Karl Sooabeb is a game guard. It’s a responsible position at Doro !nawas Conservancy, in the hot plain west of Khorixas, Kunene Region. Game guards are at the heart of conservancies, and to extend the metaphor: they are the eyes and ears as well.
The first community game guards worked for rations of maize flour back in the 1980s, when poaching was rife. It was the beginning of a conservation movement that by 2013 has spawned 79 communal conservancies covering 19.5% of Namibia.
Working with farmers, today’s game guards are paid employees of conservancies, who conduct anti-poaching patrols and monitor game closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Without them, there would be no point to conservancies, which is why the CDSS team has initiated a programme of game guard qualification and recognition: first to make sure that the guards are up to scratch, and second to give them an incentive by recognizing their work.
Designing badges and certificates of achievement is perhaps the easiest part of the package. A graphic artist has already come up with some smart ideas: a Game Guard Competence Barometer to measure progress, Certificates of Competence, and Insignia to distinguish Senior Game Guards, and to show particular skills.
Assessing competencies is the trickier task. CDSS has identified 12 core competencies of game guards, such as patrols, game counts, and game unitlization. These are based on the game guard’s daily routine, and the background knowledge they should bring to their work. This is built up by on the job training, and latterly has been improved by specific training under the CDSS Programme, which has ten standardized training modules. In theory, game guards in widely different regions and eco-systems of Namibia should be able to bring the same skills to bear on their work.
To develop a way to assess competencies, the Natural Resources and Institutional Development working groups of NACSO got together to run a workshop with consultant Brent Richardson, who runs a training business and has experience of the NTA and NQA, respectively the Namibia Training Authority and Namibia Qualifications Authority.
The result was an assessment course for individual game guards, to be split into theory and practice. It has been piloted in Doro !nawas Conservancy, where Karl Sooabeb is one of five game guards. Seniority is based upon experience and agreement amongst the conservancy staff. Karl has been on the job for 14 years and is classed as a senior guard.
The Doro !nawas office provides some welcome shade from the October heat, but inside, WWF staff were grilling Karl. “What do you know about the Forestry Act?” There are few trees in Doro !nawas and some of the problems of an assessment designed in Windhoek were becoming apparent. Translation was another issue. Georgina Swartz from the Natural Resources Group speaks Afrikaans, but Johannes Andreas from CDSS does not. A conservancy can always find somebody to translate, but it slows the process down.
Karl was happy with the assessment. “It was important for me,” he said. “I have had some law enforcement training, but it revealed that I did not know enough about the acts.” Georgina and Johannes were happy too. The point of the pilot scheme is to find out the problems, so that the assessment process can be improved and then rolled out widely.
When it came to the practical assessment, bigger problems emerged. It was a long drive in the heat to a spring where animal tracks can usually be found. But on this occasion the tracks were old and unclear. Good exercise for a specialized tracker, perhaps, but hardly an ideal testing ground for a game guard, especially if the testing of competencies like reading tracks is to be standardized. Already, the CDSS team has decided to use photographs for testing spoor reading skills.
For Karl and the team it was a good day, but at the end Karl was asked what he would like most of all to improve his effectiveness. “A uniform and camping gear,” was his response, but he did agree that more training, especially in law enforcement, would improve his skills.