The author of this article, Chris Weaver, is employed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the Chief Party for the Living In A Finite Environment (LIFE) Project. He has worked closely with many communal area conservancies to introduce trophy hunting.
While hunting is new to many of Namibia’s communal area conservancies, many of these conservancies are already earning an international identity for themselves. Although more than 95% of Namibia’s plains game trophy animals are harvested from freehold farmlands, the majority of huntable dangerous game species such as elephant, lion and buffalo are found predominantly in communal areas. Similarly, the natural habitats and distribution ranges for such valuable species as roan and sable antelope, red lechwe, tsessebe and hippo are limited to the communal areas and game reserves of north-eastern Namibia. In addition, many of these conservancies are located in wild and rugged settings, highly marketable and attractive characteristics in popular demand by hunting clients. Lastly, the communal areas are un-fenced and cover vast areas (up to 900 000 hectares in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy). Thus, a hunt in these areas is truly an exclusive and wilderness venture into Africa for visiting hunters. Given the above, communal area conservancies offer a valuable, and highly complementary hunting experience compared to hunting on Namibia’s freehold farms
Incentives to protect wildlife
The passage of the Conservancy Legislation of 1996 has proven to be a major benefit for many communal area conservancies, providing communal residents with incentives to protect their wildlife and conservancies with finances to invest in wildlife management practices. The participation of these conservancies in the trophy-hunting industry is also increasing the diversity of species that can be harvested by visiting hunters. They furthermore provide professional hunters with increased settings in which hunting can take place.
In recent years, the popularity of Namibia as a trophy-hunting destination has increased annually. Historically, most trophy hunters venturing to Namibia originated from Europe. However, over the past three years, North American hunters have also increasingly began to recognise the merits of hunting in Namibia. Hunters are attracted to the country’s rugged desert setting, diverse bag of species, and high-quality trophies that can be hunted at affordable prices. Excellent internal infrastructure and world-class national parks are added inducements for hunters and accompanying members of their safaris to extend their stays in Namibia following a satisfying hunt.
Since 1998, five communal area conservancies have entered into contractual arrangements with Namibian professional hunters to undertake trophy hunting on their lands. These conservancies are the Nyae Nyae Conservancy (Tsumkwe District of Otjozondjupa Region), Salambala Conservancy (East Caprivi), Torra and #Khoadi //Hoas conservancies (southern Kunene Region), and Doros Nawas Conservancy (northern Erongo Region). In order for a conservancy to acquire a hunting quota, members must submit a quota application to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). The preparation of quota requests are based on conservative estimates of game populations that are undertaken and updated annually by each conservancy with the assistance of NGO and MET staff, who train conservancy staff on wildlife monitoring and census methodologies. Trophy hunting quotas in these conservancies are extremely low, being set at less than 3% of total estimated populations for plains game species.
During 2001 the benefits from trophy hunting in these five communal areas amounted to more than N$1 233 000. Benefits came in the form of employment, meat from harvested game, training of conservancy staff, and cash returns to the conservancy. These benefits, combined with the 1996 conservancy legislation, are providing community members with incentives to protect their wildlife and empowering conservancies to manage the wildlife populations for growth and long-term sustainable use. As a consequence, there has been a marked change in community attitudes towards wildlife in communal areas. In the early to mid-1990s, poaching was commonplace and most communities perceived wildlife as belonging to Government and competing with their livestock for grazing. In contrast, present-day conservancy communities now refer to wildlife as “ours” and take immense pride in rebounding wildlife numbers.
Pride in wildlife
The pride such conservancies now have in their wildlife has been strongly translated into management practices that are benefiting the wildlife resource base. Three of the five conservancies have undergone land-use planning processes and have established large, core wildlife areas, where the primary land use is game production for hunting and tourism. This commitment to prioritising wildlife as a land use is demonstrated by the fact that substantial numbers of residential families voluntarily moved elsewhere in order to allow the creation of core wildlife areas.
An additional sign of the conservation success of these conservancies is the manner in which hunting revenues are being spent. Significant portions of Torra Conservancy revenues are being used to pay the salaries of Community Game Guards and cover the operating costs of managing and monitoring the conservancy’s vast wildlife populations. For the past three years, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy has used more than N$50 000 per year to contribute to the purchase and translocation of game species such as red hartebeest, kudu, gemsbok and blue wildebeest to bolster its game populations, while the #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy recently acquired funds from the MET Game Products Trust Fund to develop strategic wildlife watering points and reduce conflict with marauding elephants through protection of domestic water sources.
At present, trophy hunting is marketed only by five communal conservancies. However, there are 15 communal conservancies now registered and an additional 34 under development. Cumulatively, these conservancies will eventually incorporate more than 10 000 000 hectares of what is some of Namibia’s best wildlife habitat and that harbour growing game populations. This will be the equivalent of approximately 12% of Namibia’s total land mass, and will result in a near doubling of the land which has formal protected area status in the country.
Given the above, Namibia’s conservancy concept has proven to be a “win-win” situation for all parties concerned. Government gains because of the introduction of improved and sustainable management practices on valuable state-owned resources. The international community realises the enhancement of Namibia’s rich biologically diverse resource base. Communities are benefiting from increased benefit flows that provide incentives and empower them to manage their wildlife resources, while the hunting industry in Namibia is acquiring a highly marketable and complementary hunting opportunity for its growing foreign clients. All told, Namibia’s conservancy programme, though still in its infancy, is proving to be a rare conservation success story in Africa.
This article appeared in the 2002 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.