From a distance it is easy to overlook the harsh realities of real conservation. Many of the animals people most want to save are carnivores. And carnivores eat the animals absolutely critical for the survival of people in poorer countries.
In the Western world the loss of livestock to predators can create economic distress. In poor countries the loss of livestock can mean starvation.
In Botswana, a group of women are standing in the middle of the fray, trying to protect their livelihoods but respecting the iconic predators who seek to eat their livestock.
The women (who work closely with many men) live in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and are being aided by CLAWS (Communities Living Among Wildlife Sustainably) an organization devoted to helping humans and animals coexist.
According to the CLAWS website:
“In Northern Botswana lions are poisoned in retaliation for livestock killing. In response, our program is designed to help people learn about the local prides to increase awareness and tolerance. We also help mitigate conflict by building lion-proof livestock enclosures using traditional weaving skills with locally sourced, sustainable materials.”
A recent article in The Independent profiled Kelebogile Moitshoi. Moitshoi is a woman in her 30’s who has taken on a major conservation role with a CLAWS sustainability project. Moitshoi spent a year at Herding Academy in South Africa as part of her training. The Independent is a British online newspaper.
Today she leads a group of men and women who fend off lions and other predators while escorting cattle. The training is an effort to prevent retaliation against lions for attacking livestock.
“A UNESCO world Heritage site, the Okavango Delta is home to one of Africa’s largest lion populations. However, in 2013 incidents of lion poisoning rose dramatically due to retaliation. 50 percent of lion mortalities were as a result of the farmers retaliating when lions kill their livestock. This is what motivated the CLAWS project,” according to The Independent.
The herders escort the cattle and permit them to graze when it is safe. How they drive predators away was not specified, but they have been successful so far. Lion proofing pens and enclosures is also an important part of the effort. Some lions have also been collared to allow villagers to track them and fend them off or avoid them.
Villagers are joining the project because it benefits them as well as the lions. Cattle receive veterinary treatment and food supplements. Villagers receive some sales assistance with their beef. This in addition to predator protection.
Botswana is a poor country in the center of southern Africa. The Okavango river and it delta are among the few reliable water courses in the country. The country is rich in diverse wildlife but human-animal conflict is common.
The kinds of project CLAWS is developing are similar to other modern conservation projects. In many locales conservation began as a government mandate. Recently, it is being realized that the local population must be taken into consideration. The local people need a good reason and much support in order to be willing to conserve animals they perceive as a threat.