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By Dr Margaret Jacobsohn
Anton Esterhuizen, head of the natural resource management support unit for 28 Kunene conservancies of the IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), is a passionate conservationist and a professional hunter who is committed to seeing both people and wildlife thrive in Namibia’s communal areas. It was the practical combination of these elements that won him the 2006 NAPHA (Namibian Professional Hunter’s Association) Conservationist of the Year award.
Anton has facilitated and assisted several communal area conservancies to enter into fair trophy-hunting contracts with professional hunters. In the process he has taken the lead in pioneering an innovative form of local conservancy hunting in which a communal conservancy sells some of the game from its own-use quota to hunters on a permit system, but keeps all the meat for its members.
Appealing to the fit, ‘adventure’ hunter, such hunting takes place on foot in rugged terrain, with conservancy game guards and a professional hunter. The hunters take only their photographs away and conservancy members receive the meat, plus the per-animal fee.
Anton has worked closely with NAPHA to facilitate the training of four conservancy trackers as hunting guides, and is currently training a further two.
Anton’s contribution to Namibia’s national community-based natural resource management programme goes beyond hunting, however. He is responsible, with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), for training conservancy staff in wildlife management and he assists conservancies to develop management plans. Working with conservancies and the MET to develop and implement problem-animal management strategies are other key focal areas. He and his staff are also facilitating the testing of the Human-Animal Conflict Conservancy Self Insurance Scheme – HACSIS.
After obtaining a National Diploma in Nature Conservation from the Polytechnic of Namibia in 1988 (and being the best first-year student of his year), he joined the MET and built up experience across the country in a variety of posts. In 1996 he was appointed Chief Control Warden for North East Namibia. This put him in charge of a massive 12 million hectares comprising the Mahango Game Park, Khaudum Game Park, West Caprivi Game Park, Mangetti Game Camp, Mamili National Park and Mudumu National Park and the East Caprivi, Kavango, Grootfontein and Tsumeb districts, as well as the former Bushmanland.
In 1999 Anton and his wife Wanda joined the IRDNC and moved to the NGO’s central Kunene base at Wêreldsend. In 2001 he obtained his pilot’s licence, qualifying as the best student of his course.
Last year he represented IRDNC at an international symposium on leisure hunting, jointly organised by IUCN and the Zoological Society of London in the United Kingdom. The theme of the symposium was Recreational Hunting, Conservation and Rural Livelihoods: Science and Practice.
A quiet and serious person who is at home in the environment and who is never shy of hard work, Anton has reason to be proud of his ongoing contribution to the conservancy programme, one which earned conservancies more than N$72 million in direct income and which has created hundreds of new jobs in remote rural areas. At the same time it has expanded the range and safety of many of Namibia’s wild species significantly, including elephant, rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard, kudu, gemsbok, giraffe, zebra, springbok, eland, buffalo, eland, tsessebe and more. By the end of 2006 about 11.8 million hectares were under conservancy status and more than 230 000 Namibians were conservancy members.
This article appeared in the 2007/8 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.