Conflict exploration: Culling Hyenas to Save Horses - Part 2

Perspectives from people on site

In our first blog post, we explored the scenario ‘Killing hyenas to save horses’ in Namibia. We asked three experts in their field (human dimensions, wildlife biology and ethics) to share their perspective.

An important suggestion we received after posting this blog article, was to also invite people on site to share their perspective with us (many thanks to everyone who responded). And so, we did!

We approached Dr Chris Brown (Namibian Chamber of Environment) and Dr Ingrid Wiesel (Brown Hyena Research Project). Both are directly involved in this scenario and we summarized their thoughtful views below.


Dr Chris Brown

Namibian Chamber of Environment, CEO
http://www.n-c-e.org/

The Namibian Chamber of Environment is an umbrella organisation for environmental NGOs in the country. In total, there are 64 NGOs in the Namibian Chamber of Environment.

Dr Chris Brown importantly points out that the hyenas are in fact not “endemic wildlife” to the Namib or to Namibia, in response to what was written here. “They occur widely across Africa. However, they are indigenous to the area, and they are listed as Threatened — a Red Data List species in Namibia.”

“I consider it important for people to appreciate, in this modern “politically correct” world, that not everything is best resolved through compromise. Sometimes things are simply right and other things are simply wrong, no matter people’s views on the subject. Compromise does not always help put things right. Doing what is right helps put things right.”

Recently, the Namibian Chamber of Environment wrote a statement on the horse-hyena situation in Namibia. For more background, see also here.

The document is the view of the entire environmental NGO community in Namibia”

Feral horses and endangered spotted hyaenas in national parks in the southern Namib — how to resolve the conflict

It is a very interesting and informative 10-page document and, although we here below only share the ‘possible solutions’, we highly recommend reading it in its entirety.

Spotted hyenas ©Oliver Höner

Possible solutions

Before coming to solutions, it might be worth considering the ownership of the horses. They were originally domestic horses that were abandoned. For decades they lived in what was part of the Diamond Area. When parts of the diamond mining license were released by CDM (de Beers) and included into the Namib-Naukluft Park, Garub fell within land administered by the state (now by MET [i.e. the Ministry of Environment and Tourism]) for conservation purposes. The MET’s mandate is to protect and manage indigenous biodiversity in protected areas. These feral horses were not technically “owned” by MET, unlike the domestic horses used by field staff in Etosha and Waterberg, which were listed on the acquisition registers of the respective parks. I doubt that the Garub horses are on any register. It could thus be argued that they are not technically a state asset and would therefore not have to be alienated from the state through a complex process. It follows that they are actually not covered by Ordinance 4 of 1975 and thus not a state asset. This understanding of ownership (or lack thereof) may facilitate far faster and easier implementation of the solutions listed below.

Killing, capturing and feeding hyaenas to stop them killing horses is not a viable solution. It does not produce the desired outcome for the horses long-term and more important, it contravenes the basic principles of protected areas.

Principles

There are a number of principles that should guide our decisions regarding the way forward:

a. Killing, capturing and feeding hyaenas to stop them killing horses is not a viable solution. It does not produce the desired outcome for the horses long-term and more important, it contravenes the basic principles of protected areas. It further creates an ongoing human-wildlife conflict situation. It will tarnish Namibia’s conservation image internationally and, ultimately, may lead to a tourism backlash against the horses.

b. The feral horses may have a small role to play in tourism in the southern Namib, although there are no data to support this. Aus is a natural stopping point on the way to Luderitz and the horses are probably far less significant to tourism than is projected by the vested interest group. Nonetheless, a viable solution for the horses must be found.

c. The present locality of the feral horses at Garub is far too arid for their own welfare. It would be preferable for them to be located further east — in a higher rainfall area with more secure grazing and a number of alternative water points, and away from predators associated with national parks.

d. The horses should be near a national road where they can be easily viewed by interested tourists. Affordable and ready access to tourists must be ensured.

e. A benefit-sharing plan must be developed for local communities to benefit from the presence of the horses, both directly and through job creation.

f. Currently, there is no specific income generated from the horses. Indirect income is generated by tourists staying at accommodation facilities in and near Aus. There are no data to indicate whether fewer people would stay there if there were no horses.

Option 1: Moving the horses

o Taking into account the above guiding principles, it is clear that the future of the horses (from both predation and rainfall/grazing considerations of their welfare) would be best served by removing them from Garub and finding an alternative location.

o The future of the southern parks and their biodiversity would also be better served by removing the horses from Garub to somewhere outside the park. Valuable MET staff time and resources are being used on this issue, which is not part of their conservation mandate at best, and actively destroys their conservation reputation at worst.

o There are two potential options for alternative locations:

1. The “Namib Wild Horse Foundation” or another organisation (or a joint venture arrangement) could be given an opportunity to find an alternative site that meets the above principles and conditions; or

2. The !Han /Awab communal conservancy could be approached to provide land for the horses. This conservancy is on the main road between Keetmanshoop and Aus, and the horses would provide an economic opportunity for the conservancy. The “Namib Wild Horse Foundation” could provide support to the conservancy by raising funds or facilitating a joint venture [JV] partnership to establish a small lodge that would employ local guides. This business development would provide tangible community benefits. Some of the benefits could also be shared with the Aus Community Trust.

o The feral horses would remain the “property” of MET under a custodianship agreement so that MET can ensure that the above guiding principles and requirements are met and implemented.

