Habitat loss, declining prey and food sources, along with direct conflict with humans are problems facing many, if not all wildlife in today’s world. Unfortunately, the decline in available habitat and food sources are critical issues which humans are largely at fault for, leaving wild animals with fewer means to survive but with little time to adapt. The consequence of this decline leaves the future of African wildlife entirely uncertain. Namibia is one such place where all of these issues affect its resident wildlife, with 118 species in Namibia classed as endangered and countless other animals classified as threatened with the potential to tip the scale at any one moment.
Aside from what noise the cow and the chicken make, something we teach children about animals early on is that the cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. What is not taught though, is the one thing that the cheetah is unable to stay ahead of: the accelerating decline in their population. In previous years, cheetahs roamed all of Africa and a large portion of Asia but today their population is sadly confined to just 6 African countries, with their numbers teetering between vulnerable and endangered with regards to their conservation status. Namibia is home to one-third of the world’s cheetah population, but with 95% of these big cats living outside of protected areas, they frequently come into conflict with humans, especially farmers. Research has shown that cheetahs favour lean meat and because of this prefer not to eat livestock, but as cheetahs hunt during the day and near farmland, some of their deaths are the result of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cheetahs are not the only spotted cats that experience conflict with farmers, as hundreds of leopards are killed annually in Namibia for occasionally killing farmers' livestock. Leopards are also categorised as vulnerable, and much like their cheetah friends, they too run the risk of becoming officially endangered.
Approximately half of Namibia’s population depend on agriculture (particularly subsistence agriculture) for their livelihoods, so it is understandable why farmers are protective of their livestock. But the consequences of this mean that leopards, lions, cheetahs and other large carnivores become trapped, poisoned, or shot (sometimes all three) around farmlands. With many carnivores killed, cubs are often left to fend for themselves when their mothers do not return and thus a domino effect emerges – the conflict impacts multiple generations of carnivores, but what does that mean for their future?
Image Credit: Ash Browning @ambrowning89
Big cats sadly have to face more afflictions which threaten their existence. Namibia is one of the few African countries to have six large carnivores (three of them being big cats) whose once generous territories and roaming ranges have become massively fragmented as a result of human development. This forces territorial animals closer together, where they have to compete for prey, which is also in decline due to the newly popular bushmeat trade, as well as habit fragmentation. This throws the predator to prey ratios completely out of balance, which in turn interrupts the entire ecosystem.
As well as issues with farmers and the poaching of prey species, Namibia’s carnivores come into conflict with humans for reasons based solely on human entertainment and gain. Cheetah and leopard cubs are trapped and sold into the pet trade, only to be discarded later when they become too difficult to be cared for in a domestic environment, and adult cheetahs and leopards are poached for their polka dot skin and claws, which sickeningly, are easily purchased online. Big game and trophy hunters are of course notorious for parading pictures online of them posing with their carnivore kills, but despite it being public knowledge that these species are already threatened and vulnerable, it is all too easy to legally slaughter these animals for a price with hunting packages effortlessly found online.
Although lions, cheetahs and leopards are all listed as threatened, their populations in Namibia are currently stable - for the moment. It is hard to imagine such stability will last long with human-wildlife conflict in Namibia also being heightened due to climate change; temperatures are rising and inconsistent rainfall places all of Namibia’s wildlife in danger of loss of numbers. Droughts, fires and other environmental impacts pit humans and wildlife against each other as they continue to compete for limited food, water and land.
Sadly, the African wild dogs have been subjected to many of the same problems which big cats face, but these threats have left the African wild dog listed as officially endangered. It is estimated that there are only 3000 – 5000 left in the wild and as little as 300 – 600 of these are resident in Namibia. With numbers this low, the losses are reaching a critical level, and on the brink of becoming impossible to come back from.
These pack animals have had their status legally changed and thankfully African wild dogs are now a protected species, sharing this protection with the black rhino. Previously seen as pests, the wild dogs are now protected from harm caused by humans, so farmers will have to find alternative solutions to dealing with unwanted canine visitors.
For those of us in the West, it is typical to think of pests as rats, mice and bedbugs but Namibia’s nuisance animals are slightly larger, have opposable thumbs and display erratic behaviour.
Just like the big carnivores, baboons have been exposed to the difficulties of habitat fragmentation which has left them with less land on which to forage. Ever the opportunist, a baboon presented with an easier, possibly tastier choice will of course follow this path (such as stealing food from rubbish bins and locals on the streets or sneaking onto people’s properties in search of a meal). The results of human-baboon conflict are often sinister, the primate’s pushy nature and confidence often results in them being trapped, poisoned, shot and even hunted (something which again is freely advertised on the most accessible parts of the internet).
With regards to conservation status, baboons are listed to be of least concern, but this conflict poses a very real threat which exposes both humans and baboons to serious harm. With land and resources becoming increasingly restricted, solutions need to be implemented if baboons and humans are to stand a chance of co-existing in harmony.
The horrific ordeals involving the ivory trade and dehorning rhinos are no secret and despite changes in legislation in many parts of the world, sadly elephants and rhinos in Namibia are still under threat. Poaching has caused major declines in rhino and elephant populations, so much so that the black rhino is classified as critically endangered with only around 5000 individuals remaining. There is an insatiable demand for elephant tusks and rhino horns on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine and to make decorative ornaments, with that demand only on the rise with the recent rumour that rhino horn can be used to treat cancer.
Whilst having to fear poaching, elephants and rhinos are also vulnerable to the devastating effects of habitat loss and depleting food and water supplies. If we want to protect these animals, along with all other species discussed, then it is imperative that action is taken.
There are many protected areas in Namibia which offer a safe haven for vulnerable wildlife, and thankfully there are laws and regulations in place which aim to protect some species, but it is clear that more needs to be done. There are many organisations which work to help protect both animals and the local communities, aiming to reduce the conflict which occurs and offer a beacon of hope. Charities which aid the conservation of wildlife are doing all they can to provide care to injured and orphaned animals but often rely heavily on the contribution of volunteers. It is important to support organisations and charities that are trying to find solutions by signing petitions, donating or volunteering. Without the help of NGOs, charities and caring, dedicated people, the future of Namibia’s wildlife is bleak to say the least.
Visit www.thegreatprojects.com/volunteer-in-namibia to find out how you can play a part in protecting Namibia’s most vulnerable wildlife.
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