By Emmanuel Koro in 

Johannesburg, SA.

ALLOWING communities to benefit from natural resources is the long-discovered but little-known wildlife and environmental conservation secret in Africa. 

Namibia stands out as one of the African countries that have embraced this conservation secret. 

Visited by this writer recently, Namibia’s conservancies remain one of Africa’s ‘wide-open and must-look-through windows’ to the future success of community-driven wildlife and natural resources conservation. 

Rich in international hunting culture and community-based tourism, Namibian wildlife producer communities also known as conservancies, have now been gripped with the benefits-driven wildlife and habitat conservation culture that not even the animal rights fundraising industry can ever stop. 

Namibia’s community conservation culture is deeper than its opponents know. 

The culture of ownership and collective benefits is now inextricably embedded in the locals’ minds and heart. 

They ‘live and breathe wildlife and environmental conservation’ because they continue to receive tangible benefits from these natural resources. 

Even the Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA) shares this culture.

“While we do understand the instinctive dislike of conservation hunting by some members of the public, the reality of the matter is that no alternative land use has yet been identified and developed which equally protects the wildlife and found in these vital landscapes while also generating valuable revenues for local communities,” said NAPHA president Axel Cramer.

 “The reverse is true, where hunting has been subjected to bans and more room for alternative tourism methods, the wildlife has often suffered and conflicts with communities and poaching has increased.”

So far, it can be argued it is only in Namibia where wildlife has through its tangible benefits to the community stunningly ‘told people’ to abandon the highly valued African culture of cattle production in favour of wildlife land use that involves international hunting and tourism lodge developments.

From Namibia, we learn about a local conservancy’s fascinating response to international hunting benefits. 

If you want to be the number one enemy of African rural communities, tell them to stop using their land for cattle production.

Cattle are considered a status symbol in Africa, including Namibia. 

A family’s wealth or status is generally measured by how big a herd of cattle it owns.

Despite this, the Namibian wildlife (wild animals) recently ‘told’ Namibia’s Anabeb Conservancy residents to switch from using their land for cattle production to wildlife hunting. 

They all agreed! 

Why?

The comparatively greater benefits  that the Anabeb Conservancy’s 200 households have been receiving from hunting over the years made them decide in 2019, to completely abandon a centuries-old African culture of using land to produce cattle. 

They discovered that wildlife hunting trophies bring more income than that that they can make from cattle sales. 

Therefore, they are now looking after wildlife just like they used to look after their cattle. 

No more wildlife poaching.

“I remember poaching a big Kudu for meat,” said Anabe Conservancy chairman, Ovehi Kasaona. 

“My friends were also poachers for meat, including my father and grandfather. 

“My uncle even poached for rhino horn sale. 

“In the past when we saw wildlife, we saw meat for the pot. 

“Now we are associating wildlife with tourism businesses such as lodges that we have built, using money from wildlife hunting. 

“This has created employment for people who work at the lodges and those involved with game drives.”

Despite all these shades of success dotted all over Namibia, the anti-hunting movement recently attempted to demonise Namibia’s conservancy programme, including international hunting which is a wildlife management measure.

This, together with restrictions of all forms of trade should anger the countries’ conservationists, local communities and the Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta. 

However, Namibians never react angrily but with facts, to show that the misleading claims that the anti-use movement continue to make that international hunting benefits and their community-based conservation programme are showing signs of collapsing. 

“When you are in my position, you have to use facts and not anger to tell the truth,” said Minister Pohamba in an interview at CITES COP18 in Geneva, Switzerland when asked how he manages to maintain his cool when reacting to outrageous lies about the status of his country’s wildlife conservation record, including issues related to Namibia’s elephant population. 

In fact, Namibia has nothing to hide about how international hunting benefits continue to sustain a culture of wildlife and habitat conservation in rural communities.  

Accordingly, it has always invited journalists to cover its conservancies programme since it was introduced in the 1990s. 

This writer remembers taking journalist from all over southern Africa in a chartered jet that took us from Windhoek to Nyae, West Caprivi Kwando River area (where bushman conducted elephant census using handheld computers), Mayuni and Torra Conservancies. 

