Optimists might call this idea ‘live and let live’ – the cynics would most likely refer to it as ‘keeping you friends close, but your (potential) enemies even closer’ – in spite of the absolute scorn with which some of my neighbours have reacted to this initiative, the programme works for us and, more importantly, has proved to be an excellent way of combating poaching on our land!
Many years ago, when the Otjivero School was first established in the informal settlement near Omitara, Joof and I were concerned that the students did not have a regular source of protein, which is so essential for their development. We therefore decided to donate sufficient venison to feed all the school children once a week in order to subsidise the mealie meal, which is provided by the Ministry of Education. In the beginning the cooking was done under a schoolyard tree in pots borrowed from a nearby church. With time we built a small kitchen facility as well as bought huge cooking pots, and the NAPHA Education Committee provided the funding for an adjacent storeroom.
Although the initial idea was to help the children with meat from our trophy hunting outfit, Hunters Namibia Safaris, I soon realised that we could involve the village leaders and elders in creating an anti-theft and anti-poaching initiative which would benefit us all. I therefore called a meeting with the school principal and community leaders (the Elders), during which I gave them an undertaking to continue to deliver sufficient meat to feed the children provided that there was absolutely no poaching, trespassing or illegal activity of any kind on our land, which is just 9 km from the settlement.
All went well for 6 years, until one of our hunting teams came across signs that a gemsbock had been killed with spears close to our boundary fence. I immediately stopped delivery of meat to the school. The principal, teachers, community elders as well as political representatives from the region soon started calling me to enquire what had happened. As a result the Councilor for the Omaheke region, Honourable Kilus Nguvauva, called a meeting of the village representative and elders, and invited me to attend. Traditional village justice and reasoning triumphed, I resumed the delivery of meat for the children and we did not have a single incident of poaching for the next 5 years. About a year ago we again had one gemsbock poached near a boundary fence. Again I stopped the delivery of meat, but this time decided to personally involve the children in the programme. I visited the school and went from class to class with the following very personal and simple message: ‘you know how much I enjoy visiting your school and seeing your smiling faces – that is why I am here so often. You also know that I like to bring you meat from the hunt. (Big smiles all around) Unfortunately today I am here to bring you some bad news… Someone from your community came to our land, killed an animal and took the meat. So – now I am sad as we do not have enough meat to share with you. (Some of them had tears in their eyes). I therefore cannot bring you any meat for the next two weeks. But don’t worry – I have an idea! Let us work together to make sure that this does not happen again, so that I can continue to bring you the meat that you love so much! Please help me to make sure that there is no more illegal activity on my land. The children’s reaction was overwhelming, and I am convinced that the message was taken home after school with each and every one of them as fast as their little legs could carry them. I now have 320 vigilant little Game Wardens in the community, and we are all winning! No further cases of poaching have taken place.
I am aware that this humble approach would not work in all communities, or appeal to all landowners. It is, however, my sincere wish that we all able to develop initiatives which will benefit our people as well as protect our wildlife resources and environment.