The 2012 Markhor Award for Outstanding Conservation Performance has been won jointly by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organizations (NACSO). Through this Award, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) honours conservation projects that link human livelihoods with the conservation of biodiversity.

The link between sustainable use of resources and people’s livelihoods is coming into increasing public focus. Consensus may be difficult to reach at international venues like Rio, but action is taking place in many areas at the national level. Conservation means using resources so that they will be available for future generations, and in Namibia this is happening at the local level through the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Programme.

The name ‘Markhor' comes from Pakistan’s mountain goat species. Once threatened with extinction, the population has multiplied 25 times in recent years because of benefits derived from the sustainable use of the species. It’s a paradox that awards like the Markhor help the public to understand: benefits from the hunting of wildlife have improved the lives of community members, and created a value for wildlife, which local people now want to conserve.

In giving the Award to the MET and NACSO for the Namibia Communal Conservancy Movement, the CIC took note that the introduction of communal conservancies in Namibia, and their growth, had “initiated a paradigm shift in community attitudes towards wildlife.” In the 1980s, as a result of drought and rampant poaching, wildlife populations were under extreme threat. Now, in contrast, wildlife is seen as a growing asset by rural communities. Communal conservancies are self-governing entities which enjoy the same rights over wildlife and tourism that private farms do. Conservancy members vote for a committee, and collectively earn money from trophy hunting and game sales, as well as from joint ventures with lodge operators on conservancy land.

The work of the MET and NACSO in supporting the Namibia Communal Conservancy Movement has led to a widespread and sustained growth of wildlife populations in Namibia, where communal conservancies have grown from four, in 1998, to 76 in 2012, covering almost 19 per cent of the country.

Total benefits - including income from employment, in-kind benefits, and cash - to communal conservancies between 1998 and 2010 totalled the equivalent of US$23.81 million. Though more than half of these benefits were generated from joint venture tourist lodges, the sustainable use of wildlife has produced the majority of cash income to conservancies. These cash payments have been essential to allowing conservancies to employ their own conservation staff, cover conservancy operating costs, and contribute to rural development activities – thus creating strong incentives for communities to live with wildlife.

In Namibia, communal conservancies are required by the MET to have a sustainable game management plan, according to which game may be harvested for trophy hunting, live capture and sale, and for distribution as meat. Sustainable harvesting results in viable and managed wildlife populations, which have grown exponentially in communal conservancy areas since independence.

In the north-west Kunene Region, for example, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra numbers have grown from an estimated 1,000 in 1982 to around 27,000 today, and the population of the desert-adapted elephant has grown from around 150 to approximately 750 in the same period. Lions in Kunene have expanded in range and number, and Namibia has the world’s largest population of black rhino.

It was the Namibian post-independence government’s visionary approach to the sustainable utilization of natural resources that created the conditions in which rural Namibians could benefit from wildlife, with legislation in 1996 which led to the establishment of the first communal conservancies. The partnership that followed, between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, NGOs under the umbrella of NACSO, and rural communities themselves, created conditions in which conservation has been able to prosper.

Steve Felton, WWF Namibia

Photo: One of the quarterly Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation meetings at Orupembe, Kunene Region and where communal conservancies met to discuss game quotas and other issues. Credit: Steve Felton, WWF.