Conservancy profile – Mudumu North ComplexJuly 15, 2012
Conservation profile – The Torra Conservancy comes of ageJuly 15, 2012
by Lucy Kemp on behalf of the NACSO Natural Resource Working Group
Established in 2005, the conservancy was named after King Sheya Shuushona, who reigned in Ongandjera between 1862 and 1878, and enjoys the patronage of Namibia’s first President, Sam Nujoma, who was born in the region.
The 5 066-km2 area is one of only three conservancies that border the Etosha National Park. Both Etosha and Sheya Shuushona lie in the Owambo Basin, a broad depression covering much of north-central Namibia, and a large area in southern Angola. Wind-blown sands and river-borne sediments have filled the basin over the past 70 to 65 million years, but the sands contain few nutrients and retain little water. Broad-leafed woodlands and acacias grow in the sandy areas and mopane dominates on more clayey soils, but the trees rarely reach more than two or three metres in height. Crops are difficult to grow on the clayey soils because they are often saline and have a hard pan layer just below the surface. Thus, although the majority of residents engage in growing mahangu (pearl millet) and tending cattle, goats and sheep, most household income is derived from wages, remittances, business earnings and pensions.
There are many salt pans in the area, the Ngandjela Pan being the best known. High-quality salt has been harvested there for hundreds of years by people from all over north-central Namibia. Apart from temporary pools of water after heavy rain, all water is obtained from underground sources. Water is taken from boreholes in some places, but also from thousands of hand-dug wells, called omadhiya. Most reach depths of 20 or 30 metres and are usually clustered together. The wells belong to different families, which send their cattle to graze around the cattle posts close to the wells.
While the area is not known for biotic richness, significant numbers of wildlife occurred there historically, including white and black rhino, elephant and giraffe. Some of these are now returning, usually from Etosha through breaks made by elephants in the fence that surrounds the national park. Large mammals now found in Sheya Shuushona include springbok, red hartebeest, kudu, gemsbok, elephant, lion, leopard, caracal, black-faced impala, duiker, steenbok, spotted hyaena, black-backed jackal, warthog and the occasional black rhino. There are plans to reintroduce more animals to enhance the value of the conservancy for tourism, and to help restore some of the diversity of wildlife.
Harvesting mopane worms
The caterpillars of the emperor moth (Imbrasia belina) are known as mopane worms (or locally as omagungu) since the larvae feed on mopane leaves. These worms provide an important source of protein and are harvested and dried for domestic consumption and sale. The conservancy has been earning about N$25 000 per year from fees generated by harvesting permits. Some of this money has been used to employ people to administer the permit system and to monitor the harvesting.
Harvesters are now strictly forbidden to chop branches or whole trees. Neither may they cut and burn wood to dry the harvested caterpillars over fires, which must therefore only be sun-dried or boiled. There is also a harvesting season so that the resource does not become over-exploited. Residents pay less than outsiders for harvesting permits. Harvests are sold at local markets and to a few bulk buyers who sell to a national supermarket and retailers in Windhoek.
The tourism potential of Sheya Shuushona has been assessed and a mid-range lodge recommended. Residents would acquire income, skills and experience in tourism. Moreover, this would lead to various secondary enterprises, such as craft production and visits to traditional villages, cattle posts with their fascinating omadhiya, and the spectacular pans where salt can be gathered.
However, opportunities for tourism in the conservancy will increase substantially if closer linkages with Etosha are developed. For example, a gate at Naruwandu would provide access to and from the park, thus drawing tourists into Sheya Shuushona as an area of Namibia that is currently off all established tourism routes. Another possibility is to remove the park fence between the proposed core wildlife zone and Etosha to allow the free movement of game into the conservancy. This would enlarge the overall size of Etosha as a conservation area and boost the value of the conservancy for tourism. Sheya Shuushona could also apply for a tourism concession inside Etosha. Namibia’s Policy on Tourism and Wildlife Concessions on State Land now allows the MET to award concessions in protected areas to communities in recognition of losses caused by problem animals and the loss of access to land and resources. Currently human-wildlife conflicts are common, mainly due to animals from Etosha. Livestock losses to predators and damage to crops, fencing and water installations by elephants pose the greatest problems. Although residents keep cattle in kraals at night and try to frighten off predators, incidents still occur, and there is no compensation scheme for losses.
The implementation of these proposals would provide significant benefits to both the conservancy and Etosha, and would do much to enhance the value and use of Namibia’s natural resources.
This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.