At the Chairpersons’ Forum held on 25 & 26 April, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) initiated awards for conservancies in three categories: The Event Book Award, which recognises exceptional natural resources monitoring, The Livelihoods Enhancement Award, which recognises benefit sharing for members, and the Best Improving and Developing Conservancy Award, which was shared between Ipumbu ya Tshilongo, /Huibes, /Audi, African Wild Dog and //Gamaseb conservancies. Each award was worth N$100,000, which meant that the five conservancies in the last category had to share the cash.
At //Gamaseb, in the south of Namibia, close to Karasburg, there was jubilation. Although N$20,000 won’t go far, the conservancy has no income, and the prize money will be very useful; but it is the recognition which means much more.
Conservancy Chairman Bernard Hatzkin says that people don’t know the southern conservancies. When the US Government’s Millenium Challenge Account gave support to over thirty conservancies, the south missed out. The Namibia Development Trust lacks resources to give training to the five southern conservancies, and it is hard to motivate conservancy members and game guards. The latter work without a salary in //Gamaseb.
All the more reason for surprise and delight about the award. Hatzkin attributes it to the good reporting that the conservancy manages, even though it does not have an office, and works from St. Joseph’s Mission School in Gabis, just over 20 kilometres south of Karasburg. The financial reporting is good, says Hatzkin, including bank statements, and the conservancy has made innovations in reporting incidents of human wildlife conflict. Residents who have lost livestock are encouraged to take cell phone snaps, and to make notes of animal tracks.
Most livestock losses are caused by jackals. //Gamaseb is very strict about paying offsets for stock losses, as it has very little money. The MET gave the conservancy N$60,000 as part of its Human Wildlife Conflict Self Reliance Scheme, but the money has not been topped up by the Ministry, or the conservancy, which has no income from hunting or tourism.
The MET does agree a small quota for own use hunting, which is a lifeline for //Gamaseb, but without a professional hunter, the conservancy often relies on MET staff to assist with harvesting out of office hours. Meat is the only benefit paid to game guards.
But if people only “see the meat”, says the Chairman, the conservancy will not succeed. There has to be a conservation motivation with people taking what he calls “ownership of their own wildlife”.
But there is hope on the horizon. //Gamaseb and !Han Awab conservancies have been promised a joint share in a tourism concession next to the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park: a tourism hot-spot in the south. Although the agreement with the MET has not yet been signed, Hatzkin is excited about the prospect of finding a joint venture partner from the private sector to build a lodge, which would provide both employment and income.