The Namibian

by Arlana Shikongo

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta gets handy with some pliers during the inauguration of the Etosha National Park perimeter fence in the Onanke area. Photos: Contributed

THE Ministry of Environment and Tourism has decided to undertake the upgrading of the 824-kilometre perimeter boundary fence of the Etosha National Park itself, which could save the government over N$500 million.

This was revealed by environment minister Pohamba Shifeta at a ceremony to mark the inauguration of the fence’s construction at Etosha in the Onanke area on Saturday.

“The fence has deteriorated to such an extent that in some areas it does not exist […] Over the past five years, only 118km of the fence have been upgraded and 712km remain to be completed,” Shifeta said.

The boundary extends through the Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati and Kunene regions.

According to the minister, the current annual budget allocated for maintaining the fence would only allow the upgrade to be completed in 10 years or more.

“The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has decided to take the approach of business as ‘unusual’ to the upgrade and repair of the Etosha National Park fence.

“We have decided to deploy ministry staff members to upgrade and construct the fence instead of using private companies or contractors. We have identified the need to cut out the middleman and are doing precisely that,” he said.

Shifeta noted that using private companies and contractors would cost the government more than N$700 000 per kilometre.

“For the 712 kilometres still remaining, this project would, therefore, cost the government an estimated amount of N$500 million. Through the use of our own staff members and other assistants and volunteers, it is estimated that we will spend less than N$10 million to undertake this work,” he said.

Shifeta said his ministry has structured a three-year action plan to help conduct this activity in a more coordinated and accelerated manner.

“There are many people who want to do something but because of lack of strategy and approach, we could not allow such activities due to the volatility of the park,” he said.

Shifeta explained that the ministry would also use manpower from neighbouring conservancies and farmers to complement the efforts of the ministry’s staff. The ministry’s volunteer organisations would also join the effort.

The minister said the upgrade of this perimeter fence is crucial for the conservation of the Etosha area, as the lack of fencing in some parts has contributed to human-wildlife conflict in the area.

“Poaching and human-wildlife conflict incidents will increase, and general risk to our wildlife protection and species conservation will be heightened,” he said.

Last month, The Namibian reported that lions had escaped from Etosha National Park on four separate occasions and proceeded to kill donkeys, cows and other livestock.

In those incidents, lions killed two head of cattle, 25 goats and a donkey.

Furthermore, Shifeta said the lack of fencing increases the risk of livestock disease as a result of cattle grazing in the park with wild animals.

“This could have far-reaching economic implications to the country’s beef industry and could potentially put the export of beef to Europe, the USA, China and other export markets in jeopardy,” he said.

Oshikoto region governor Henock Kankoshi expressed hope that the fence upgrading process would be fast so that both animals and farmers are protected from increasing incidents of human-wildlife conflict.

“We are hoping that the elephants and the lions and the jackals will not continue jeopardising our harvest and our animals. We are hoping that this will minimise our problems,” he said.

The 824km perimeter would include stock-proof fencing, game-proof fencing and cable fencing.