Namibia, an arid country in southern Africa, is home to an incredible variety of wildlife. My husband and I visited Namibia in 2009 and explored the deserts and savannahs of this beautiful country. We were especially interested to see how Namibia balances protection of its natural resources with the needs of its human population and developing economy.
Sadly, we learned that the Namibian government endorses the “harvesting” of many animal species. Trophy hunting permits are sold to wealthy foreigners, allowing them to kill the animals of their choice. The list of huntable species is very long and includes leopards, rhinos, and lions. The rarer the animal, the higher the price for the permit. Even the iconic oryx, Namibia’s national animal, is not exempt. We had the surreal experience of seeing oryx silhouetted against red sand dunes in a national park and then returning to the lodge to find oryx steaks on the dinner menu. The revenue generated by the trophy hunts is used to support conservation efforts, but the hunts remain hugely controversial, especially since they include even threatened species like cheetahs and elephants.
The Namibian government also sanctions an annual slaughter of Cape fur seals. Each year, 85,000 seal pups are slain by clubbing and stabbing, and their skins are sold for fur. This is about one-quarter the size of the annual seal hunt in Canada, but the killing methods are similarly cruel. We visited the Cape Cross Seal Reserve on the Namibian coast, where we saw thousands of seals enjoying the sunny beach and making playful leaps in the offshore surf. I couldn’t stop imagining the painful deaths awaiting pups like these during the next hunting season.
After visiting the seals, I needed to hear some positive news about animals in Namibia. Fortunately, our next stop was the Doro !Nawas Conservancy area. The Namibian government permits communities to make use of the natural resources in a conservancy in exchange for responsible management of the local wildlife. (Namibia, like Bhutan, is one of the few countries in the world to have environmental protections written into its constitution.) The ecotourism camp where we stayed was a joint venture between a safari tour operator and the 450-member local community at Doro !Nawas. The community benefits from jobs and a large percentage of all revenue from the camp. The revenue then provides a financial incentive for the entire community to protect the local animals and habitat.
Our final destination in Namibia was the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which works to protect Namibia’s 2,500 cheetahs, the largest population remaining in the world. Most cheetahs don’t live in national parks or reserves because they cannot easily defend their prey (or their cubs) from stronger predators like lions and hyenas. So cheetahs live mainly in livestock farming areas. Cattle are big business in Namibia—this is a nation with a tradition of measuring wealth and status by the number of cattle you own. Hundreds of cheetahs were being shot each year by livestock farmers who suspected (sometimes erroneously) that the cheetahs were killing their animals.
CCF has developed several creative solutions that meet the needs of both the cheetahs and the farmers. One example is how they are solving the problem of the ubiquitous thorn bushes. Decades of overgrazing and fire suppression have allowed spiny bushes to proliferate over the formerly open savannah. The bushes make it difficult for cheetahs to chase down their prey, and some cheetahs are injured or blinded by thorns while hunting. CCF’s innovation was to harvest the bushes for profit. The harvesting creates jobs, and the resulting fuel logs of sustainable, low emission “Bushblok” are sold as far away as Europe. Local communities profit from the sales, and the cheetahs regain suitable habitat.
We met some of CCF’s resident cheetahs who cannot be released into the wild. These ambassador cheetahs have helped convince Namibians that cheetahs are not just a pest to be eradicated. One of the highlights of our trip was petting the cheetahs and listening to their loud and contented purring.
We were inspired by what we learned in Namibia about effective ways to resolve conflicts between humans and animals in an increasingly crowded world.
What innovations have you seen that help free-roaming animals while also addressing human needs?