Hunting in Namibia’s communal conservancies – A decade of wildlife utilisation

Event Book – A tool for everyone
July 15, 2012
Innovative environmental approaches – Getting there
July 15, 2012
Event Book – A tool for everyone
July 15, 2012
Innovative environmental approaches – Getting there
July 15, 2012

by L Chris Weaver, Theunis Petersen, Richard Diggle and Greenwell Matongo, WWF Namibia

Namibia has long been at the African forefront in the development and application of successful wildlife-use policies and practices. Over four decades ago, visionary conservationists enacted Nature Conservation Ordinance 31 of 1967, providing private landowners with rights over wildlife use – thereby transforming the perception of wildlife competing with livestock to one of being a valuable asset.

The legislative foundation of wildlife utilisation was refined eight years later through Nature Conservation Ordinance 4 of 1975. These incentive-based reforms produced impressive results, precipitating a wide-scale recovery of wildlife populations on private land (43% of Namibia).  By 1992, huntable game animals on private land were estimated to have more than doubled, increasing from 565 000 to 1 161 000.

Wildlife populations in most communal areas of Namibia were at historical lows by the mid-1980s and early 1990s, as a consequence of military occupation, heavy commercial poaching and uncontrolled hunting by both military and community members. In some communal areas, large game animals had been completely eradicated, while in others only fragmented populations remained. Prior to and immediately following independence, communal-area wildlife population trends were largely downwards and action was -urgently needed.

After Namibia’s independence in 1990, a new era of enlightened conservationists strove to introduce equivalent rights and benefits for rural communities living in communal areas (41% of Namibia). In 1995, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) passed the Wildlife Management, Utilisation and Tourism in Communal Areas policy and in June 1996, the 1975 Ordinance was amended, providing the legal basis for communities to gain rights over wildlife through the formation of conservancies. These changes were aimed at empowering rural communities to manage wildlife and thus catalyse a parallel wildlife recovery on communal land.

Consumptive utilisation

Upon registration, a conservancy gains the rights to wildlife-related benefits through various forms of utilisation, including tourism. The conservancy may either manage the resulting enterprises directly or work with private-sector partners through concession agreements. Tourism enterprises commonly include community campsites, joint-venture lodges, guided tours, traditional villages and handicraft production. Of relevance here are five forms of consumptive wildlife utilisation that conservancies benefit from:

• Trophy hunting – clients pay for the right to hunt and take a trophy home as part of the experience;

• Premium hunting – clients pay for the hunting experience, but are not allowed to take home the trophy or meat;

• Own-use meat harvesting – self-regulated harvesting of game by the conservancy to provide meat for residents, local events and festivals;

• Shoot-and-sell – harvesting of game for commercial sale of meat outside the conservancy; and

• Catch, keep and sell – capture of live animals for sale outside the conservancy.

The passing of the communal conservancy legislation has precipitated a conservation movement of impressive scale. By early 2010, a total of 59 communal conservancies had formed, covering over 16% of Namibia. A key driver in conservancy formation has been the rapid manner in which conservancies can secure benefits from wildlife. Off-take quotas are set during the final stages of conservancy formation, allowing conservancies to quickly seek private-sector partners to operate lucrative trophy-hunting concessions after registration. In most instances, a conservancy can start receiving income from trophy hunting within four months of registration. The immediacy of the income and affiliated benefits (meat, employment, and so on) is a crucial reward to communities that may take two years or longer to secure conservancy registration. As wildlife populations grow, conservancies advance to other forms of utilisation and tourism. The generated benefits quickly reinforce the value of a conservancy’s wildlife resource and the resulting community awareness is a powerful anti-poaching stimulus.

Benefits to conservancies from consumptive wildlife use (a subset of the total benefits going to conservancies) have shown a steep growth curve, rising from nothing in 1997 to N$11 720 805 in 2008. This represents approximately 41% of the benefits received by conservancies in 2008. Cumulatively (from 1998 to 2008), conservancies and their members have received N$48 623 418 in sustainable consumptive-use benefits. Trophy hunting has been the largest contributor, followed by the combined value of meat received through trophy-hunting and own-use quotas. These two benefits far outweigh income from shoot-and-sell operations or employment. In addition to these tangible benefits, sustainable wildlife use has also precipitated important social benefits, including community empowerment through being able to select a suitable hunting operator, rural development through conservancy-funded projects, and improved community governance.

Significant benefits

Prior to the formation of conservancies, wildlife was largely regarded as competition to livestock grazing and/or perceived as a threat to crops, livestock, and infrastructure, or even human life. In contrast, the ability of conservancies to receive significant benefits from wildlife has begun to foster a sense of community ownership and pride, which hopefully will result in wildlife being integrated more and more into rural community livelihoods. The presence of wildlife is being promoted through participatory community land-use zoning processes that create core wildlife (wildlife only) and multiple-use (wildlife mixed with livestock and people) areas.- Much of this is happening next to open-system national parks, creating wildlife-friendly buffer zones.

The changing perceptions are manifested through increased tolerance towards traditional conflict species (such as elephants, lions and cheetah) by community members and rebounding wildlife populations across communal areas. Wildlife recoveries have been widespread and have included conflict species as well as endangered and high-value wildlife.

A total of 33 communal conservancies now participate in trophy hunting through 27 community-managed concessions, operating on 79 076 km2 of land. In the pre-conservancy era, no communities were allowed to benefit from trophy hunting and only a small handful of communities in north-west Namibia were allowed to conduct own-use harvests of game under highly controlled conditions. More than 40 communal conservancies are now able to legally hunt their own game through own-use harvesting. Such hunting reinforces strong cultural values around hunting, at the same time providing much appreciated meat to conservancy members.

These achievements have resulted in a growing demand for more conservancies, as well as for assistance to emerging conservancies to establish viable game populations. There have been many lessons learned through trial and error over the past decade, but progress continues to be made. While some stakeholders have found it difficult to recognise the validity of communities as key players in wildlife conservation, there can be no denying the role that conservancies have played in assisting communities to embrace wildlife as an added livelihood strategy. The sustainable use of wildlife, largely through trophy hunting, has played a catalytic role in this. The conservancy movement, though not without its challenges, bodes well for the future of both conservation and development in Namibia and offers examples for others in Africa and the world to emulate.

This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *