It may be a jigsaw, but it’s no real puzzle
By Steve Felton
Namibia is a land where people have always hunted. There is no better example than Nyae Nyae, where the Ju/’hoansi San live under the broad sky covering the Kalahari.
Traditionally, a San hunting area was known as a !nore, and it was important to hunt sustainably, as Chief Tsamkxao ≠Oma explains: “You must not finish what you have now. Everything in nature should be used with care. Future generations must not just hear the names of elephants and plants. They must see them and benefit from them.”
Nyae Nyae was the first communal conservancy, and was the first to benefit from hunting. The area close to the Botswana border is not especially attractive for tourism, and it was trophy hunting that first brought significant revenue to the conservancy.
Hunting sustainably by taking trophies but leaving the animals that would create strong herds in the future has brought income to a previously impoverished community, as well as strengthened wildlife stocks in the area.
Other parts of the country tell the same story, but with a twist.
“Why hunt,” people often ask, “if you can take a photo instead?”
Perhaps this is a question that only a hunter can answer, but hunting has brought significant benefits to Namibian conservancies. To establish a lodge where visitors can enjoy game drives and take photos requires time, and it could be many years before there is a return on investment. Trophy hunting provides instant revenue, and if done sustainably, will contribute to the increase in wildlife populations, which is just what the photo-tourism market needs.
Whether for hunting or photography, Namibia has an extraordinarily diverse range of landscapes. You can trek for days, rifle or camera in hand, through the Baynes or Zebra Mountains of the Marienfluss, just south of Angola, and not see a soul. It was here, in northern Kunene, where Namibia’s conservation story began.
The key was to hand control of wildlife back to rural communities. It was literally a case of poachers becoming gamekeepers, because people who had hunted for the pot were now employed as conservancy game guards. As poaching decreased, wildlife increased.
There was an estimated population of only 1 000 Hartmann’s mountain zebra in 1982. Now the region harbours the world’s largest population.
The story was replicated in the Caprivi Region. With its rich riverine and marshy landscapes, it is as different from the Kunene as you can get. But the effect was the same. Rural communities benefited from hunting, and are now earning income from tourism as well.
The figures speak for themselves.
In 2011 conservancies generated over N$51 million in earnings.
This includes employment in hunting and tourism, as well as direct income to conservancies from joint ventures with tour operators and trophy hunters.
Hunting, which includes supplying meat to conservancy members as well as income from trophies, yielded over N$20 million.
Perhaps the real story is not told in figures.
There is a small farm near Bergsig in the Torra Conservancy, which consists of semi-desert where it is hard to eke out a living. Farmer Lazarus //Hoeb owns a hundred goats, a few sheep, and fifteen cattle.
The nearest town is over 100 km away and meat is a luxury.
But Torra, like all conservancies, has a Game Management Plan negotiated with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and a contract with a professional hunter.
Assisted by the Ministry and partner NGOs, Torra chooses its hunters with care, and manages its wildlife sustainably. Once or twice a year Torra culls excess game and distributes the meat. And when a hunter shoots a trophy, the meat is also available for distribution. It is farmers like Lazarus //Hoeb who reap the benefits.
It may be a jigsaw, but it’s no real puzzle. Conservation entails hunting, farming and tourism with the sustainable use of wildlife as the key to the bigger picture.
The conservation jigsaw
Think of Namibia as a jigsaw.
If you look for a theme to put it together, choose something that covers almost half of the picture.
You will come up with conservation, because almost half of Namibia is under some form of conservation management.
The pieces that make up the conservation jigsaw – national parks, rural farmers, tourist lodges and hunting – don’t always seem to fit together. It’s an odd mix, and hunting may appear to be at odds with conservation. But before we come to that, let’s look at the broader picture.
In 1996 the Government of the newly independent Republic of Namibia opened the way for grass-roots conservation by allowing for the creation of communal conservancies where rural communities could enjoy similar rights over wildlife to farmers on private land who were allowed to hunt and sell game.
The first four communal conservancies were formed just 14 years ago.
Their success may be judged by the fact that there are now 76 conservancies, covering 18.9% of Namibia, almost a fifth of the country.
Many conservancies lie next to national parks or form links in a chain between parks, joining up the conservation jigsaw.
State-protected areas including national parks account for over 17% of Namibia’s surface area, and government-proclaimed tourism concessions add a further piece to the picture.
Then add freehold conservancies. Private farmers who have seen the value of wildlife are bringing their land together, adding more than 6%. Add it all up, and 42% of Namibia is under conservation management.