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Delegates from 13 countries gathered this week at the Legend Resort and Entabeni Conservancy in Limpopo, South Africa for the 14th annual African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF). Participants included government representatives from African nations, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, private sector representatives from professional hunter associations, a variety of non-governmental organizations, the CITES Secretariat, United Nations organizations, wildlife scientists, and researchers.
Monday began with two important meetings, one among the African governments and another between the professional hunting associations. Both parties presented an opportunity to review the outcomes of last year’s AWCF and approve the agenda for the coming week.
When AWCF officially kicked off on Tuesday, the forum dove into discussion on a number of tough conservation issues. Compelling presentations on the challenges of dealing with human population growth and development provoked a positive dialogue on wildlife management. Participants examined the need to undertake comprehensive land-use planning to ensure a future for wildlife and their habitat in the face of increasing human pressure.
Several ongoing anti-poaching efforts were also highlighted. Participants were given a sobering reminder that Kruger National Park is still losing an estimated 2 rhinos each day to poaching, but were inspired by the dedication of SANPark (South African National Parks) rangers. These enforcement units are on the front lines of protecting rhinos at great personal risk every day.
Wednesday’s session focused on species and the global policy issues that impact wildlife. Dr. Jerry Belant presented on our Tanzania Lion Project. Dr. Belant arrived fresh from the Serengeti study area and was happy to present preliminary results from the first successful field season of this groundbreaking project. Namibia’s Kwando Carnivore Project spoke about research on spotted hyena and the complex nexus of human-wildlife conflict, hunting and conservation. The Kwando program served as a great example of local communities working together with researchers and the Namibian government to ensure hunting quotas were established based on the best available science and sustainability of the hunted species.
Representatives from the US Fish & Wildlife Service reiterated the US government’s support for the sustainable utilization of wildlife. AWCF participants were informed that FWS relies on the support of American hunters to protect millions of acres of habitat and provides hunting access to public lands via the National Wildlife Refuge System.
A representative from the government of Namibia summarized the underlying spirit of AWCF when he concluded his presentation by saying, “hunting is not a conservation tool, it is conservation.”
In addition to the full agenda and many hours spent on presentations, the participants were able to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and view some of South Africa’s incredible biodiversity. The Entabeni Conservancy is home to the “Big Five” species. AWCF participants enjoyed observing white rhinos, elephants, lions and many other animals during their stay.
Look out for additional updates on AWCF from SCI Foundation’s Conservation staff as we close out the meeting this week and begin to plan the way forward for future meetings.
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