Learning through the locals
April 20, 2014
By Kim Oldenborg (Northland College ’16)
This week we have been much less nomadic. We returned to Wereldsend on the 14th and both of our vehicles decided they had enough of the bush for a while. Our leaders have been busy fixing the vehicles and finding parts but unfortunately the odds just haven’t been in our favor. This has given all of us students some well-needed study time at Wereldsend. After breakfasts we have been quickly diving into our course work taking advantage of the time to catch up on readings, project proposals, and nature journals while we are back here at base camp. The time has been flying by and before we know it the sun already seems to be setting, but we always find time for some frisbee or a walk around camp.
From our extended stay here we had time to celebrate Easter! We woke up to an easter egg hunt and candy! We spent all morning dying eggs decorating them with our favorite animals and phrases.
Being back at Wereldsend has given me some time to realize that learning really is an experience. Being able to talk to the people who are making conservation happen in Namibia, right in this moment, right where I am standing, is an amazing opportunity. Every individual we meet has given us a new lens to see conservation through and how it affects the people around.
From our first game guards in Torra we learned all the subtleties in order to age and sex the game we see, and this once impossible task has become much easier for all of us. We also learned about what makes Torra, as a conservancy, so successful. They have attracted ecotourism businesses to their area which creates employment opportunities for the locals. The game guards knew many people who are employed by these businesses and it was interesting to hear how the entire community benefits from the businesses.
In Anabeb the game guards helped is delve into understanding the pros and cons of trophy hunting, and how it is being done in the conservancies. Being a person who does not hunt I was fascinated to learn about what great benefits trophy hunting can have, including game meat for the community and the ability to sell problem animals that were going to be killed anyway.
While the conservancy model is an extraordinary advancement in conservation by involving local people and aiding in poverty reduction, in Sesfontien we learned that conservancies are not perfect. Our game guard who was once also on the conservancy committee told us how not everyone has an ultimate goal of conservation in mind and money can be a driving factor. Sometime people involved in administration and decision making take more benefits for themselves, leaving others very frustrated. He also told us personal stories of livestock loss, which devastate people’s livelihoods.
These stories made me realize that one of the biggest unsolved problems of conservation in Namibia and all over the world is the ongoing battle of human-wildlife conflict. The optimistic side of me wants to think there is one easy answer to find a compromise between human and the wildlife but I have learned there is not. Fortunately there are so many dedicated people trying to find the answer and it boggles my mind every night to try and find a solution too. In Etosha we were extremely privileged to talk to a scientist for Namibia’s ministry for the environment and tourism. We learned of how fire management is crucial to avoid large wildfires like the one that took place in 2012. We also were amused to hear all of his stories about tourists that made us think “what were they doing!?” including people getting out of their car next to lions and people swimming in water holes at night. Hearing about his research and all the studies being done in Etosha made us all drool with amazement and were star stuck to meet someone with our dream job.
Back in Palamwag we were able to talk with a local woman who worked for Save the Rhino Trust, a non-government organization helping with conservation in Namibia. We learned about women’s role in conservancies and about women’s place in Namibian culture. She said that woman’s rights in Namibia are moving forward but there is still much work to be done to involve women and spark their interest within the conservancies. It’s been hard to do this because culturally conservation has been a man’s job. She was very confident that by the time her daughter (who was sitting right next to her) was our age, women would be much more involved in making decisions for the conservancy.
Through all of these people my eyes have been opened into how conservation goes so much deeper than just the wildlife and landscape. It affects the livelihoods and the cultures of people which are aspects that cannot be fairly represented with numbers. Having a deeper understanding of the impacts on humans from conservation and being able to hear firsthand how conservation has affected people we meet is something I will never forget.