Namibia’s strategy of bringing local people living with wildlife on board to protect the environment and the animals, has been essential to a conservation success strategy that is recognised globally.
John Kasaona underlined Namibia’s conservation approaches as a speaker at the launch of the 2018 Pathways Africa Conference in Windhoek on Tuesday, where nearly 200 participants from across the globe have gathered to explore the theme ‘Living with Wildlife’.
Kasaona, a pioneer of community-based conservation and co-director at the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), said involving the communities living with wildlife is about building a culture of “trust and respect. Attitude is very important in all of this”.
Kasaona noted that this conservation model is also about a measure of restoring justice, as many areas now closed off exclusively for wildlife once were the homes of communities before they were forcibly relocated.
He added that without community involvement, authorities would struggle with increased poaching and a lack of wildlife across the country, which in turn would be disastrous for tourism, jobs and development.
Empowering communities through entrusting them with important conservation goals and implementing sustainability principles, has benefitted the country in multiple ways, environment minister Pohamba Shifeta said on Tuesday.
He explained that the sustainable utilisation of wildlife and natural resources “is fundamentally and inextricably connected to successful wildlife conservation in our country. We cannot achieve the targets of our sustainable development goals without it.”
Wildlife recovery has been notable over the past two decades, including elephant population growth from 7 500 individuals in 1995 to more than 23 000 today, many of which live outside of formally protected areas.
Shifeta underlined that Namibia has “long recognised that people play key roles in conservation and natural resource management. Wildlife managers, fishermen and foresters must practice sustainability to secure their livelihoods.”
But, to “coexist and share the same habitats with wild animals is not an easy lifestyle. Our communities bear the brunt of conflict with wild animals daily and that is why Pathways Africa is so important.”
Shifeta said the Pathways Africa conference will play a role in future research, innovation and collaboration on these topics.
In Namibia, at least 44% of the country is under various forms of conservation management, which includes the largest contiguous protected landscape in Africa, the Namibian coastline that stretches a distance of 1 570 km from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north.
“However, 80% of Namibia’s wildlife is found outside of government-protected areas and are in the people’s hands. The good stewardship of Namibia’s natural recourses is a source of national pride and it supports the Namibian economy,” Shifeta said. Nevertheless, while tourism has become the second largest industry and employs more than 100 000 people, challenges such as poaching, remain.
“Our conservancies are our most important allies in the fight against poaching. In our experience, the local communities based in the conservancies are the champions of conservation, once they experience benefitting fairly and equitably from conservation,” the minister noted. Kasaona added that the “big threat of poaching by selfish individuals who rob us of our assets and heritage” can only be combatted by Namibians banding together.
He said already there “is evidence we are breaking ground to bring poaching down”.
The goal of the Pathways Africa 2018 conference is to provide a forum for scientists and practitioners to address topics critical to understanding the science of human dimensions and its application in wildlife conservation.