January 2016: Communal livestock farmers poison carcass remains in the Kunene Region
Sunday 17.01.2016: The AfriCat Lion Guards reported 9 dead, White-Backed vultures found in a communal farming Conservancy.
According to further investigation, a cow died (either starvation due to the drought or killed by lions, neither could be confirmed as the site had been disturbed by the farmers) on communal farmland, between the 13-15th January; apparently, the farmer drove to the site to collect the remaining meat, and reportedly laced the liver, lungs and heart with poison. The vultures were found dead, late on Saturday 16.01., and specimens collected by AfriCat were handed to officials in order to establish the type of poison used, making it easier to trace the source. To date, as far as we can ascertain, no other animals or birds were affected. However, the poison-site is in close proximity to the Hobatere Concession, where the lions monitored by AfriCat are regularly located; livestock illegally graze in these wildlife conservation areas, habituating lions to killing such easy prey. Due to the serious drought conditions, cattle are weak with hundreds dying of hunger and thirst; the lions opportunistically take such weak prey as well as feed on dead carcasses.
The poisoning was reported to the Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET) as well as the Police; an investigation has been carried out, in an attempt to find the culprit(s), as, according to Conservancy rules, no poison may be used to deal with Human-Wildlife Conflict. No arrests have yet been made.
This type of retaliation to livestock loss is on the increase in the communal conservancies of the Kunene Region; the first known incident of 2016 occurred over the weekend 01-03 January, when a cow/bull was killed by lions in the Klip River, a narrow valley which is home to a number of protected species and a recognised, wildlife conservation area in the Grootberg Mountain range, Kunene Region. Farmers laced the carcass with poison (type yet to be revealed), killing a sub-adult male lion, a number of White-backed Vultures and at least two Verreauxs’ Eagles; hundreds of dead fies were also found at the scene. This area is also a high-value tourism destination, with a number of communal farmers benefitting from donations in support of Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation programmes.
Cattle graze unattended and without permission in these protected areas; adjacent farmland is denuded, where livestock numbers were not timeously reduced (sold or auctioned before losing condition), despite warnings of the continuing drought. Farmers are understandably desperate, many refusing to confine their cattle, goats/sheep, donkeys and horses to allocated yet denuded, settlement areas; unfortunately, some farming communities supported by AfriCat’s nocturnal kraals and early-warning systems have recently lost livestock to lions and other predators as cattle are not herded back to safety at night.
The AfriCat Lion Guards continue to patrol such ‘hot-spots’, advising and supporting farmers where possible; AfriCat also provides foodstuffs for a number of herdsmen who have moved into far-reaching grazing areas, closer to their emaciated livestock.
Meetings with MET, conservancy leaders, tourism concessionaires and other NGOs continue this week, in an attempt at increasing support systems for the challenges ahead.