::: Learning Exchange :::
Cambodian conservationists take lessons from Namibian conservancies
The SWAP team’s visit — supported by WWF International’s EAP small grants programme, the Darwin Initiative and the International Institute for Environment and Development — was designed to facilitate the transfer of valuable community conservation lessons learned in Namibia to rural Cambodia.
In particular, the team learned about Namibia’s conservancy communities and community-based wildlife monitoring systems, with the idea of replicating similar systems for communities living around Cambodia’s Mondulkiri protected forest in the eastern part of the country.
“The team saw with their own eyes how previously disempowered community members have been employed as rangers, have gained a voice and are helping to channel revenue from tourism back into their communities,” said Nick Cox, WWF Cambodia’s Dry Forests Programme Coordinator and organizer of the visit.
The tour began with three days in Namibia’s flagship wildlife conservation area, Etosha National Park. The time spent there was special for many reasons, not least of which was the amazing abundance of wildlife and the opportunity to see rare black rhino, lions and cheetahs, as well as experiencing the vastness of the landscape. An added bonus for Martin von Kaschke, SWAP’s South African-born technical advisor, was to see his old home at Etosha’s Namutoni camp, where he grew up in the 1970s. This was his first visit back in 30 years.
“What is amazing is that conservation issues in Cambodia and southern Africa are so similar,” observed von Kaschke. “Equally amazing is that the approaches to solving the biggest problems are similar too, and we think we can take what has been successfully achieved with communities in Namibia and translocate many of the methods and techniques into the Cambodia context.”
After Etosha, the team spent a week in Namibia’s northern Caprivi region learning about a community-based wildlife monitoring system, which has been successfully operating for the past 13 years. The team met community and government representatives in a number of conservancies, challenging them with difficult questions about the effectiveness of local conservation initiatives and how communities have benefited. The experience provided the Cambodian team with a number of valuable lessons on how best to engage local communities. Initial discussions were had within the team on how the Caprivi successes could be replicated in Cambodia.
Taking the opportunity to see other national parks, the Cambodian’s spent a week in Waterberg National Park under the expert guidance of Chief Warden, Boas Erckie. Taking time out from his studies on small mammals, Boas guided the team around the park showing them how Waterberg had become one of the top protected areas for producing excess wildlife for restocking other conservation areas. This allows the government to generate income from the sale of wildlife to other areas in Namibia (and other parts of Africa) to cover part of the cost of conservation.
A highlight of the Waterberg visit was two days spent shadowing Namibian park rangers as they tracked black rhinos, a skilful but dangerous activity that provided many lessons for the visitors. It was also a very practical opportunity for the Cambodian team’s poacher-turned-ranger Lean Kha to learn what to do when tracking large mammals that suddenly turn around and become aggressive.
“I never used to have problem during my hunting days when faced with an angry elephant that I had been tracking in the forest,” he explained. “I would simply shoot it. Of course, we don’t do that anymore so now we need to learn how to get out of the way!”
Now that the team is back in the field in Cambodia’s Dry Forests, the next few months will be spent planning the appropriate methodology and designing the materials needed to get the project’s community members involved in monitoring wildlife and local community use of natural resources. Having seen what has been achieved in Namibia, the team is fired up and ready for action.
“We are all very excited at the prospect of getting back to the Dry Forests in Cambodia and testing out a locally designed community-based wildlife monitoring system as soon as possible,” von Kaschke said.
• The Srepok Wilderness Area — in Cambodia’s eastern Mondulkiri Province — is part of the Lower Mekong Dry Forests Ecoregion, one of 200 large landscapes identified by WWF as being of global importance. The largest contiguous area of dry forest in all of mainland Southeast Asia, it is dominated by deciduous trees with patches of evergreens. Mixed in with these forests are seasonal meadows and ponds, as well as wetlands associated with the Mekong River. The area is also home to rich wildlife, including tiger, Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, banteng, gaur, Eld’s deer and numerous bird species.
• The Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP) is a partnership between WWF and the Cambodian Forestry Administration.