Cheating Cheetahs

Abi Gwynn

Namibia. Desert, dunes and diversity; a rare gem of unspoilt beauty where man should be able to live in harmony with wildlife. After a recent visit to this remarkable country, I saw for myself how too often this is not the case, but all is not lost. There are parts of Namibia leading the world in human-wildlife conflict mitigation, well ahead of most developed, first-world countries.

The first part of my Namibian venture took me to N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary in Windhoek. The sanctuary provides care and rehabilitation to injured and orphaned animals; often at the hands of farmers. With nearly 50% of the population relying on agriculture as their income, farming is serious business and anything compromising a farmer’s yield is harshly targeted, particularly cheetahs. Cheetahs rely on speed, not strength, so they tend to pick smaller, weakened prey. Thus, are unlikely to take the larger cattle and only occasionally risking sheep and goats. Cheetahs exhibit a good example of a ‘trade-off’ in nature; when the risk of death is too high to outweigh the benefits of a meal, the animal gives up. However, four years of no rainfall in this region of Namibia has pushed farmers and wildlife closer and closer together forcing them to share more of the same resources and putting pressure on their relationship.

Photography: Abi Gwynn
Photography: Abi Gwynn

Namibia is leading the way in the mitigation of this conflict. I saw this for myself at N/a’an ku sê’s Neuras research site whilst conducting research on the Spotted Hyena in the Namib-Naakluft and Tsaris mountains region. Building good relationships with the land owners is essential in conducting research on their land. Farmers are educated on the benefits of having top carnivores on their land; they can be a draw for tourists providing extra income. Getting farmers more involved with the research by showing them camera trap footage and asking them to name the animals often shows that they become much more enthusiastic about the incredible wildlife on their doorstep. Success stories in Namibia show that the key is to work with the communities, not against them. Many organisations employ bushmen or ex-poachers as conservation rangers, using their knowledge of the bush positively, instead of exploiting it. This way, local people get a stable job and wildlife is protected. Namibia has proved to be a true success story; 25 years ago in the northwest region, the black rhino was nearly extinct and there were only 20 lions. Today, this region is home to over 130 lions and has the largest concentration of free-roaming black rhino in the world.

This is not another doom and gloom article. I wish to give hope to fellow young conservationists so they continue to strive towards a world where we do not have to cross anymore species off the list because of what we as humans have done. We must learn from the success stories in Namibia and recreate these in countries all over the world.

For more information about conservation in Namibia, visit