The conflict between subsistence livestock farmers and predators in tenuous in Northern Botswana. In the past villagers have turned to poison to kill lions with cascading effects on other species within the ecosystem. Lion are killed in retaliation for livestock losses that can be devastating to these subsistence farmers. The CLAWS Conservancy started a lion conservation initiative in 2014 called “Pride in Our Prides” to facilitate engagement of communities in lion conservation and livestock management. Aside from informing villagers about the movements and lifestyles of the lions in their midst, we also strove to address the complex causes of the conflict.
Life in the village has changed drastically in the last 2 generations. Where people used to maintain a more pastoralist lifestyle, they have now set up homesteads. Where young men used to walk among their livestock to maximize grazing and protect against predators and theft, they now attend school. Livestock have been wandering the veld alone and occasionally returning home to weak night-time enclosures. Herders of the past are all but gone and those that remain retain a low status within the community.
CLAWS began by building lion-proof enclosures made of locally sourced, sustainably harvested branches, woven together to provide a strong barrier for night-time livestock losses. These enclosures only work, however, when the livestock return and most of the conflicts occur when unattended livestock encounter lions. It was clear that we needed to resurrect the traditional herder, not only for livestock protection, but to promote ecological restoration in the areas where overgrazing was taking its toll.
In July 2017, the CLAWS Conservancy held the first herder training course in Botswana. We worked with facilitators from the African Centre for Holistic Management in a week-long herder training course discussing the effects of overgrazing on soil health, erosion, water retention, livestock health and predator protection. We had 20 participants from ages 24 to 80 including two village chiefs and two women. The participants were so invested in the course that many showed up early and now hunger to set up their grazing plans. At one point, we were working up to the lunch hour. When the facilitators asked if we should break for lunch, the participants replied, “we can skip lunch. We are learning”! At the conclusion of the course, one of the older participants said, “when I was selected for this course I was afraid since I knew most of it would be presented in English. I was embarrassed that I might not be able to participate. In the end (through our interpreters), I am happy because I learned so much”. One of the female participants said, “Now I know that woman can herd as well”. The diverse participation strengthened our discussions.
In the end, the key points of the course were that the locals themselves, through generations of experimentation, had developed a herding system that promoted healthy ecosystems. Somehow, in generations, we have gotten away from traditional herding which has led to habitat degradation and conflict. By combining practices of the past and current scientific knowledge of ecosystem dynamics, villagers can take control of their environment and their lives for the betterment of all. This month, we are facilitating a meeting with rangeland ecologists from the University of Botswana to start our new grazing plans in Beetsha! As the program develops we will start training villagers in Eretsha and then Gunotsoga to revitalize the northern edge of the Okavango Delta!