By Carol Murphy
Crocodiles play an important role in maintaining the functioning of freshwater ecosystems, yet in many countries in Africa, they have been hunted to extinction. To avoid this happening in Namibia, the Government registered crocodiles as a protected species in 1975. But, as top predators, it is difficult for crocodiles to co-exist harmoniously with people. In 2005, 157 incidences of crocodile attacks on cattle and humans were record by community rangers in registered conservancies in the Zambezi.
Forty-eight of these incidences, the highest number for any conservancy, took place in the Kasika Conservancy. This is hardly surprising, as Kasika is located on the vast floodplain between the Chobe and Zambezi rivers. This lush wetland area is excellent crocodile habitat and attractive for people who fish, harvest water plants and graze their livestock.
As part of the conservancy’s right to benefit from their wildlife, two crocodiles per year were recently acquired as part of the trophy-hunting quota from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Through a tendering process, the Kasika Conservancy Committee has chosen a professional hunter who will bring his clients to their conservancy to hunt crocodile, elephant, hippo and buffalo. In addition to paying a hunting fee to the conservancy, employment is provided to a few local people and meat from the trophy-hunted animals is supplied to the villages in the conservancy.
The community also benefits from protecting crocodiles through job creation and income created by tourism. Tourists visiting the conservancy by boat from neighbouring Kasane experience the thrill of seeing these ancient reptiles basking on the banks of the river or gliding through the water.
While progress is being made in crocodile conservation, there is still conflict. So how does the conservancy manage the conservation of crocodiles for tourist and biodiversity reasons, while at the same time answering to the need to protect their people and livestock from crocodile attacks?
Traditionally thorn bushes were placed in the river at cattle-drinking points to offer protection from crocodiles. Edward Libuku, a senior community ranger in Kasika, suggested that the thorn bushes be replaced with stronger materials such as wire fencing. With funds from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the Kasika Conservancy Committee employed conservancy members to build ten such crocodile-proof fences at village harbours. The design is simple and each fence costs about N$2 000 to construct (including materials, labour and boat hire). There are plans to build more as part of the conservancy’s human-wildlife conflict management project, as there are over 27 harbours used by conservancy members. This project has been running over the past two years with assistance from Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, the largest field-based conservation and development organisation in Namibia.
Protecting designated points on the river is one thing. It is much harder to protect men fishing with nets and canoes or women harvesting water plants to sell or feed their families. Whilst wading into deep water to collect water lilies, a crocodile attacked Patricia Songa; she was hospitalised and lost her arm as a result of the attack. Through the Conservancy Human Animal Conflict Self-Insurance Scheme (known as HACSIS), also funded by the GEF Small Grants Programme, she claimed N$3 000 (US$500) for her injuries. In modern insurance terms this amount may seem small for the loss of a limb, but it was a significant amount of money for the Songa family and helped cover hospital visiting expenses.
The HACSIS initiative seeks to further balance the individual losses of conservancy members with benefits received by the conservancy by offering payment for livestock mortalities to conservancy members who have taken precautions to protect their livestock from wildlife. In Kasika, this includes compulsory use of the crocodile-proof fences as drinking points for cattle, careful herding during the day and kraaling cattle at night. So far the conservancy has paid out 21 claims for livestock mortalities (N$800 per head of cattle over six months old). Each claim is carefully recorded and scrutinised for validity by members of the Conservancy Committee and the Traditional Authorities, with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism fulfilling a watchdog role.
The Community Based Natural Resource Monitors (CBNRM) programme in Namibia is being proactive in addressing the conservation of crocodiles outside of protected areas through their research support. Over the next two years, Patrick Aust, a Southern African PhD student registered at the Imperial College, London, will be studying the ecology, socioeconomics and sustainable use of crocodiles outside protected areas in the Caprivi and Kavango regions. This will include determining the status and distribution of crocodiles (through aerial and boat surveys, observing nests and capturing and tagging individual species). He will also review the impact of current harvesting of crocodiles through trophy hunting and problem-animal control.
These initiatives help increase our know-ledge of wildlife, secure people’s livelihoods and increase local support for the conservancy. As Robert Mafwili, Kasika Conservancy Executive Committee Member and Project Advisor, said at a recent evaluation meeting discussing the impact of the HACSIS scheme:
“I witnessed the second induna receiving his money and he was very happy. I could hear him laughing.”
The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme is a fund of the United National Development Programme in Namibia that is administered through the Namibia Nature Foundation.
This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.