biggest issues facing the conservancy and its members, and one would expect them to resent the predators that are responsible for stock losses. In practice, however, this is not really the case. According to Lorna Dax, “Although livestock losses are always problematic, our members also appreciate the considerable benefits that accrue to the conservancy and its members through our wildlife and tourism initiatives. Although the government also contributes to compensation for human – wildlife conflict, we have decided to double the conservancy’s budget for compensation to farmers for livestock losses from N$60 000 to N$120 000 annually. Our main income derives from two wholly community-owned lodges, which are managed by a private company on our behalf. We also have a campsite, and we get substantial income from trophy hunting.”

There has however been an increase in poaching carried out by outsiders and this is of great concern to the conservancy. It must be recognised that the work that the environmental shepherds carry out is neither easy nor given the recognition it deserves. The area that must be covered is vast and often inaccessible by vehicle, and there are safety concerns for the environmental shepherds. According to Romanus Guibeb, a senior environmental shepherd, “Poachers carry guns but we are not allowed to. We also find it very frustrating that we have no powers to act when we suspect that poaching is taking place – we are not allowed to apprehend suspected poachers. We have to request the intervention of other authorities, and it can take time for them to react. By the time they arrive, the suspect is long gone.” The incidence of poaching by local residents has decreased significantly since the formation of the conservancy, largely as a result of the important work that the environmental shepherds carry out.

In order to increase support for the valuable work that is being carried out by the environmental shepherds in Khoadi-//Hôas, the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO), under the auspices of the Natural Resources Working Group (NRWG), is currently implementing the Community Game Guard Mentorship Programme. The main objective of this programme is, through specific, identified actions, to enhance conservancy game guards’ commitment to wildlife management and protection, and to improve their capacity to conserve and protect valuable and vulnerable wildlife resources. The programme is a response to the increasing need to create and maintain an enabling environment for law enforcement outside of Namibia’s nationally protected areas, and to further empower community game guards as the stewards of their respective conservancies’ wildlife and other natural resources.

Funding for the programme is being provided by the Safari Club International Foundation, based in Tucson, Arizona in the United States. Their mission is to fund and direct wildlife programmes dedicated to wildlife conservation and outdoor education. They are motivated by their belief that “Namibia is a stronghold for wildlife and a sustainable use success story, thanks to the country’s community-based conservation structure and the work that is carried out by NACSO. Unfortunately, poachers are moving in from neighbouring regions, posing a high-risk threat in Namibia’s north-western conservancies, which are home to vitally important valuable and vulnerable wildlife species. The Foundation’s support is targeting the mentorship and training of community game guards in these areas to respond to the ever-evolving poaching threats.”

The programme is also being implemented in the Ehirovipuka, Omatendeka and Nyae Nyae conservancies, although the programme in Nyae Nyae is being fund by USAID. The Community Game Guard Mentorship Programme will continue to be implemented until July 2018, whereupon it will be assessed to determine any follow up actions that may be needed.

Dave Cole
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Maleska Harases and her team entering GPS points at the start of their fixed route patrol
Maleska Harases and her team entering GPS points at the start of their fixed route patrol
Entering wildlife sightings in the fixed route patrol event book which they undertake every month
Entering wildlife sightings in the fixed route patrol event book which they undertake every month