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Last week, Senator Coon (D-DE) hosted a delegation from Namibia to report on recent conservation successes. Namibian conservationist and Co-Director of Integrated Rural Development and Nature, John Kasaona, as well as members from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Namibia shared the country’s history and tremendous efforts dedicated to establishing paramount wildlife management programs.
Before Namibia’s independence, conservation was a low priority. Wildlife was seen as a nuisance rather than an asset. Many wild predators were killed to secure livestock. In addition, due to military occupation, wildlife was illegally hunted by soldiers and locals for bush meat with no regulation. By the mid-1980s to early 1990s, large game populations were at an all-time low in Namibia.
Once Namibia gained its independence in 1990, a new wave in conservation began within the country as people learned the benefits and value of their wildlife. New legislation was passed to ensure proper management and utilization was in effect. In 1996, a 21 year-old law was amended, giving communities legal claim over their land’s wildlife through the formation of conservancies.
“Before, rhinos and elephants were just big meat, meat that could feed villages for a long time, but utilizing the local communities and educating them on the benefits they could receive by continuing to conserve wildlife is helping our country tremendously,” Kasaona said.
Kasaona shared that in 1995 there were only 20 lions in Northwest Namibia, and now there are over 130 lions in that area alone. A WWF Community-Based Natural Resource Management report stated that “By late 2009, a total of 59 communal conservancies had formed, covering approximately 13 million hectares and engaging around 250,000 community members.” Kasaona reported that 79 conservancies are now established that comprise an estimated 16,043,000 hectares of Namibian land dedicated to conservation. The WWF representative added that 44 percent of Namibia’s land is now under conservation management.
The reason for Namibia’s success is due to their willingness to make conservation a priority. Each year the United States invests millions of dollars into African communities and Namibia is one of the few countries who direct these funds to tourism in addition to education and agriculture sectors. Tourism is a lucrative industry that allows communities to generate substantial revenue and decrease unemployment. It includes camping, guided safari tours, joint venture lodges, regulated hunting and “own-use meat harvesting,” which provides food for rural residents.
Private sector investors partner with local communities to establish hunting concessions, which is overseen by the government. Hunting generates a considerable amount of revenue for the local communities, and most newly registered conservancies receive income from hunting oriented tourism within four months of the conservancy’s registration. Hunting also helps address human-wildlife conflict, such as with lions, and is used to remove persistent conflict animals while raising funds for the community.
“Our efforts are working too good.” Kasaona mentioned. “Sometimes lions are more of a problem to our life than benefit.”
The Community Based Natural Resource Management document provided at the briefing states that: “The immediacy of the income and affiliated benefits (meat, employment, etc.) is a crucial reward to communities who may take two years or longer to secure conservancy registration. . . . The generated benefits quickly reinforce the value of a conservancy’s wildlife resource and such community awareness is a powerful anti-poaching stimulus, creating effective internal social pressures against the illegal harvesting of game.”
The combination of photo-tourism, regulated hunting and sustainable conservation strategies has propelled Namibia’s economy and showcases the many benefits wildlife can produce. Namibia’s efforts are a model to other communities around the world who may need to start placing community based conservation as a higher priority. Through international collaboration and strong investments from the government, as well as local communities, conservation can create amazing opportunities. SCI Foundation commends Namibia for its success and looks forward to seeing how it progresses in its conservation endeavors.
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