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Species management involves a great deal of information, expertise and experience. Barbara Paterson, Research Co-ordinator of the Transboundary Mammal Project raises the central question of how this knowledge can be expressed and represented in a way that supports exchange and debate. The improvement of species management and the linking of management on local, national and transboundary levels is largely a question of improved knowledge management.
One of the transboundary natural resource management areas with the greatest potential for both conservation and economic growth is Namibia’s Caprivi Region. Situated in the centre of Southern Africa and surrounded by Angola, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, this area is rich in national parks and CBNRM initiatives, and supports large numbers of wildlife.
Many of Namibia’s high-value game species occur in the area in and around Caprivi, and are shared between neighbouring countries. Most of these species could have significantly higher population numbers and have their ranges expanded. To achieve this, dramatic improvements in management need to take place, at local and national levels as well as through transboundary collaboration between neighbouring countries.
In May 2002 the Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET), in collaboration with the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and with funding from the WWF/Life programme, started the Trans-boundary Mammal Project. The project is aimed at improving the management of selected rare and high-value species that occur in the Caprivi by developing national strategies. The idea is that a national strategy will influence management on the local level as well as contribute to the development of a transboundary, region-wide strategy.
Such a strategy is usually detailed in a species management plan, a document that formulates a vision for a species and sets targets such as desirable population numbers or a greater range of areas where the species can occur. In addition, such a management plan then de-scribes the steps that need to be taken in order to achieve these results, for example the creation of more water points or the taking down of fences to open up more habitat.
Before development of a management strategy can begin, it is necessary to take stock of what data and information are available and what is known about the species and by whom. This kind of information is collected over time through monitoring and research projects by different people using different methods. Here it is necessary to make an important distinction: While observations and measurements such as game count results are important data, on their own they are useless. They need to be interpreted and put into context to provide meaningful information. This information again needs to be combined with human experience to create knowledge. There is considerable experience in the wildlife sector in Southern Africa, and much of this knowledge is captured in scientific papers, reference works and internal reports. Because the relevant knowledge is scattered like this, it is necessary to consolidate the species-specific information at a central point.
To this end, the transboundary mammal project has thus far produced two national species reports: a single species document for buffalo and a combined document for roan, sable and tsessebe. These reports give a comprehensive overview of each species, including biological information, such as past and present distribution, abundance and habitat requirements, as well as the significance of the species in terms of conservation and economics. In addition each document identifies the main stakeholders for each species, provides an analysis of past and present management practices and offers recommendations for future management.
Based on such knowledge it is then possible to formulate targets for increased population numbers and extended ranges and to develop strategies on how to achieve these targets. Two such national species management plans have been drafted as part of the project and are currently being revised by the MET. Simply putting the status quo on paper and describing the steps necessary to improve this status, are not enough.
The objective is to promote collaboration between countries on species management issues through dialogue. This puts the project in line with a resolution adopted by the United Nations in 2001 to promote dialogue between nations. The resolution encourages everyone to consider ways and “means at the local, national, regional and international levels to further promote dialogue and mutual understanding”.
The approach to transboundary dialogue is a modest one. While Namibia develops a knowledge base for selected species, neighbouring countries such as Botswana are invited to make use of this information, to contribute ideas and to identify issues of common concern and transboundary importance. Through this process illegal hunting, fire management, hunting quotas and so on have been identified as issues of transboundary concern between Botswana and Namibia. These issues need to be addressed by means of Namibian national species-management plans for species shared between the two countries.
The approach towards enhanced transboundary collaboration is also a modest one. The key idea is that by developing a national vision while at the same time sharing information and maintaining dialogue, each country contributes towards the emergence of a larger region-wide vision that exceeds national boundaries.
Species management involves a lot of information, expertise and experience. A central question the project seeks to address is how this knowledge can be expressed and represented in a way that supports exchange and debate and is more accessible than the usual paper-based format of printed documents. The improvement of species management and the linking of management on local, national and transboundary levels which the project aims to achieve is largely a question of improved knowledge management.
The aim of knowledge management is to create a basis for communication between experts. Because of the large amount of species-related information and the development of modern information and communications technologies, it makes sense to look for new knowledge-management concepts in wildlife management.
Printed documents such as books, papers and reports are the most common way in which knowledge on wildlife management is communicated. This reliance on printed documents makes the word processor the de facto knowledge-management tool in wildlife management. Printed documents, however, are cumbersome and hinder efficient communication of knowledge.
In order to improve the knowledge-management processes for species management, the transboundary mammal project is developing a hypermedia Information System for Rare Species Management (IRAS). A hypermedia system is a computerised network of chunks of information such as text, images, graphics and sound. Familiar examples of hypermedia are the World Wide Web (www) or electronic encyclopaedias that are available on CD.
Although there is today a theory and practice of how to author powerful hypermedia systems, the typical document you would find on the www is essentially a paper document. This is especially true for documents of scientific and academic content. The main difference between a conventional paper document and a hypermedia document is that most printed media is essentially linear, and hypermedia is not. Even the best-structured and cross-referenced printed document provides only limited access to its contents, especially when the contents are as complex as wildlife management issues.
Hypermedia on the other hand allows extensive cross-referencing through hyperlinks as we know them from the www. This means that the information contained in a hyper document can be accessed chunk by chunk in a flexible order. Each chunk is designed as an independent unit of information. Instead of having to read the document from beginning to end, a reader can access parts of it in flexible order and revisit them without difficulty.
In order to provide a basis for communication between experts, an appropriate knowledge-management tool in wildlife management must be able to facilitate communication and dialogue between wildlife managers, researchers and policy makers. IRAS represents all the knowledge contained in the species reports and management plans which have been produced by the project thus far, but unlike the printed documents, it is much easier to update. Additional information or opposing expert viewpoints can be added on at any time. Because of its multi-linear character, great flexibility that allows links to any type of electronic document, and because of its interactive nature, IRAS is a great knowledge-management tool.
Through IRAS, relevant knowledge about species management can more easily be communicated, both to the local level to influence management of protected areas or communal lands, as well as to the regional level to contribute to the greater picture, a strategy that transcends international boundaries between neighbouring countries.
It has been found that hypermedia systems enhance comprehension because they mimic the way people store and retrieve information by means of association. Naturally, through dialogue and debate and the resulting implementation, existing knowledge gaps become apparent. Once identified, these gaps can be addressed. Thus IRAS contributes again to the process of knowledge generation and the knowledge-management cycle closes.
The ability to breed, translocate, protect and monitor rare and endangered species has long been established in Namibia. This knowledge is being documented in the species overview reports and strategic management plans. But know-how, experience and skill cannot be described so easily with words. People often find it very difficult, almost impossible to describe to another person what it is they know.
How then can such tacit knowledge be represented and made explicit? The problem is that knowledge is not a product that can be handed over from one person to another. One of the objectives of the transboundary mammal project is to investigate the nature of the knowledge applied in wildlife management and to produce a systematic analysis of all the factors which influence wildlife management decisions in a certain context, such as game translocation.
It has long been known that decisions are never made based on facts or data alone. Intuition, know-how and even values play a crucial role. An important part of the project is to experiment with ways to tease out these factors and make them explicit through computer representation. The result will be an interactive decision support system.
Such a system will, of course, not be able to make decisions on behalf of human experts but it will be able to provide decision-makers with useful inputs. What is hoped is that in this way at least part of the knowledge, experience and know-how can be communicated and made available to more people.
This component of the project has become particularly pertinent to many of the wildlife departments in Southern Africa, as these institutions have be-come staffed by young graduates with limited field-based conservation experience.
This article appeared in the 2003/4 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.