Option 2: Managing the horses at Garub

o If moving the horses is not a politically acceptable solution, then an alternative, but much inferior solution could be to (a) zone the area immediately surrounding the Garub waterpoint as a multiple-use area, and (b) fence this area with a hyaena-proof fence.

o The size of this fenced area should be large enough to allow an agreed population of horses (max 150 animals?) to disperse and forage, but no larger than absolutely necessary.

o The zoned area should be made available to the Aus community under a concession arrangement, in a joint-venture partnership with appropriate organisations who could help ensure (i) appropriate long-term management of the horses, and (ii) the preparation and implementation of a business plan to generate income and benefits to both manage the horses (provide water daily and feed them during the increasingly frequent droughts), as well as income to the Aus community.

o The JV partnership [i.e. the Joint Venture Partnership, see above] would then take on all management responsibilities for the horses, with MET providing monitoring oversight.

Namib Desert feral horses © Stuart Orford CC BY-SA 2.0

Further recommendations

o The feeding, capture and killing of hyaenas must be stopped immediately. As an interim measure, guards could be placed at Garub to chase away the hyaenas, or the horses could be captured and held somewhere safe until appropriate arrangements have been made for their custodianship.

o Baiting hyaenas to attract them from the national parks onto farmland must stop immediately. Any farmers found doing this should be charged and prosecuted.

Hopefully, the right actions will now be taken to address the unhappy conflict that arose when the spotted hyaenas started preying on feral horses in the southern Namib national parks. Mistakes were made because the proponents of the feral horses disregarded professional advice provided by conservation scientists. They used misleading information, created a false dichotomy of conflict (horses or hyaenas), and aroused public sentiment by inappropriate use of the printed and social media, thereby placing undue pressure on MET to act. With a more balanced perspective, I believe that the way forward should now be more clear.


Dr Ingrid Wiesel

Brown Hyena Research Project, Founder and Senior Scientist
http://www.strandwolf.org

The Brown Hyena Research Project studies the spotted hyenas at Garub. On their website we can read:

This project is a collaboration between the Brown Hyena Research Project and the Namibia Wild Horses Project. Both projects have long-term experience in research in the southern Namib desert and the wild horse population has been permanently monitored for over 20 years. The objectives are to gain detailed data about spotted hyena abundance, movement and diet, and to evaluate the true impact on the wild horse population in the Garub area.

“At this point of time, the question that should be asked is what this conflict is really about. Is it about saving the horses because of animal welfare issues or because of economic aspects?”

When we asked Dr Wiesel about her point of view on the horse-hyena situation in Namibia she responded:

“At this point in time, the question that should be asked is what this conflict is really about. Is it about saving the horses because of animal welfare issues or because of economic aspects?”

“I sincerely believe that it should be about ensuring that these horses do not suffer any longer. These horses are not adequately adapted to live in the desert environment, especially now, where environmental fluctuations become more severe and frequent, and where it became clear that their survival could only be ensured on the costs of native species.”

“Two workshops were recently held with specialists and affected communities to discuss the way forward and a management plan is currently being formulated. A clear outcome supported by all sides was that the killing of the hyaenas was wrong, which is a welcome step forward. The feral horses will need intensive management, whether they remain at Garub or are moved to a sanctuary, to keep them in a predator-free environment, that includes permanent access to fresh water and supplementary feeding whenever necessary.”

Spotted hyena © Oliver Höner

Synthesis

Both Dr Brown and Dr Wiesel mention that many of the involved parties share the vision that killing the hyaenas is wrong. Also, they stress that life in the desert, especially under the current circumstances, is detrimental to the welfare of these horses which are not adapted to desert environments.

Two potential solutions are presented by the Namibian Chamber of Environment: either moving the horses (preferred) or managing the horses at Garub. Regardless of the final option chosen, the ‘solution’ should not go at the cost of native species (e.g. hyenas), should minimize the suffering of the horses and should include a plan of how local communities can benefit from the presence of the horses.

These potential solutions were designed following meetings and workshops with specialists and affected communities. The solutions aim to carefully balance conservation, animal welfare and social principles and there was common ground found in the view that killing the hyenas was wrong.

Although it would be ideal if there was a one-size fit all solution for conservation conflicts, conflicts such as these are often context-specific and require a detailed understanding of the situation on site, including the species, the environment, the people and the history involved. We are very grateful to Dr Brown and Dr Wiesel for sharing their experience and perspective with us.

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