Gustaph has a memory for people. It was in 1997, he remembers, when President Nujoma called the residents of the area together, as part of the new SWAPO government’s survey of rural areas, and introduced the idea of conservancies; and King Taopopi who agreed to give land for the idea. Later still, conservationists Chris Brown, Chris Eyre and Chris Weaver came to give help and advice.
Uukwaluudhi would be the first conservancy in the north central area, and not all farmers wanted a conservancy. Traditionally, they hunted springbok at Christmas instead of killing a goat – would they still be able to eat meat?
Gustaph was convinced, and set about convincing others. He worked as an unofficial game guard from 1998 (when the first four conservancies were formed elsewhere) and would report poaching to Chris Eyre, who worked for Nature Conservation. Arrests followed and poaching dropped dramatically.
Now, sadly, the real poaching is from outside the conservancy. After the establishment of Uukwaluudhi Lodge, 4 rhinos were introduced and another joined them from Etosha. They bred. With 8 rhinos the area seemed set for tourism – then 3 were poached. The rest were removed to relative safety by the Ministry of Environment and tourism, dashing the hopes of the community.
Gustaph is still highly motivated to protect wildlife, but he also worries about the young people. “They are hard to motivate and not well paid as game guards,” he says. “They could be tempted to help poachers and sell the elephants.”
This is part of a series of short stories for conservancy elders, this will be released in book format in the future.