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Chris Weaver

"Our...approach to conservation has dramatically altered the mindset of communities from animosity to that of embracing wildlife as a livelihood asset."


Written by Chris Weaver, Managing Director, WWF Namibia

Living in Namibia for the last 20 years, I have seen the outlook on wildlife go from dismal to hopeful.

In the mid-1990s – shortly after Namibia won its independence – wildlife numbers were at historic lows in many communal areas. Now we have the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos, Africa’s only expanding population of lions and the biggest cheetah population in the world. Elephants are recovering and enlarging their range, while migration routes for many animals are being re-established.

This remarkable metamorphosis has all been possible due to Namibia’s visionary government recognizing the importance of engaging communities in conservation. After passing the 1996 communal conservancy legislation, the government teamed up with multiple non-governmental organizations, including WWF, to assist communities in forming conservation areas to manage and benefit from their wildlife.

It’s exciting to watch the transformation in how people value wildlife in Namibia. While wildlife was once perceived as a detriment to peoples’ livelihoods and used as poached meat, is increasingly being viewed as a valuable asset to attract tourists.

A great example of this is the Puros Conservancy in northwest Namibia. In the 1990s, if a lion came near a village, locals would track it down and shoot it. Slowly the villagers came to realize that lions have value, and tourism could bring income and employment benefits. In 2008, the community requested that WWF help fund radio tracking equipment, a vehicle and staff so the conservancy could monitor lion movements and manage potential conflict between lions and resident livestock. WWF offered to provide half the money if the conservancy put up the other half; the conservancy’s representatives agreed.

That was a huge demonstration of attitude shift. Not only did community members no longer want to kill the lions, they now were willing to invest their own money to protect them.

Twenty countries have sent delegations to observe and learn from Namibia’s experiences and successes. With 79 registered conservancies covering 38 million acres, Namibia has become a conservation model that inspires hope for countries and communities around the globe.

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