Into the wild : The contrasting stories of Africa’s wildlife

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The Namibian, Helge Denker | January 22, 2020

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CAMPFIRE drinks in the fading light of dusk, after a long, full day in the African bush is the order of the night, followed by animated chatter about the day’s activities and diverse wildlife sightings, about conservation and the state of the world.

Later, a superb three-course meal in the dining tent, including a perfectly grilled game fillet takes centre stage. This is the good life. The wild life.

This is not a scene from a luxury tourist camp in a national park, or some pristine last wilderness. This is the setting at the small and stylish Ondjou Safaris hunting camp in Dzoti Conservancy.

The international media is filled with news of rapidly declining wildlife populations. Calls to save the last elephants, rhinos and lions are more urgent than ever. Yet the story of ‘the last’ should not be applied everywhere, as the country is not part of this story.

Namibia has a different tale to tell. Through pragmatic conservation approaches, wildlife in this country has recovered from historic lows over the past five decades.

Notwithstanding fluctuations caused by droughts, most of the country’s game populations are healthier today than at any time over the past 150 years. This is not a wild claim. It is a fact illustrated by a wealth of scientific data. Elephant numbers have tripled since the mid-nineties.

Namibia has one of the healthiest black rhino populations on earth. After local extinction over a century ago, the white rhino was reintroduced and occurs again in many places and in good numbers. The famous ‘desert lions’ of the north-west are not ‘the last’, but have increased from about two dozen in 1995 to well over a 100 today.

Yet, internationally, Namibia’s conservation approaches are controversial – because they include the persona non grata of environmental activism – the hunter.

Original photo as published by The Namibian: Over half of Namibia’s elephant population of around 22 000 animals occurs in the extreme north-east of the country – an important tourist attraction, but also a significant burden for subsistence farmers. (Photo: Helge Denker)

DZOTI AND THE BOYS

Dzoti Conservancy (registered in 2009) is a little-known communal conservancy in the Zambezi region. In an area of 287 square kilometres, just over 2 000 residents live on a mix of traditional livelihoods – and a vital boost provided by diverse returns from legal hunting and wildlife harvesting.

In Namibia, hunting of free-roaming, indigenous wildlife in an open system, which generates direct income for conservation activities and rural communities, is called conservation hunting. It is clearly different from trophy shooting, which is usually carried out in fenced areas where introduced species offer easy targets – and the trophy is everything. For conservation hunting, a passion for intact wildlands is everything – wildlands that are maintained through hunting inputs.

Just as the diverging status of wildlife in differently managed countries is often overlooked, the differences between trophy shooting and conservation hunting are not widely appreciated – all hunters are the bad boys, no matter what. Yet, in Namibia’s communal hunting concessions, conservation hunters are the good bad boys – for local communities and for the health of wildlife.

Importantly, the community decides how to use the land and its resources; whether to form a conservancy, and whether to create a hunting concession. Most communities welcome conservation hunting because it generates significant returns – and because hunting, and meat to eat, are a traditional part of rural lives.

Hunting revenue is the only significant income for Dzoti Conservancy. Without hunting, this conservation structure would not exist here.

Without hunting, there would be no conservancy, that is, no game guards, no patrols, no human-wildlife conflict mitigation, no anti-poaching efforts, no core wildlife area – and certainly a lot less wildlife.

THE HUNTER VS THE POACHER

A couple of months ago at Dzoti, one poacher had been arrested, while another had managed to flee with a rhino horn and elephant tusk. Both the rhino and elephant appear to have been killed in neighbouring Botswana.

For Dzoti, this is the most high-profile wildlife crime case this year because it involved Africa’s primary poaching targets. For Ondjou Safaris co-owner Hentie van Heerden, it was just one of more than a dozen cases over the past decade in which he has provided active support to conservancy game guards and the police, usually with a positive outcome – arresting poachers.

In Namibia’s communal lands, elephant hunting is increasingly controversial. Botswana recently decided to re-open elephant hunting.

Human-wildlife conflicts had increased. The communities most affected by the ban wanted to have it lifted. An international outcry ensued – with a sad disregard for local realities and the autonomy of democratic African governance.

Namibia has allowed a limited number of elephant hunts each year for several decades, based on a system of population counts and quotas. During this time, the country’s elephant numbers have increased from 7 500 to over 22 000 – and the great pachyderms have expanded their range.

At Dzoti, the elephant quota of Ondjou Safaris has varied between four and five elephants each year. Over the past decade, 35 trophy elephants have been hunted in the conservancy. The average ivory weight has remained consistent, and the heaviest tusk of the last 10 years (65 pounds) was obtained in 2019.

THE PASSION OF THE HUNTER

Late into the evening, with the sounds of the African bush drifting into the dining tent, I sit talking with Hentie and his wife, Denise. Their passion for wildlife and wildlands is manifest. Mention the elusive sitatunga, or ask about the enigmatic serval – and watch Hentie’s eyes light up. Not because he wants to hunt them, but because he has a genuine connection to the wild and all its creatures.

Hunters may decorate their homes with the skulls and skins of their quarry, but these simply serve as tangible, authentic reminders of memorable times spent in wildlands.

Hunters love the dynamics of wildlands, where buffalo and elephant and bushbuck have space to roam, where secretive species like sitatunga can thrive … and where, for brief periods, the hunter can return to the rhythms of nature.

