Project LIFE - Value of Wildlife

Vitalis Florry's family farm, Torra Conservancy, Namibia. rel=
Vitalis Florry's family farm, Torra Conservancy, Namibia.
© WWF / Edward PARKER

Turning Wildlife into Diamonds

Only a few years ago, local people viewed wildlife as a threat and as competition for food with their livestock. Now, they say, "Our wildlife are our diamonds."
There used to be no formal conservation protection, wildlife was in decline and unemployment within the local community was rampant. A decade ago, WWF and the aid agency USAID, along with many local partners on the ground, began to turn this around by directly involving the local community in conservation and wildlife management.

Empowering local communities
With WWF's help, villages in the northwest Namibian desert are organizing conservancies to sustainably manage their resources. In practical terms, that means giving communities the rights of ownership over huntable game, rights to revenues from the sale of game or game products, and rights to tourism.

Local residents now manage their wildlife populations to benefit their communities, for food, for hunting, for tourism and for balanced ecosystems. They're planting communal cash crops to benefit the community; establishing livestock breeding programs to compensate farmers when a predator kills their sheep or cow; opening luxury lodges and campsites for tourists; and leading game drives and nature walks to show off their natural resources.

31 registered conservancies
Today, there are 31 registered conservancies managing their communal land through eco-tourism and managed hunting. In these places, wildlife is thriving and the local communities are beginning to have money in the bank and regular employment opportunities. Currently there are another 40 areas emerging as conservancies, which will involve another 100,000 people.
Desert Black rhinoceros (<i>Diceros bicornis</i>) adapted to extremely arid habitat, ... 
	© WWF / Frederick J. WEYERHAEUSER
Desert Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) adapted to extremely arid habitat, Namibia.
Poaching = stealing
Poaching is now seen as stealing from your own people and the results are startling. Animal populations are rebounding. In the early 1980s, there were thought to be only 50 elephants, less than 1000 zebra, and 50 rhinos surviving in Northwest Namibia.

A 2003 game count found 500 elephants, 14,000 zebra and the world's largest population of free roaming black rhino. Gemsbok, springbok and Hartmann's zebra sightings were up by 33%, 16% and 11% respectively from 2002 to 2003.

Dramatic reduction in poaching cases
"People used to poach and there were no springbok anywhere. But in the last eight years, the springbok population has come back," says Bob Guibeb, director of environmental services for the ≠Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy. "Springboks are sleeping in people's backyards. There are people who are still poaching, but poaching incidents have come down very low." The members of each conservancy gather annually to decide how to spend the money brought in by the conservancy's operations.

The ≠Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy uses some of its proceeds to give money to the local schools and compensate people for elephant damage to their property. Tsiseb Conservancy used some of the income from its projects to purchase land and build an impressive visitors center out of the colorful local stone, complete with coffee shop, Internet cafe and store selling crafts made by conservancy members.

Compensating for losses
With the money brought in by its projects, the Torra Conservancy has started a breeding station of goats, cows and sheep that will be used to compensate farmers when a lion or other predator kills one of their livestock.

This has the added benefit of reducing revenge killings of predators. It has also been able to wean itself off donor support and meet its own management costs, and still have remaining funds to contribute to community development projects.

As Rosalia Haraes, from the Torra Conservancy, explains, "Everyone in the conservancy wants to look after wildlife. Everyone knows importance of wildlife for ourselves and for tourists - it's ours now to look after."

Humans vs. elephants - resolving the conflict
In the communities that WWF works with in Namibia, part of the income generated by each conservancy goes to protecting "water points" from pachyderms. These water points are communal access wells or storage areas for water, where water is either pumped out of the ground or where rainwater is collected and stored for later use. Because people are afraid of elephant attacks, water points are usually built at a distance from houses. That makes collecting water an arduous process, with lots of lugging of heavy jugs.

The conservancies have also built elephants their own watering holes, some that even include smaller pools for calves to use, and conservancy members are obligated (and sometimes paid) to keep them full. The conservancies also use some of their income to set up elephant damage funds to compensate farmers who lose water points and buy diesel to run the generators that power the water pumps for the elephants' water points.

"We tell people they must make sure the elephants' water points are full so they don't come after the farmers' water," says Guibeb. "Elephants are here and they are here to stay. And we are here and we are here to stay. So we are trying to live together, but it is very difficult."

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