Map source: Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC): Caprivi Project, http://www.irdnc.org.na/areas.htm
My studies will focus on looking at threats to local livelihoods and wildlife that result from ongoing “Human-Wildlife Conflict.” What exactly is Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC)? Essentially, HWC is any perceived or realized negative interaction between people and wildlife. This conflict can have negative consequences for both people and the wildlife involved. The conflict can range from a mild irritation for certain bipedal animals, such as a golfer loosing a ball to protective Canada geese (and maybe stepping in some poo in the process), to life-threatening interactions that leave people or animals dead. The point is that HWC threatens people and wildlife to one degree or another.
What exactly am I studying in relation to HWC? The academic spill is “risk perception, vulnerability and compliance behavior associated with HWC.” What does that really mean? First of all, I hope to gain a better understanding of what influences how people think about the risks involved with HWC to themselves, their community and to local wildlife. Second, I hope to gain a greater understanding of who is most vulnerable to the conflict, meaning what environmental and social factors make some people more likely to incur a conflict with wildlife and less likely to recover once a conflict has occurred. Lastly, how might the way they view the conflict (risk perception) and vulnerability influence their compliance with wildlife laws. By compliance I simply mean do they feel these laws are legitimate, do they feel the laws are protecting community members, local wildlife and are they enforced fairly and so on (You can’t really go around asking people, ”Do you break the law?” now can you?). In essence compliance is an outcome, a behavior. I hope to accomplish these things through a series of short focus groups (workshops) and individual interviews. The outcome will hopefully help with local management plans, communication efforts with the community and interventions meant to help reduce the conflict.
Why Caprivi, Namibia? There are numerous reasons to choose Namibia for wildlife research both personal and professional. On a conservation front, Namibia is one of the leading nations on the African continent in innovative, integrated and assertive approaches to conservation. They have a much-praised community-based natural resource management system through “Conservancies” and “Community Forests.” Their black rhino conservation efforts have been world-renowned and they have now started translocations of these endangered giants throughout the region. They boast the highest wild population of cheetahs and one of the highest of elephants on this vast continent. They have the second largest national park or reserve on the continent, Sperrgebiet National Park, and a vast network of community-based conservancies that all told cover end up covering 38% of Namibia’s total land surface (NASCO, 2007).
Culturally, Namibia’s often contentious “Caprivi Strip” is also a hotbed of activity and diversity. Caprivi is a narrow swath of land, covering approximately 20,000 km2, that borders Angola, Zambia and Botswana, has four major rivers and tributaries (i.e., Okavango, Kwando, Chobe & Zambezi). The region boasts the second most densely populated area in Namibia, with over 80,000 residents (Jones & Barnes, 2006), and supports high concentrations of wildlife including one of the largest populations of free ranging elephants in Africa (O’Connell-Rodwell et al., 2000). Caprivi has multiple layers of conservation and land tenure; which includes communal areas supporting eight conservancies, state land holdings supporting 6 national parks and game reserves (MET, 2009), private land holdings supporting game farms and tourist ventures (Jones & Barnes, 2006) and a transnational corridor for wildlife movement between Angola, Namibia, and Botswana (WWF, 2008).
Caprivi has historically been a highly contested piece of land with multiple waves of migration, influxes of refugees and contested colonial ownership (Suzman, 2001). The history of the “strip” and its residents is long, complicated and often contentious. Local livelihoods are largely supported by their dependence on the regions rich natural resources, which supports agriculture, fisheries, forestry, livestock and hunting and gathering activities (Jones & Barnes, 2006; Murphy & Mulonga, 2002). In addition to HWC, which contributes to livelihood insecurity, the region struggles with one of the highest infection rates for HIV/AIDS and malaria, natural disasters, such as floods that cause high levels of cholera and damage to agriculture and fisheries, and poor access to health services (Jones & Barnes, 2006). Reducing HWC is an important endeavor for sustaining the long-term development and conservation goals in Caprivi.
Personally, I have always had a great fondness and interest in this continent. Biologically it is the heart of Pangaea and its weathered façade holds to this day, despite having the longest record of human occupation, some of the most amazing populations of wildlife to be found. Culturally, as the cradle of humanity, the people, languages, customs and cultures are as diverse as its flora and fauna. I hope that this blog will share my admiration and interest in the cultural and biological diversity, the people and wildlife, of this area. I hope to share both the development and conservation activities that are happening in this region; share its challenges and its triumphs. So stay posted (and be patient as internet access is often limited!), as I will do my best to share stories, photographs, websites, organizational links, interviews with development and conservation workers and even videos (hopefully) of this area and the nexus between its people and its wildlife.
Jones, B.T.B. & Barnes, J.I. (2006). Human Wildlife Conflict Study: Namibian Case Study. Independent Environment and Development Consultant: Design and Development Services. Windhoek, Namibia.
Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET); Namibia. 2009. Publications and Reports: Caprivi Region. Retrieved April 2, 2009 from http://www.met.gov.na/programmes/Caprivi/caprivi_index.htm
Murphy, C. & Mulonga, S. (2002). A Profile of the Livelihoods of People in Two Conservancies in Caprivi. Wildlife Integration for Livelihood Diversifications (WILD) Project, Working Paper 7,15 pages.
NASCO (Namibian Association of CBRNRM Support Organizations) (2007). Namibia’s Communal Conservancies: a review of progress and challenges in 2007. P.O. Box 98353, Windhoek, Namibia.
O’Connell-Rodwell, C.E., Rodwell, T., Rice, M. & Hart, L.A. (2000). Living with the modern conservation paradigm: can agricultural communities co-exist with elephants? A five-year caste study in East Caprivi, Namibia. Biological Conservation, 93, 381-391.
Suzman, J. (2001). An Assessment of the Status of the San in Namibia. Legal Assistance Center, Windhoek, Namibia: John Meinert Printing.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF). (2008). Human-Wildlife Conflict: Namibia. In Common Ground: Solutions for Reducing the human, economic and conservation costs of human wildlife conflict (pp.13-32). WWF report: http://www.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/publications/