Tension between Farmers and Lions in Namibia
I mentioned in my presentation last week that a Namibian farmer killed a wild lion who had been hanging out at Okaukeujo Watering Hole. After learning about this, I became sad that the farmer killed the lion and intrigued by the rationale behind it. I found that there are deeply rooted tensions between wild lions and farm animals in Namibia. For example, an article written in the African Geographic discusses an instance when over 250 goats, sheeps, and donkeys were killed by the same pride of 10–15 lions in Namibia’s Kunene region.
The livestock were kept in non lion-proof areas, and as a result the farmers experienced devastating livestock losses. Farmers often lose their entire livelihoods to the lions. One farmer affected by lion carnage noted, “ We are challenged here with these predators, and the impression is that the government and other organizations which deal with lions and human-wildlife conflict are not working hard enough to help.”
While, I’m not sure what the solution to the livestock problem is, I think it is heartbreaking that farmers kill the lions in response to their killing the livestock.
The lion above was killed last May after killing 21 cattle. Is it legal for farmers to kill wild lions, which are protected species? In Namibia, it is complex. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism spokesperson Romeo Muyunda sympathized with the farmers who lost livestock, but said that the ministry will not tolerate the killing of lions and urged the farmers to call in officials from the ministry to help when they spot the lions.
Apparently, the issue of invading lions has became a concern to the local king.
The article also references that lion killings have become of concern to King Jafet Mupiya. The King said that while it is okay for farmers to kill lions that attack their livestock, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism should “investigate” the circumstances around each killing (whatever this may mean). Plus, according to tradition, any farmer who kills a lion must take its carcass to the king’s palace along with the carcasses of the killed livestock. This is so that the King and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism can verify that the lion was in fact preying on livestock.
King Jafet Mupiya said that while it is justifiable for farmers to kill lions that attack their livestock, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism should investigate the circumstances around each killing. In Namibia, killing a lion only becomes a crime if the farmer cannot prove that the livestock was in danger.
To me, it seems like there must be a better alternative than allowing for the killing of wild lions as long as carcasses are brought to a King. There are fewer than one thousand lions living in Namibia, and it seems of paramount importance to protect their lives. If Namibia is not convinced that lions are important enough alone for biodiversity and wild value, then they should be convinced by their equally critical role in sustaining the national economy through tourism as one of “The Big 5.” Lions play a critical role in the ecosystem by moderating the herbivore population and by acting as moderators for disease control. By predating on larger herbivores like zebras and giraffes, lions enable smaller, less dominant herbivores to find enough food to survive. If larger herbivore populations of giraffes and of antelopes and of zebras went unchecked, both herbivorous and omnivorous animals would have significantly fewer food resources. Plus, lions are the only predators capable of killing Africa’s largest herbivores, the elephant and the giraffe, and therefore irreplaceable in the ecosystem! Furthermore, lions prey on herd animals and herds often protect their strong young. So most animals that fall prey to lions are either very old or sick (with pathogens or parasites), which leaves primarily strong and healthy members of herds to reproduce. So, not only are lions majestic, wondrous creatures, they are also critical to the wellbeing of the ecosystem as a whole.
While the issue of lions killing farmer’s livestock and consequently greatly limiting their economic value is complex, it seems to me that a loosely enforced regulation on the murdering of these lions is not the best solution. But as an outsider, I recognize that I do not understand the depth of the Namibian culture or their government. However, I still wonder whether the government can provide subsidies to farmers to build lion-proof fencing. Or whether the government could better educate the farmers on the role of the lion in the ecosystem at large? I’m fascinated by human-animal interaction because in order for our climate and our world to survive; we have to learn how to cooperate with each other in a way that protects us both. I’m interested in learning more about this tension when I’m in Namibia, it’d be fascinating to have the opportunity to see a livestock farm, and of course to have the opportunity to see a lion :)
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