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Marauding lions Catch-22 for farmers

03 May 2023

The beginning of the winter season marks the start of frustration for livestock farmers near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. 

Farmers find themselves in a catch-22 situation, having to choose between their lives, livestock or that of the marauding lions which are at the centre of the human-wildlife conflict in the area.

In the end, most have no choice but to run helter-skelter and endure losses caused by the predators in a bid to adopt a conservationist approach to preserve the ecosystem.

Recently, Tsabong District was inundated with reports of human wildlife conflicts with lions found in cattle posts near the park killing livestock.

Acting Regional Wildlife officer for Kgalagadi District, Ms Thatayaone Menyatso confirmed that they had received many reports of lions encroaching into cattle posts.

“During winter the damage becomes more and cattle posts located about 7 kilometres from Khawa near the park are the conflict hotspot. They come as a pride and when they are many it becomes a challenge to capture them back to the park as it requires ample resources,” she said.

Statistics from the Department of Wildlife indicate that during the 2022/2023 financial year, 20 incidents of human-wildlife conflict involving lions were recorded where half of them involved cattle, while the remaining involved horses and donkeys.

A total of 24 animals were killed by lions with 12 being cattle and the rest being horses and donkeys. Most of the incidents recorded occurred in the Khawa area along the park boundary, about five kilometres from the park.

In general, 151 animals which include small stock, cattle, horses, and donkeys were killed by predators such as leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas and  lions, the damage which cost government P65 530 as    compensation.

In her view, livestock becomes easy prey for lions because most farmers in the Kgalagadi area do not kraal their cattle despite predators being active at night.

 She said they had noticed that when the winter season began, lions trailed outside the park targeting cattle posts near the park. 

“When they fail to hunt wild animals inside the park they go out to find easy prey outside the park,” she said.

From a perspective of a wildlife conservationist, she encouraged farmers to adopt a more effective means of dealing with the human-wildlife conflict by using predator-proof kraals to deter them.

“The behaviour of predators is that they will not go inside the kraal when they do not see what is inside,” she said.

Ms Menyatso cautioned that carnivores were dangerous animals and she advised farmers to desist from tracking them whenever they find their trail.

As a conflict mitigating factor, the department has erected a 100 kilometres predator-proof fence running from TwoRivers on the side of Struizendam and closer to Khawa at KD27. 

“We have maintained only 35 kilometres of it due to financial constraints. We are planning to complete it, funds permitting, during this financial year,” she said.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Mabuasehube Sector manager Mr Sylvester Mokara said Mabuasehube was home to over 500 lions. He said the winter season was their migratory period which meant they tended to move a lot since it was not hot. 

“It is part of nature. During summer reported cases of farmers’ losses are less while in winter they increase,” he said.

BOPA caught up with tourist Martin Bacsack and his wife Claudia at Mabuasehube who have been working in wildlife photography and filming documentaries for the past 20 years and some for National Geographic. They have been working in Namibia for 10 years mitigating human-wildlife conflict between farmers and lions under the Desert Lions Human Relations Aid organisation.

 The organisation supplies farmers with material and knowledge on how to keep their animals safe by building predator-proof kraals, giving them solar-powered lights that chase the lions away, putting collars on the lions for monitoring purposes.

In the last three years, they have been concentrating on the Kgalagadi, Mabuasehube area. 

“We are basically gathering information about the lions, leopards and the cheetahs,” he explained. He said in investigating human-wildlife conflict here, they noticed that the situation was the same as in Namibia. 

“The farmland is encroaching more into the park areas and there is less and less space for the lions which causes human-wildlife conflict,” he said.

She said while farmers could not be blamed for killing the lions in a bid to protect their livestock, there was a need to find ways to mitigate the conflict so that farmers and lions could co-exist.

“In some of the cases, some poisoned them, and in poisoning them, you are not only killing the lions, but you are also killing the jackals, hyenas, vultures, the whole ecosystem is affected, the food chain must be maintained,” he said.

They noticed that the southern part of the park had about 100 km of the fence that was broken giving predators easy access to farmers’ land.

He said Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio started the lion recovery fund to protect the lions as well as Angelina Jolie and Brat Pit. 

He sees Botswana as the jewel of Africa with great conservation efforts. He has been coming to Mabuasehube for the past 30 years before it was declared Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. 

“When we came from Upington in South Africa, this was the roughest, road you can imagine, but now it is tarred. Inside the park not much has changed, I think it is absolutely fantastic. Its scenic grassland presents astounding beauty,” he said. Ends

Source : BOPA

Author : Calviniah Kgautlhe

Location : Mabuasehube

Event : Interview

Date : 03 May 2023