When Dzoti Conservancy was formed, wildlife was scarce and skittish. A decade later, a wondrous transformation has taken place. Warthog and impala are once again common in the area. Bushbuck and waterbuck are thriving. Sitatunga are regularly encountered.

Lion, leopard and serval all hunt here. Buffalo and elephant come and go in large herds. Even giraffe – which had become locally extinct in the Zambezi region in the early 1990s – are back. A series of reintroductions into Mudumu National Park and adjoining conservancies have allowed them to recolonise Dzoti.

The transformation is much bigger than Dzoti, it’s a national recovery – one that is particularly impressive in the Zambezi region. Tourists are enjoying great wildlife sightings in the region’s national parks. But the parks are small, and could not survive as islands within a sea of agriculture.

Through the mosaic of core wildlife areas, movement corridors and buffer zones that the conservancies create, a vast landscape of wildlife habitat can be maintained. But the conservancies depend on conservation hunting to function. If animal rights activists succeed in banning all hunting, a proven conservation model will collapse, critics argue.

In the end, wildlife will be the loser. The community will be the loser. Simply put, there will be no winners.

*Helge Denker is a Namibian writer-naturalist. He has worked in various sectors within the Namibian tourism and environmental spheres for the past three decades, and has published numerous articles on the country’s conservation issues.

Akagera Park records 25% revenue growth (Rwanda)

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Collins Mwai, New Times | January 23, 2020

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Akagera National Park received more than 49,000 visitors and generated $2.5 million in park revenue last year (2019), a 25 per cent increase compared to 2018.

The park’s management said that the revenues made last year account for about 90 per cent of their annual budget.

The number of visitors to the park has grown in recent years since the 2010 signing of a private public partnership agreement African Parks, a non-profit conservation organisation managing 10 national parks and protected areas in seven African countries, took over its management.

Original photo as published by The New Times: Zebras in Akagera National Park. (Photos by Emmanuel Kwizera)

Of the revenue, $525,000 was spent in directly contributing to the local community through salaries of local staff and local purchases in 2019.

Sarah Hall, the Tourism and Marketing Manager at Akagera National Park, told The New Times that they have seen growth in recent years following the public private partnership.

Of the visitors to the park, 48 per cent were Rwandan citizens.

Hall said that there has been growth in interest in the park in recent years while aerial counts show an increase in number of animals in the park.

The aerial census for 2019 has shown an increase in overall animal population with a total of 13,500 animals recorded. This is up from 12,000 counted in 2017.

Last year, the park received five eastern black rhinos from a zoo in Czech Republic further growing interest in the park.

The return of rhinos to the park gave it the ‘Big 5’ status; having lions, buffaloes, rhinos, leopards and elephant.

Before the reintroduction of the rhinos, the park had in 2015 re-introduced lions in Akagera National Park in 2015 after they were translocated from South Africa.

Hall said that they expected to see continued growth in visitors and revenue in the course of the year as Akagera Game Lodge ran by Mantis Group is in the process of renovation.

Hall added that with the road from Kabarondo to the park now tarmacked, they hope to have easier access to the part and consequently more guests.

The park’s peak seasons like most of Rwanda’s tourism facilities are twice annually; July-August and December–January.

In regards to visitor trends, Hall said that there has been an increase in visitors from Francophone countries.

The continued growth and improvement of the park Hall said ought to mean more options and opportunity for local tourism companies as they now have ‘more to sell’ to clients.

Coronavirus conspiracy: Kevin Pietersen mocked on Twitter after sharing bizarre theory

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Megan Baynes, The Express | January 26, 2020

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Former England cricket star Kevin Pietersen has been mocked on social media for sharing a bizarre theory about the origins of the coronavirus. He shared a picture of two rhino horns which had the caption: “It’s believed the corona virus is possibly caused due to the use of rhino horn.”

Kevin accompanied the picture with the words “PLS RT?!?!?!!” and an emoji of hands praying. The image, which is now widely circulating on social media, offers no evidence to back up these claims. Social media users were quick to jump on the post.

One tweeted: “A pic of a couple of rhino horns with a caption that starts with ‘It is believed..’ isn’t much of a proof, is it?

“Its for a great cause but don’t want to end up being trolled by people for sharing something without genuine evidence to back that claim.”

Another added: “Misinformation and lies are what makes people believe rhino horn has medicinal properties. Please don’t stoop to their level of stupidity.

“This just gives them ammunition to cast back at our noble cause.”

Some believed the former cricketer was deliberately spreading fake news to prevent rhinos being killed for their horns.

Kevin has previously described himself as a passionate conservationist, working with organisations to tackle rhino poaching.

One Twitter user said: “It may not be 100% accurate but it will help a cause so I will take it.”

Another said: “I’m just retweeting it anyway. The poachers are likely not associated with sharp minds.”

It has not yet been established what caused the new strain of coronavirus which appeared in Wuhan, China, at the start of December.

The disease is believed to have originated in a ‘wet market’, where meat was sold alongside live animals.

There are fears the virus outbreak could be linked to bat soup sold at the market but this has not been confirmed.

The illness has infected almost 2,000 Chinese citizens and killed more than 50 people, including one doctor.

Three cases have been reported in France but there are no known sufferers in the UK. More than 30 people in the UK have been checked, but all tests have returned negative.

Wuhan was placed on lockdown on Thursday, with residents banned from leaving the city. Flights, buses and all other methods of transport have been halted in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

Now 16 other Chinese cities have been locked down, with around 28 provinces issued the highest emergency response ranking possible.

The death toll has steadily risen in recent days.