The life’s work of Namibian community conservation pioneer Garth Owen-Smith will be remembered and honoured this week when four conservancy field workers from the Zambezi and Kunene Regions receive Namibia’s first annual GOSCARs – the Grass-Roots Owen-Smith Community Rangers Awards.
The late Garth Owen-Smith initiated community-based conservation in Kunene in the 80s when this approach – empowering communities who live with wildlife to manage and benefit from it – was politically unacceptable. By independence, this way of doing conservation was showing irrefutably positive results, with poaching stopped and wildlife numbers increasing in Kunene, which led the new Namibian government to adopt community conservation as one of its driving philosophies. Conservation legislation was amended to give communal area dwellers the same conditional rights over wildlife that freehold farm owners had enjoyed since the 70s. Today Namibia has 86 communal conservancies, 43 communal forests, one community association for people who live inside the Bwabwata National Park, and 10 community fish reserves.
By the end of 2020 community conservation had contributed an estimated N$ 10.753 billion to Namibia’s net national income. In 2019 (prior to COVID-19), conservancy residents earned a total cash income of N$85 097 978 and conservancies generated N$155 656 833 in returns, with more than 5 000 rural jobs facilitated. Community conservation covers 180 083 square kilometres – more than 20% of the country. Wildlife species have thrived in conservancies, although the 10-year drought in Kunene Region caused both domestic stock and wild animal numbers to seriously decline. Recent good rains bode well for recoveries.
Dr Margaret Jacobsohn, chair of the GOSCARs panel and Garth’s life and work partner said that the awards were set up to celebrate his 40-plus years of work in Namibia and draw attention to the men and women who work in the field, on the cutting edge of conservation.
“Each of these first winners embody what the awards stand for: Local skills developed and put to work at field level, long-term dedication and commitment. GOSCARs winners spend much of their time on foot in difficult terrain and uncomfortable circumstances, to protect and better manage wildlife for the benefit of conservancy members now and in the future.
“The winners hold positions of trust and responsibility and are passing on their knowledge to younger generations. Each of them is a humble man, as was Garth, and they show that an ordinary local person can perform extraordinary work for conservation.”
Dr Jacobsohn was founding co-director, with Garth Owen-Smith, of Namibia’s largest field-based NGO – Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) and a founding member of NACSO – the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations. In their time the couple won some of the world’s top conservation awards; subsequently many other Namibians working in the community-conservation field have received international and local awards for outstanding work.
The GOSCARs panel includes the Hon. Beaven Munali, former IRDNC Assistant Director and retired Chairman of the Zambezi Regional Council, and Ronnie Dempers, chairman of NACSO and Executive Director of the Namibian Development Trust. The GOSCARs fund is being managed at no cost by the Namibian Chamber of Environment.
The award ceremony took place at Wereldsend Environmental Centre on 7 April, attended by conservancy and community leaders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private sector, and government.
This year’s winners are being recognized for their outstanding front-line work, contributing to the protection and better management of the valuable wildlife in their conservancies. The awardees will receive a certificate and a cash prize to share with their conservancies. The total value of this year’s GOSCARs is N$100 000.
The 2022 GOSCAR Winners:
Hans Haoseb, rhino ranger for //Huab Conservancy, Kunene Region.
Hans has been a part of his conservancy for more than 20 years, starting as a community game guard. Today he is one of the most experienced conservancy rhino trackers in Namibia. Working in the mountainous areas of his conservancy, he spends much of his time tracking rhino on foot in rocky and difficult terrain, often going out for much longer than his job requires. While his focus is rhino, Hans cares deeply about all wildlife and natural ecosystems. He takes new rhino rangers under his wing and ensures that his wealth of knowledge is passed on. His nominators believe few can match his dedication and commitment.
Thalubengwa James Nandu, Field Officer for Salambala Conservancy, Zambezi Region.
James started his conservation career as a community game guard in 2008. Active, fit and always at the forefront of Salambala conservation work, he was soon promoted to Senior Ranger. He has put his leadership and communication skills to good use in his current role as Field Officer, in which he is responsible for all game guards. James is a long term-member of the CECT/Salambala/Bamunu Transboundary forum responsible for wildlife crime awareness in Namibia and Botswana and was recently elected as its vice chairperson. He is a member of Bukalo Traditional Authority, always bringing his commitment and dedication to conservation into this forum.
Rodney Tjavara, Human-Lion Conflict Rapid Response Ranger in Puros Conservancy.
Among the original Lion Rangers activated in 2014 due to drought-related predator problems, Rodney began as lion researcher Dr Flip Stander’s “boots on the ground”. He later put his valuable field experience to use, assisting IRDNC in training lion rangers across Puros, Sesfontein, Anabeb and Torra conservancies in lion identification and ecology, safely approaching lions in the field, monitoring the Early Warning systems, collaring and translocations. Now stationed near-permanently at Leyland’s Drift in the Hoarusib River, he takes primary responsibility for limiting conflict between Puros farmers and the newly identified coastal-roaming lions. Knowledgeable, trusted and dedicated, Rodney works erratic hours, day and night, often alone, in remote areas.
Mathinus Sanib, Rhino Ranger for Torra Conservancy, Kunene region
Since joining the conservancy rhino ranger program in 2017, Marthinus has led or finished in the top three for nearly all performance areas including number of field days, km walked and verified rhino sightings. In 2020 he broke records with his 432 verified (date and time stamped photographs) sightings of rhino, producing some top rhino images. About a third of his time is spent on rhino tourism and he has thus contributed to substantial income for Torra, enabling this conservancy to employ 15 rangers, which is no doubt a key factor in Torra’s zero poaching status. A soft-spoken and humble man, Marthinus is a role model among conservancy rhino rangers and within his community.
The annual GOSCARs have been made possible by generous contributions from Namibians and international friends and colleagues to an Owen-Smith memorial fund.
Nominations for the 2023 GOSCARs are open. Nominees must work for a community-based organisation and the focus is on field workers: conservancy game guards, conservancy lion or rhino rangers, fish guards or community resource monitors. Government, NGO or private sector staff are welcome to nominate worthy candidates but are not themselves eligible. Nominations should be sent to the NCE before the end of 2022: Email email@example.com; Tel: (061) 240 140; Cell & SMS: 081 162 5807.