The Growth and Future of Hunting In Communal Conservancies

Abilio Kiwilepo, professional hunter, working in Torra Conservancy
Abilio Kiwilepo, professional hunter, working in Torra Conservancy

The Namibia communal conservancy movement is regarded by many as a globally leading community conservation initiative. Communal conservancies evolved from the Government of Namibia’s recognition that the long-term presence of wildlife on communal lands is dependent upon local communities being both benefactors and responsible managers of wildlife. From the embryonic creation of the first four communal conservancies in 1998, the movement has now grown to 82 communal conservancies covering approximately 161,000 km² and encompassing over 180,000 community members. The popularity of communal conservancies is being motivated by cash income to conservancies, employment to conservancy members, diversification of livelihoods, and increased involvement in the hunting industry.  These benefits, in-turn, are driven by wildlife stocks that are providing the basis of increasingly more valuable photographic and hunting enterprises across Namibia’s communal conservancies.

The sustainable use of wildlife, especially trophy hunting, has played a critical role in the development of communal conservancies.  Prior to 1998, there were only four hunting concessions operating on Namibia’s communal lands, with none of these concessions providing meaningful engagement with or benefits to resident communities.  Today, there are 46 trophy hunting concessions operating on communal lands (see figure), with the conservancies being empowered as both the benefactor and custodian of these hunting concessions.

The map shows communal conservancies with operational trophy hunting concessions as of 2014 (Map source: NACSO Natural Resources Working Group, 2014). Click here to see a bigger version of the map.

The creation of communal conservancy hunting concessions has assisted Namibia to become one of Africa’s most desired hunting destinations.  The presence of free-roaming populations of Africa’s big five (i.e., buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino), combined with a diverse mix of plains game, provide an attractive mix of species to hunt.  In addition, hunts are undertaken in stunning deserts, rolling savannahs, expansive woodlands, and productive floodplains.  Further, these hunts are providing interaction with a rich diversity of African cultures and are able to capitalize on the vast indigenous knowledge and hunting skills of community residents.

The creation of communal conservancies is assisting communities to capitalize on their wildlife wealth, diverse ecosystems, and cultural assets.  Partnerships between safari operators and communal conservancies is generating millions of dollars of cash that is being applied towards the salaries of community game guards and a mix of wildlife management and monitoring activities.  In addition, community members are being employed as trackers, skinners, camp staff, and a growing number of individuals have qualified as hunting guides (see photo).  During 2013, the sustainable use of wildlife (mostly trophy hunting) produced N$33.2 million of benefits to conservancies, composed of N$21 million in trophy hunting fees, more than 542,000 kgs of game meat, plus employment benefits for 134 full-time and 129 part-time community hunting staff.

Wildlife utilisation in communal conservancies has become a strong driver on Namibia’s communal lands for conservation, community empowerment, and improved rural livelihoods.  But despite these impressive achievements there is a pressing need to further empower disadvantaged Namibians in the hunting industry.  In particular, there is a need to promote disadvantaged Namibians to the role of hunting operator. There will be multiple obstacles to this process, including: the acquisition of operating assets (i.e., vehicles, camping, and hunting equipment); development of marketing capabilities; client support and management skills; and, how to manage the business aspects of a hunting operation. It will take time and effort to overcome these challenges, but they are by no means insurmountable.

Fortunately, NAPHA, has proactively recognised both the need and the opportunity to address this situation, and has solicited support from WWF in Namibia and the Namibia Nature Foundation to contribute to this important undertaking.  A pilot effort to identify potential disadvantaged Namibians to become hunting operators for communal conservancies will commence in November, 2014 when eight prospective trainees will undergo an initial training course to introduce this process.  This first training course will be followed by a second course in early 2015 and periodic mentoring of the most promising candidates by NAPHA members over the course of the coming year, inclusive of potentially hosting Finnish hunters who will provide constructive feedback on their performance.  If successful, this initial group of trainees could be part of a systematic approach to empowering disadvantaged Namibians in this important development and conservation sector in the years to come.

Chris Weaver
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Communal conservancies with operational trophy hunting concessions as of 2014 (Map source: NACSO Natural Resources Working Group, 2014)
Communal conservancies with operational trophy hunting concessions as of 2014 (Map source: NACSO Natural Resources Working Group, 2014)