The value of wildlife
A few weeks whilst walking back from the common room to my house, I was idly watching the cheetahs in their enclosure and thinking how nice of a day it was. However, my thoughts were rudely interrupted with a metre-long Mozambique spitting cobra, of whom I’d neglected to notice was sharing my footpath and didn’t quite like the idea of me getting any closer. It reared up, spread out its menacing-looking hood, stuck out its tongue and hissed at me! In total shock, horror and surprise, I yelped and jumped into the air away from this terrifying creature, just as a volunteer was heading in my direction. She laughed at me until she realised the cause for my concern, and then promptly looked terrified! Mozambique spitting cobras are one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa and are renowned for spitting burning venom into the eyes of their victim. Fortunately this one slinked away into the bushes rather than undertaking an attack on me – phew! However, it must have struck a chord, as I’ve been having a few crazy dreams since that incident about evil snakes that can talk English trying to kill me! I said this before when I got bitten by the cytotoxic spider, but I am going to say it again: I am looking forward to go back to the UK where the wildlife aren’t trying to kill me!
I didn't actually take this pic!
We had a visiting group of professors from Cornell University in the USA that came to CCF for a few days last month. They were here to see how they could develop pro-poor initiatives in Namibia that were wildlife-friendly. We went to visit a Herero village and talk to the tribal leaders on ways in which we can help their communities. It was pretty interesting to talk to them, especially to hear their frustrations with how integrated rural development and conservation has done nothing but hinder their progress so far; they are waiting to see any form of proof that both human and wildlife development can coexist. They’ve been waiting for years and years, and as of yet, have nothing to show for it. I can understand their frustration and I hope that we can finally give something back to the communities that we have been studying for so long. I intend to return to this community for my PhD to understand what kind of initiatives we can undertake here that will benefit them, such as using CCF as a teaching base for improved livestock husbandry and veterinary skills. There is a lot of potential out there; we just need to realise that not everyone loves predators and that their livelihoods depend almost exclusively on livestock, which are being chowed into non-existence by the plentiful carnivores around here.
Some of the Herero women in their traditional clothes (NB not my pic)
Talking of human-wildlife conflict, we were sad to hear that one of the cheetahs that had been released onto CCF land earlier on the year had been shot by a neighbouring farmer. Many people at this organisation were mad at the farmer for killing the cheetah, and especially so that he had held the radio collar ransom for the amount of depredation the cheetah had caused him. However, this incident really hammered home to me the importance of education, outreach and effective mitigation strategies for conflict between livestock/game and predators in order for carnivore conservation to ever succeed in a human-dominated landscape (which is basically most of the world). However many releases/re-wildling we do with cheetahs (and likewise for others that deal with lions, tigers, jaguars, wolves, etc.), we’re never going to get anywhere unless we deal with the real root of the cause for the animal’s decline, i.e. being shot by famers for eating their livestock. This was clearly observed when Mexican wolves were reintroduced to the Apache mountains in Arizona and New Mexico, which is a prominent ranching area. Of course the ranchers absolutely hated the idea of having any large predator interfere with their livelihoods and took every step possible in eliminating this threat. The three S’s (shoot, shovel and shut up) were and still frequently practiced in this area. Indeed, farmers BOAST about the amount of wolves they kill – not too dissimilar to the farmers I met in Windhoek this weekend whilst promoting our goat cheese in a local supermarket. These cattle ranchers are mad, and somewhat rightly so, at carnivore conservation organisations for not taking their views into account when releasing potentially devastating animals into their land. True, the argument may be put forth that “their” land was originally the predators before humankind stole it all, but we are now in a world where humans have altered over 50% of the earth’s terrestrial land, so save for killing off most of the human race (which I’m not entirely adverse to) we need to learn how to learn the three C’s (collectively cooperate and coexistence). This is why it comes down to us, as the carnivore conservation organisations, to teach youths about how this is possible with effective husbandry practices, whilst concurrently instilling in them the value of predators to people, not just for their existence value, but also for their commercial value in tourism. The only way to improve behaviour towards wildlife is through education: something I learned whilst in Malta. No amount of rules or regulations will ever change the minds of illegal bird hunters, and especially not when coming from foreigners of their country telling them what to do. BUT if your child, of whom has been educated into the value of wildlife, comes home to ask their daddy why they are shooting an endangered bird, THIS is what will influence their thoughts much more than anything else.
Kids learn about cheetah ecology at CCF (not my pic)
And with that rant over, I will go onto something a little more positive! I cooked my first full meal for the first time since August 2011 last weekend! How crazy that it has been so long since I last properly cooked! I’ve been living in places with cooks since that time, which has sometimes been nice when I haven’t felt like cooking, but for the most part I really like choosing what I want to eat, when I want to eat and how much I want to eat. It will be great going back to the UK so I can finally go to a supermarket and buy what I want!
Talking of going back to the UK, I only have 1 month left at CCF. I won’t be back in the UK until 18 August, as I will be travelling across southern Africa. It is quite a weird feeling to think that I won’t be living in Namibia soon. It’s been a fantastic experience being here and I have learnt so much, but I am certainly ready to move on. I need freedom, independence and responsibility again, all of which I have not have whilst living here. It will be so nice to work to my own schedule again and be my own boss!