Community in Perpetual Conflict with Nature

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By Michael Liswaniso OPUWO Due to perennial crop damage by marauding elephant herds which also threaten humans in most parts of the Kunene Region, residents held an emergency meeting with environment officials to address this problem. At the six-hour meeting attended by community representatives and Environment and Tourism officials, residents wanted clarity on how this conflict could be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. Government representatives included Colgar Sikopo, the acting Deputy Director for Wildlife Management, who was accompanied by Kunene’s Chief Warden Siesried Gawiseb, as well as Warden James Sambi. Sikopo informed the gathering that the ministry was in the process of developing a policy on human wildlife conflict. At present, the ministry is guided by the Nature Conservation Ordinance Act No. 4 of 1975, which needs amendment. So-called problem animals – but more especially elephants – are regarded a danger to members of the community as they cause havoc in most parts of the Kunene. Jumbos are prominently found in most parts of Kunene. They normally break down the fences in the famed Etosha Game Park and make their way to nearby villages in search of water, and sometimes go on natural patrols due to climatic changes. Most residents needed to know from the ministry how they should handle ‘problem animals’ especially elephants which have become ‘villains.’ They pointed out that on many occasions, elephants came to their villages to drink from their boreholes and destroyed some of the vital community equipment like boreholes, generators, among others. They said tombstones of their loved ones were being destroyed, and they don’t know how to handle this, since the government at present does not make provision for compensation for these acts. It also does not have a policy to compensate for the lives claimed by wild animals. They say the present draft of the legislation needs to be amended in their favour. But, according to Sikopo, the new policy will address ‘certain’ critical issues, among them the proposal to introduce a self-insurance scheme where conservancies will generate income from wild animals, such as elephants, through the utilization practices such as trophy-hunting and, via this, payment by the conservancies would be made to community members who suffer damages because of wild animals. “The ministry is also looking at possibilities of introducing, as an interim measure, funeral assistance to those who lose their loved ones because of wild animals, before the policy is finalized. “As another critical issue, the policy will also address proper monitoring issues of wildlife population in different,” Sikopo assured. Sikopo noted that in the process of developing this policy, much input will be needed from all stakeholders, especially the villagers, traditional authority as well as the regional government. “We want to streamline everything to an extent where decisions are taken at regional level for quick response to issues of human and wildlife conflict. For instance,, to avoid loss of human life or damage to property, we want to empower regional heads of the ministry through this policy to enable them to take decisions when reports of human and wildlife conflict are received,” noted Sikopo. According to Sikopo, the new policy being developed will see communities benefiting from wildlife more than is currently the case, citing that it is not only funeral assistance and other proposed benefits, but most funds generated in different ventures from wildlife will be ploughed back into the particular communities. “We are aware of all your problems and we, as government officials, are trying by all means to find a profound solution to all your problems with wildlife. Dear parents (residents), for your information, in my own home village, a villager was killed by an elephant recently, so I am indeed aware of the concerns of rural communities in terms of human and wildlife conflict, It is a challenge we must fight together and find a good solution. We cannot just kill wildlife for the sake of killing, because we really need them, given their positive role to economic development in this country.” Recently, a villager at Otuani village endured a broken leg and is still recovering in the Oshakati Hospital as a result of an elephant attack. A homestead was destroyed by an elephant at Okahua, while a chain of tombstones were destroyed recently. Most residents said they would soon take the law into their own hands, claiming that ‘enough was enough’ about the suffering inflicted on them by elephants. But Sikopo was quick to advise them to adhere to the law and to act only in cases typically life-threatening and to report such cases to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism or to the nearest police station. Sikopo sympathized with families who have lost their relatives and loved ones as result of ‘problem animals’ and regretted the loss of lives in this manner, as well as the damage caused to community property. The meeting was attended by a number of residents of the Opuwo town and its surrounding villages. Councillor for the Epupa constituency, Mburura Jona-Kasita, chaired the meeting with assistance from his counterpart, Hendrik Gaobaeb, the councillor for the Sesfontein constituency, while Weich Mupya who is the regional head for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, assisted with translating. This was the first time Kunene residents had summoned officials from the ministry at head office to seek clarity on the issue.