Once a year, the WWF Regional Office of Africa holds a conference for communications officers, and this time around WWF in Namibia hosted communicators from central, east and southern Africa in Swakopmund.
“Is Swakopmund typical of Namibia?” some delegates asked as the mist rolled in from the sea and another bout of shivering set in. South Africans understand about cold weather, but Kenyans and Congolese are used to warmer weather all the year round.
The idea was to showcase Namibia’s landscapes and conservation. Swakopmund was chosen because of its proximity to a conservancy: ≠Gaingu, which includes the Spitzkoppe. The conference moved to the mountain for a night, and representatives from Torra and Uibasen-Twyfelfontein conservancies also travelled down to the desert venue to join the delegates from all over Africa.
After the coastal cold, warmth was provided by the welcome at the Spitzkoppe. Conservancy Safaris Namibia supplied catering services, with Springbok stew by the fireside, under the Milky Way, which was crystal clear in the desert sky. Cook Sonia Hambo was arguably the most popular person, with Zambian delegate Eneya Phiri leading chants of “Sonia, Sonia, Sonia.”
After a chilly night camping, the participants heard technical information about conservation. Hilma Angula from NACSO’s Natural Resource Management team showed event books and game count charts, and explained how monitoring works in the field. It was interesting that the next day, back in Swakopmund, people were still asking about Namibia’s game monitoring systems and if they have been replicated elsewhere. Similar systems have been introduced in parts of Kenya and Zambia, but delegates thought the simple, but effective system should be used much more widely.
At the Spitzkoppe, the highlight was managers talking about their conservancies: Torra, Uibasen-Twyfelfontein and ≠Gaingu. Torra was one of the first four conservancies formed, and has strong income streams from tourism and hunting. Manager Emil Roman spoke passionately about human wildlife conflict, but also explained how benefits are distributed – a point taken up by Joglinde Touros from Uibasen-Twyfelfontein, who explained how conservancy members had come to prefer community benefits to individual cash benefits. Nelao Kontombolo from ≠Gaingu impressed the participants with an honest assessment of a conservancy which had not done well, but was recovering, and an accurate statement of the number of springbok in the area, which demonstrated how wildlife monitoring is taken seriously by communities.
The conference had begun with a welcome from WWF in Namibia’s Richard Diggle, and a keynote talk by conservationist Garth Owen-Smith, who co-founded IRDNC with Margie Jacobsohn, who also attended the first day. The last day included a web-cam link to WWF Director Marco Lambertini in Geneva. Lambertini was keen to stress that conservation in the future has to be based on communities, and run by the people who live on the land with wildlife. Conservation, he said, is about much more than protecting species; it is about habitat, fresh water, soil and climate change.
If communities are the key to conservation, the conference delegates had a good sense of it in Namibia: from Garth Owen-Smith, NACSO, WWF in Namibia, and most of all from the guardians of our environment – representatives of Namibian conservancies.