Elina, wildlife and stones

Okambora is a dry, stony patch of ground in Sesfontein Conservancy beneath the mountains. A small flock of goats nibbles at the vegetation between the rocks. At night, a leopard may come in search of one of them. Elina looks around as the sun sets, and smiles. Despite the hardship of farming, she loves this place.

Dressed in her traditional Herero clothes, Elina Karutjaiva poses with pleasure for the camera, and pulls out some snapshots taken of her in Norway: her one and only trip out of Africa, and as far as you can imagine from the arid heat of Namibia’s north west Kunene Region. She had been invited as a traditional counsellor from Sesfontein to speak to WWF Norway about human wildlife conflict – a topic she understands very well.

While she was away, 59 of her goats were taken by predators: possibly leopards and hyaenas. Her mistake had been to hire a shepherd from across the Angolan border. As an illegal immigrant he was sent back by local officials, leaving the goats alone.

Stock loss is nothing new to Elina. There was no rain in 2012 and she lost 24 cattle and 64 goats. She now has 5 cows and 20 goats, but there are 17 new lambs, and if it rains this year they will grow and her stock will increase. She points to a krall built of thin wooden sticks – the best she can find in the area – and says she will put the lambs in there at night.

In Norway, she says with surprise, they have killed most of the wildlife. The farmers shoot wolves to protect their livestock. Given her stock losses, why does Elina not want to see predators shot in Namibia?

“Ah-ah,” she says with a shake of her head. “Only if you catch them on the kill. I want my children to see wildlife. When I see an elephant or a rhino I may be scared and run, but sometimes I check the wind, and if they can’t smell me I stand silently and watch them.”

What does she need?

“I need a kraal,” says Elina; but admits that part of the problem is that she moves in search of grazing. Wire to build kraals would be really useful. She has heard that in other conservancies there is a project to train guard dogs. A dog would be a great help. Most of all she wants compensation for stock losses. The conservancy used to pay 200 Namibia Dollars for a goat taken by a predator, but funds seem to have dried up. The true market value might be as high as 1,000 Namibia Dollars – that’s what Angolans pay for a good ram.

Most of all, Elina needs rain. She remembers the drought of 1980, when “everything died”. After that the conservation movement began. Community game guards were employed to stop poaching. Wildlife populations started to recover and the first conservancies were formed. As a traditional counsellor Elina sits on the conservancy committee to give advice. Things have changed for the better, women have a voice in conservancy and community affairs, wildlife is bringing tourists and money into the area, but life on the stony ground is still tenuous.