Human-wildlife conflict is one of the major threats to wildlife in Namibia, a country that harbors the largest population of cheetahs in the world. Namibia is also home to other species of cat including leopards, African wildcats, and Caracals, and is the only country with an increasing population of free-roaming lions.
Unfortunately, as the human population continues to grow and expand into the natural territory of these animals, their access to open grassland is shrinking along with the availability of prey. Big cats are being forced to find food elsewhere, and they more often than not end up targeting commercial livestock. To livestock farmers, these animals pose a serious threat to their livelihood and consequently will shoot them on the spot if they wander into their agricultural lands.
With cheetah populations dwindling, only around 10,000 exist in the wild currently, this threat cannot be ignored. The good news is, there are organizations working to put an end to the human-wildlife conflict in the country, one of them being Naankuse wildlife sanctuary.
This incredible sanctuary was founded by Marlice van Vuuren, a Namibian conservationist, who has dedicated her life to rescuing and protecting cheetahs and many other animals. Because Namibia has the biggest population of wild cheetahs in the world, she feels it is their duty to maintain these numbers and conserve the natural landscape. In addition to working to educate local farmers about more humane methods to prevent predator conflict, the sanctuary has also started a campaign to raise awareness for their new Rapid Response Unit (RRU), which is a type of “SWAT” team that springs into action as soon as there’s a signal that a predator is in danger of being shot.
This innovative unit is already showing positive results.
What is the Rapid Response Unit?
The Rapid Response Unit is, essentially, a team of trained individuals who respond immediately to calls by Namibian landowners who have large carnivore species in their possession. In less than 24 hours, the team will arrive on site, sedate the animal, and outfit them with a GPS tracking collar.
“We will come out to the property with equipment to remove the animal, and consult with individuals to determine what solution would provide the best outcome for both parties, whether this entails collaring and releasing the animal on the property, or relocating it to another property and releasing it there,” Colette Massier, communications of Naankuse tells One Green Planet. “If the animal is collared, we send the landowners daily updates of the animal’s GPS coordinate so farmers can manage their livestock accordingly to prevent livestock predation.”
Between May 2008 and October 2014, there have been a total of 574 carnivore conflict consultations with 273 landowners. It’s clear that the Rapid Response Unit will be invaluable in ensuring that wildlife can be protected, and farmers’ concerns are addressed. While it’s already operational, there’s still much the organization wants to expand on to make it more effective.
“We hope to expand the RRU team to add three additional responders, with a 4×4 vehicle specifically used only for RRU callouts and a plane and/or helicopter to be able to access wildlife that are remotely located,” continues Massier. “Providing nationwide coverage in a country that has difficult terrain adds significant travel time that potentially compromises the health of the animal, making reliance on road-based transport alone unsustainable in the long term.”
Saving Large Carnivores and Helping People
Despite limited resources, Naankuse has been incredibly effective in preventing killings of big cats and other wildlife. The RRU have already saved more than 100 large carnivores to date.
“The team is currently achieving approximately an 80 percent reduction in lethal removal of carnivores on private land – for a price of $7.56/half a mile over an area of 16,000 miles, which represents approximately seven percent of Namibia’s landmass,” Massier explains. “Our quick response time and the way in which we consult with farmers to provide them with effective and affordable solutions to mitigate livestock predation by large carnivores have been two important elements that have precipitated an increase in RRU services by approximately 15-20 percent each year.”
In Namibia, it is typical for each property to have at least one carnivore roaming area as its territory. With that in mind, it’s absolutely vital that Naankuse work with landowners to make them aware of their management methods to protect these species.
Help For Other Species …
Seeing as large carnivores have most often been the victims of human-wildlife conflict incidents, the RRU’s main focus is on big cats. Thanks to the increased discussions at farmers’ meetings and media appearances, the RRU has expanded to include all animals. Ensuring the protection of any wildlife that happens to wander onto human territory.
”We hope to expand the RRU to be able to apply species-specific human-wildlife conflict mitigation programs for a range of animals in addition to large carnivores, as various pressures (for example, methods of land management, the illegal wildlife trade, poaching) have meant that species other than the big cats are under threat,” explains Massier. ”We have responded to calls regarding a huge range of animals, from spotted genets, to vervets, to porcupines and honey badgers – we do not say no to any wildlife.”
You Can Help Them Reach Their Goal
Naankuse’s Rapid Response Unit could save many species from extinction and promote the peaceful co-existence of people and animals. To make that happen. However, they desperately need donations. Contributions towards collars, fuel, and vehicle maintenance are invaluable and help to assist the RRU directly.
Naankuse is currently running a social campaign to help garner funds for the RUU, making it easier than ever for people across the world to stand up in defense of Africa’s threatened species. You can participate in the campaign by tweeting this image and the linking to their campaign page with the hashtag #OutrunExtinction.
Together, we can support their amazing work and help raise funds to save Africa’s wildlife!
All image source: Naankuse