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Birders in Namibia: We twitch and tick and pursueJuly 6, 2012
By Dr Margaret Jacobsohn
When Beavan Munali was born in 1965 in difficult circumstances, he was called Bashohe – the child that was thrown away. Today he is known as a leader in conservation and development in Caprivi, and is an influential personality in the NBC’s Lozi Radio Service. As Natural Resource Management Field Co-ordinator for the NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), Beavan heads a team of field officers who provide technical and logistical support to the staff of Caprivi’s seven registered and 10 emerging communal area conservancies. “My life is conservation,” he says quietly, while admitting that his job – often requiring seven days a week – can be exhausting. His passion for what he does and his belief that the work is helping to make Caprivi a better place for both people and wildlife, is what keeps him going.
He is highly respected by the area’s traditional authorities, with whom he liaises regularly. He is the field lynch-pin for the innovative Conservancy Event Book System, which enables conservancies to monitor and thereby manage their wildlife sustainably. Beavan’s team works closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture, the Regional Council, the NACSO NRM working group and other partners in Namibia’s successful conservancy programme.
Wherever Beavan is – in his small office in Sangwali near Mamili (now Lupala) National Park, at the IRDNC’s Katima Mulilo offices or at a meeting in a village – there is a constant flow of people seeking his advice on conservation issues. It is clear that he is valued as someone who can assist with community needs and problems and that he has genuine concern for people’s welfare.
This is a far cry from when he began work in 1991 as one of the first community game guards (CGGs) supported by the IRDNC in Caprivi. “It was not easy to convince people about the need for conservation,” he recalls. “Sometimes when we entered a village, our safety would be threatened and we would be chased away. In the early days even the MET was sceptical about our usefulness.”
Poaching was rife and Caprivi was close to losing all its valuable wildlife. Species such as rhino and giraffe had already disappeared. A breakthrough for the CGG system in Caprivi was the insight of the then Director of the MET, Ms Maria Kapere, who instructed her staff to undertake joint patrols with the CGGs. This was the beginning of a productive anti-poaching partnership between the MET, conservancies and NGOs.
Through persistence and hard work, fuelled by a vision that wildlife could become an integral part of rural development in Africa, Beavan has helped change the attitudes of tens of thousands of Caprivians. In the last few years this vision has started bearing fruit. Through community-based tourism and trophy hunting, wildlife has already generated several million dollars for rural Caprivians, and scores of new jobs have been created within conservancies.
Beavan’s popular radio programmes played a major role in informing ordinary Caprivians about the new opportunities offered by the 1996 communal area conservancy legislation. Today, with local conservancies clearly making a major contribution to rural development, he has no problem filling three weekly radio slots with conservancy news, interviews, practical advice on issues such as problem animals and lively discussions and debates on topics relating to conservation and civil society.
He believes it was especially the practical as–sis-tance that community game guards gave farmers to chase wildlife, particularly elephant, out of their fields at night that helped change Caprivian attitudes to support the community-based conservation programme.
Today, working closely with the MET, Beavan’s team supports several conservancy strategies, such as the Human-Animal Conservancy Self-Insurance Scheme (HACSIS), to help reduce the economic damage caused by wildlife. The HACSIS pilot scheme started with 100% donor funding. Now in its second year, participating conservancies are already using conservancy income to pay for 50% of their members’ problem-animal claims.
Other practical approaches which have proved successful include crocodile fences that protect people and stock using river water, stronger stock enclosures and the use of chillies to make elephant deterrent ‘coils’ to place around fields at night. Chilli has also proved effective when smeared with oil onto rags on field fences. Today, a number of conservancies are growing chillies for this purpose.
Beavan is excited about the five-country KAZA TFCA (Kavango-Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area) initiative. He regards the conservancies’ role of providing wildlife-friendly corridors or zones for this ambitious large-scale conservation and tourism vision as critical for the success of the initiative. “While our Government is working at high level with our neighbouring countries to promote KAZA, conservancies are working on the ground to help it become a reality. We can turn Caprivi – and the neighbouring regions – into a paradise for wildlife and tourism, and at the same time uplift our poor people. Through its conservancies, Namibia has already shown the way forward.”
Beavan is a member of the IRDNC’s Senior Management Forum, which steers the programme in Caprivi. His colleagues have come to value his integrity and experience, his thoughtful inputs and his quietly strong leadership. From humble beginnings, Beavan has risen to become an example to others. Today the child that was ‘thrown away’ is a household name in Caprivi and his dedication to both wildlife and people has significantly improved the lives of thousands of Caprivians, as well as set many wild species on the road to recovery. Thus the region’s remarkable wildlife heritage will be handed on to the next generation.
This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.