The journalists were free to interview communities as they wished. 

They covered human-wildlife conflict, benefits from hunting, making and selling crafts from the ilala plant leaves and private-community partnership lodge enterprises such as the exclusive and upmarket Damaraland Camp in Torra Conservancy. 

About 25 years later, the Namibian community conservancy projects are still running successfully. 

A recent visit to Namibia was an eye-opener. 

It showed that after having run for over a quarter of the century, it would only take a natural disaster and not the ongoing selfish opposition to international hunting by the animal rights industry; to collapse the country’s conservancy programme. 

The local people are deeply involved in wildlife and habitat conservation. 

The secret lies in allowing them to benefit from wildlife through international hunting and also benefit from using other natural resources for food, crafts, medicine and shelter. 

Upon interacting with wildlife producer communities, one gets the feeling that there is no going back to wildlife poaching in Namibian wildlife producer communities. 

Both the conservation efforts and benefits from  natural resources, including wildlife through hunting continue to increase. 

The only heart-breaking news was that Namibia’s community conservation heroes of yester-year have passed on. 

It was shocking to learn that Benny Roman, former chairman of Torra Conservancy (affectionately known as uncle Benny) was no more. 

So is George Mutwa of Salambala Conservancy where local residents recently saved an elephant calf that was stuck in the mud. 

Also, Chief Mayuni the former patron of Mayuni Conservancy is no more. 

Fortunately, all these community conservation champions have been succeeded by equally competent community leaders and conservationists

However, seeing where Roman was buried was devastating. 

Sad.  

Not so far from his grave, one could see the wildlife that he loved so much and protected.  

As we watched many giraffes move in his homeland, Torra Conservancy. 

We wondered why on earth did the animal rights groups’ fundraising industry at CITES COP18 in Geneva, Switzerland, claim that these majestic creatures ‘are endangered’. 

Fortunately, all wildlife-loving Africans who live and look after it quickly dismissed the anti-use movement’s  well-known agenda to stop humankind from using wildlife for any purpose, including international  hunting. 

Nevertheless, giraffes are still being hunted in Namibia, along with other wildlife species such as the rhino. 

Yes, the endangered rhino is being hunted.

“Van Heerden Safaris is able to offer you the opportunity to hunt a black rhino should one become available on quota from the State or white rhino on private farmland in Namibia,” reads a statement on their website confirming both the UN agency CITES grants rhino hunting quotas as wildlife management measure and that the Namibian Government allows it.

 “In support of sustainable conservation hunting in Namibia, only an old rhino bull which is well past its breeding age and is likely to be a menace to any younger bulls, is considered for hunting.”

Hunting is an effective wildlife management that involves the harvesting of old wildlife that would almost die of natural causes and that would also be replaced by younger species without causing population decline. 

According to the WWF 1997 Quota Setting Manual, the main purpose of a quota is to identify the number of animals that can be killed without reducing the population. 

This depends on the number of animals living in the area called the ‘population’.  

The rate at which these animals can be harvested is called the percentage ‘off-take rate’. 

Normally the off-take rate is fixed either equal to or slightly lower than the growth rate. 

In this way, while the growth in population size may be slowed down, the total number of animals in the population does not fall. 

The quota can, therefore, be considered sustainable.

Trophy hunting is often incorrectly confused with poaching or the organised international illegal wildlife trade (IWT) that is currently devastating many species including the African elephant and African rhinos. 

However, trophy hunting typically takes place as a legal, regulated activity under programmes implemented by government wildlife agencies, protected area managers, indigenous and local community bodies, private landowners, or conservation/ development organisations. 

In several cases, revenue from hunting is used to fund law enforcement or providing community benefits that counter incentives to engage in IWT.

Trade not aid will save African wildlife, including that of Namibia. 

The animal rights groups dictators can campaign against sustainable use of wildlife but they will never kill the spirit and culture of sustainable use of wildlife in wildlife-rich southern Africa.

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who writes independently on environmental and developmental issues.

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