By Dr Malan Lindeque, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Tourism
When Etosha was proclaimed Game Reserve No 2 a century ago, it had no elephants, lions or black and white rhinos. Today the park harbours healthy populations of these globally threatened animals, whose presence is important not only for biodiversity, but also to attract tourists and, in turn, foreign revenue for national development efforts.
But will these populations still be intact in another hundred years’ time? With human pressure, pollution, global warming, land issues and wars, it is impossible to foresee. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is, however, developing a vision for how we want our flagship park to function for the next 100 years.
In conservation, past decisions often determine future outcomes. The MET believes that many lessons can be learnt from the successes – and mistakes – of the past, and are carefully assessing our decisions of today and the impacts they may have on future generations. Fences, roads, firebreaks, water-supply systems and tourism facilities tend to become permanent and will thus impact on the future of the park. We see the Centenary of Etosha as an opportunity to create conditions now that will ensure a desired state for the park long into the future.
At present, Etosha faces several challenges. Fences, artificial water points and roads are expensive to maintain, while variable phenomena like rainfall, drought, floods, fire and anthrax hamper management. Meanwhile, species such as wild dog and buffalo are no longer present in the park; tourism is being stereotyped with deteriorated infrastructure; management is fragmented; and the park is under-funded. On our borders, human wildlife conflicts are escalating, settlements are encroaching on the park and Etosha is seen as a ‘conservation island’ in a sea of farming and rural poverty.
These issues need to be addressed within the framework of national development goals and Vision 2030, while upholding the Namibian Constitution and the MET mandate.
So how do we position Etosha for the next 100 years? How can the park be a net exporter of benefits rather than costs? How can financing become sustainable? How can defunct infrastructures be regenerated? And how can the park be recognised for the key role it plays in tourism, regional development and the national economy?
Etosha is already far more valuable to the nation than is realised. It provides about 500 jobs to the MET and Namibia Wildlife Resort staff and produces about N$15 million in direct revenue to the state coffers. It produces an annual turnover of about N$60 million for the NWR and is one of the largest consumers of goods and services in the four north-central regions, while contributing indirectly up to N$1 billion to the national economy. In essence, it is a large business, and needs to be managed as such.
With this in mind, we at the MET believe that the bottom line for a successful future is prudent, far-sighted planning, adoption of innovative approaches and looking at new ways of financing the park.
Planning begins with management, development and business, and an effective infrastructure maintenance strategy. We aim to develop a cost-based budget with efficient and effective cost control, delegated administrative responsibility and organisational reform. Most importantly, we are committed to investing in our staff. This involves effective training programmes, development of staff housing, and providing access to recreational facilities, schools, clinics and other essential services.
Innovative approaches include restoring linkages with surrounding land through co-operative management partnerships with neighbours, providing surplus wildlife to conservancies and emerging farmers to restock other areas and securing important national populations under threat, such as the rare and endemic black-faced impala.
We have already developed the first local human-wildlife conflict-management plan with the Ehirovipuka Conservancy and are finalising plans for a pilot approach towards joint management of Etosha’s fence with a local community.
We are currently implementing a programme to upgrade the park’s infrastructure radically, with assistance from the Game Products Trust Fund. Recycling is underway in the park, and other environmentally friendly practices, such as greater use of solar energy and rehabilitation of gravel pits, will be employed in future.
The tourism product, which remained static for decades, is being diversified. Along with the NWR’s major renovation programme for all three camps, kiosks will be opened within the park, hides are to be established, guided day tours and night drives have been introduced and guided walks will be tested. Park-gate hours are to be extended and camp gates will soon open half an hour before sunrise and close half an hour after sunset to maximise the game-viewing experience and photographic opportunities for visitors.
Government is in the process of purchasing two farms on the borders of Etosha for the Hai||om, left landless after they were removed from the park in 1954. People will have the option of forming conservancies that will be supported by Etosha, and will benefit from tourism through a range of activities and services while farming on their own land and managing their own wildlife.
A new gate is planned at Oshivelo, along with the rehabilitation of the old military airstrip. The development of a tourism lodge will offer greater employment and livelihood diversification for nearby residents, particularly the Hai||om. Another gate is planned for Narawandu north of Okaukuejo, with the intention of developing tourist routes north of the park. Western Etosha will be more accessible to tourists, benefiting communities on the western border of the park.
As Etosha steps into the next 100 years, the adoption of a business management approach based on science, monitoring, planning and modern integrated administration is vital. We will continue to develop partnerships, promote co-ownership and co-operative management of resources and will further demonstrate local and regional economic impacts.
This article appeared in the 2007/8 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.