Bob Koigi, Fair Planet | March 12, 2021
Decades of spirited conservation efforts by Namibia’s government, communities, private sector and development partners have delivered dividends within the Southern African country, which is home to the largest cocktail of wild animals and endangered species.
Over 40 percent of the country’s surface area is under active conservation management, earning it the moniker ‘the conservation capital of Africa’. Governments, research institutions and academia from Africa and beyond the continent visit the country to learn and replicate the successful conservation model in their countries.
The conservation success story has been a journey that has involved enforcing strict regulation in protecting the country’s fauna, a participatory and empowerment-oriented approach that has given community members agency to manage conservancies and political will that has seen the government chaperone the wildlife conservation resolve aggressively.
In the 1980s, the country’s wildlife population was being decimated by poaching, drought and a border war that pitted Namibia against Angola and South Africa.
But when the country got its independence in the 1990s, it enacted a landmark legislation that incorporated protection of the environment into the constitution, becoming the first African country to do so.
This also included a change in policy that saw community members given power to set up and run conservancies which would see them to benefit from the proceeds of natural resources. The conservancies grew in numbers from the initial four that were registered in 1998 to over 70 currently operating. The land under conservation management has also expanded from 13 percent in the 90s to the current 42 percent.
“There are immense payoffs to the Namibia conservation journey,” said Christopher Okinda, an East Africa-based conservationist. “For starters, because local communities have been involved in conservation management, they have learnt to inculcate wildlife as part of their way of life, which explains why cases of human-animal conflict are minimal.” “Again, Namibia remains one of the countries where the wildlife numbers continue to thrive even as they continue to record a fall in other countries,” he added.
The country is now home to the world’s largest wild cheetah population (estimated at 3,000), the world’s largest population of black rhinoceros and has the second largest population of rhinos globally.
To protect the cheetah population, Namibia runs a genetics laboratory – the only one of its kind in Africa. Operated by Cheetah Conservation Fund, CFF, the lab houses egg, blood, tissue and semen samples that the organisation says has been collected from more than 1,000 cheetahs.
In a groundbreaking conservation development, the organisation had partnered with the University of California and the Smithsonian Institution, which used in vitro fertilisation to produce the first cheetah embryo in 2007.
In January this year, the Dutch social enterprise Smart Parks provided modern technology to CCF that would allow the organisation to monitor the over 40 permanent resident cheetahs housed in the 67,000 hectare private reserve that is managed by CCF.
The LoRaWAN-network will see the cheetahs fitted with collars and sensors in order to allow for real time monitoring of the animals and data collection.
Conservation has been replicated in the fishing industry, where efforts by the government, fishermen, local communities and conservationists have led to the reduction of seabird deaths in the country’s demersal longline fishery by 98 percent. This translates to saving 22,000 seabirds each year.
Initially, the birds, some that are endangered or vulnerable, would die upon collision with the steel cables that are used to haul trawl nets through the water or get entangled by the long line fishing hooks.
But a raft of measures including training fishermen on simple practices that would keep the birds at bay (for example, bird-scaring colourful lines that were strategically positioned behind vessels to deter the birds from getting into dangerous trawl cables) have been hailed as having contributed in saving the birds’ population.
The Albatross Task Force formed to champion the conservation agenda has been aggressive in pushing for awareness and fishery regulation that has seen enactment of a law to protect the seabirds.
However, even with such aggressive campaigns, Namibia has had to contend with cases of poaching that at times have involved players outside its borders. In 2020, for example, according to official statistics, out of the 654 arrested suspects, 26 were Zambians and 22 were from Angola.
In the same year, the country recorded 113 cases of rhino trafficking and poaching and 100 related to pangolin poaching.
Namibia remains unfazed, and is betting on the strict legislation it has enacted, the success of the community conservation model and technology to protect wildlife.