Technology supports coexistence with lions in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

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By Solomon Tjinyeka for Weekend Post

Villagers in Botswana’s eastern Okavango region are now using an alert system which warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The new technology is regarded as a panacea to the human wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers.

The technology is being implemented by an NGO, Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS) Conservancy, within the five villages of Seronga, Gunutsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in the eastern part of the Okavango delta.

A carnivore ecologist and founder of CLAWS, Dr Andrew Stein explained that around 2013, villagers in the eastern Okavango were having significant problems with losses of their cattle to predators, specifically lions, so the villagers resorted to using poison and shooting the lions in order to reduce their numbers.

He highlighted that as a form of progressive intervention, they designed a programme to reduce the conflicts and promote coexistence. Another component of the programme is communal herding, introduced in 2018 to reduce the conflict by increasing efficiency whereby certified herders monitor livestock health and protect them from predators, allowing community members to engage in other livelihood activities knowing that their livestock are safe.

They are now two herds with 600 and 230 cattle respectively with plans to expand the programme to other neighbouring villages. Currently the programme is being piloted in Eretsha, one of the areas with most conflict incidences per year.

Dr Stein explained that they have developed the first of its kind alert system. When the lions get within three to five kilometres of a cattle post or a homestead in the five villages under the initiative, the system will release an alert that goes directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.

“So, if a collared lion gets to about five kilometres of Eretsha village or any villagers in Eretsha that has signed up, the system will receive an SMS of the name of the lion and its distance to or from the village,” he stated. He added that this enables villagers to take preventative action to reduce conflicts before it starts.

Dr Stein noted that some respond by gathering their cattle and putting them in a kraal or in an enclosure, making sure that the it is secure; while some people will gather firewood and light small fires around edges of the kraal to prevent lions from coming closer; others, when they receive the SMS, send their livestock to the neighbours alerting them about the presence of lions.

He noted that 125 people have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. He added that each homestead is about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages about lions when they approach their villages. He also noted that last year they dispersed over 12,000 alerts, adding that this year is a bit higher as about 20,000 alerts have been sent so far across these villages.

Dr Stein further noted that there have been significant changes in the behaviour of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions.

“85 percent were happy with the SMS and people are becoming more tolerant to living with lions because they have more information to reduce the conflicts,” he stressed.

Stein noted that since the start of the programme in 2014 they have seen lion populations rebound almost completely to their former levels, and they have not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years which is commendable effort.

Monnaleso Sanga from Eretsha village applauded the programme by CLAWS noting that farmers in the area are benefiting through the alert system and take preventative measures to reduce human-lion conflict which has been persistent in the area. He added that numbers of cattle killed by lions have reduced immensely. He also admitted that they are now tolerant to lions and they no longer kill nor poison them.

This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Programme, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa, and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Written articles from the Mozambican and Angolan cohorts are translated from Portuguese. Broadcast stories remain in the original language.

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