Many people in Namibia depend on the resources found in nature -- plants, animals, grazing land, and limited water sources -- to meet their day-to-day needs. In some areas of the country, especially where people live side by side with wildlife, people and animals both try to utilize the same resources.

Selma Lendelvo, a researcher in the life sciences division of the University of Namibia's Multidisciplinary Research Centre (MRC), works with scientists and community leaders to find ways to ease such conflicts. The effort is part of the university's community-based natural resources management program. Traveling widely and working with local authorities, Lendelvo and her colleagues track natural resource use and look for ways to maximize the benefits of those resources for communities. "My interest lies in helping people use and benefit from the resources on which their livelihood depends, from the fruit trees in the fields to the rangelands where cattle graze or the plants that provide food and medicine," she says.

In some areas, wildlife is a valuable resource that needs to be managed. Increased conservation efforts in parts of Namibia have led to growing populations of elephants, lions, and other wild animals. As they multiply, the animals move closer to villages and become accustomed to being around people, Lendelvo says. After a while, the animals may begin using resources needed by community members. Elephants destroy crops. Lions feast on cattle. Animals may begin drinking water at the humans' well. "An elephant is just an elephant, so what he does when he doesn't find enough water is, he breaks down that infrastructure," leaving communities without access to water, Lendelvo says.

Lendelvo and her group try to understand what causes such conflicts. "Right now, the people are paying a huge cost for some of these conservation efforts, and we need to find ways to coexist with the wildlife," she says. "In some cases, people might be leaving their livestock in open fields with no one looking after them, or we may find that certain kinds of structures can be established around water to prevent damage from animals coming to the water area."

Selma Lendelvo (CREDIT: Courtesy of Selma Lendelvo)

Born in the northern part of Namibia, Lendelvo grew up in a small township in the country's western part. Interested in pursuing science, she enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Namibia in 1995, majoring in biology and geography. During her second year, she saw a position advertised for student interns to work at MRC. As an intern, she interacted with experts in social science and geography. Upon completing her bachelor's degree, she moved to Norway to pursue a master's degree in natural resources management, combining her interests in social systems and the environment. After taking time off to start a family, she will resume studies next year to complete her doctorate at the University of Namibia.

Currently, Lendelvo is one of just a few women -- and the only senior researcher -- employed at MRC, but she says the number of women studying science is growing. Women now make up the majority of postgraduate fellows in her area of research, she notes, and the majority of students graduating from the university. "So there is an indication that women scientists are coming up in this country."

Susan Gaidos writes from near Portland, Maine.