Farmers in the eastern panhandle of the Okavango delta have welcomed an alert system that warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The first of its kind technology system is now regarded as a solution to the human/wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers who lose their cattle to lion predation in the area.
The new technology is an innovation by Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS), an NGO within the five villages of Seronga, Gunotsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in its efforts to promote co-existence between pastoral farmers and lions in the area.
In an interview with a farmer, Clifford Maranga of Eretsha village told this publication that since the introduction of the system, he has not lost any of his cattle to lions. He noted that since his cattle are safe and he gets an alert when lions approach their village they are able to co-exist.
Maranga commended CLAWS for coming to their recue as the conflict was leading to extinction of lions in their area. He has since called on for the government to adopt programs offered by CLAWS to other parts of the country to address human wildlife conflicts.
He emphasised that compensating farmers was not a solution as it even aggravates the conflict as farmers are paid far less than the costs of their cattle.
For his part CLAWS Program Coordinator, Dr Edwin Modongo explained that with the system farmers are alerted when the lions get within three to five kilometers of a cattle post or a homestead upon the five villages, it will release an alert system going directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.
“About 200 cattle owners have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. Each cattle owner represents a homestead of about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages when lions approach,” Modongo explained.
Modongo explained that as of today, six lions are collared 4 males, 2 females each representing a different pride of lions.
He indicated that since introduction of the system in 2014 they have seen significant changes in the behavior of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions. Adding that 85 percent of the villagers were happy with the system and becoming more tolerant with living with lions because of the reduced conflict.
Modongo noted that the programme has hugely contributed to retaining the lion population, which had started going down adding that they have also not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years.
He noted that another effort they have put in place for co-existence is to encourage villagers to name lions in their local language adding that once lions are given names and their individuality becomes apparent, people are more likely to protect them.