We Will Live With Wildlife
By Ted Martens, with contributions by WWF’s Madison Higgins
These five words, adopted extensively across Namibia's vast and beautiful rural landscapes, have instigated one of the greatest conservation stories ever told, happening right now in this quiet corner of Southern Africa. Namibia is in the midst of a conservation revolution, exchanging generations of wildlife conflict, poaching and unsustainable land-use practices for unparalleled levels of habitat protection, wildlife conservation and sustainable development.
"Before Damaraland Camp, before the conservancy, I was a goat herder," explains Lena Florry, a jovial woman who beams when she tells her transformational story. "For the first half of my life, I never slept in a bed and I never wore any shoes. I am one of nine children. My family did not have the money to afford these luxuries. We were bare-footed goat herders, and that's what I was destined to be."
Tourism has transformed Lena and thousands of other Namibians into passionate conservationists. Thanks to innovative partnerships between government, local communities and the travel industry, unique management structures have been created that allow rural Namibians to benefit significantly from tourism in their region by way of skills training, jobs and direct financial contributions. As a result, people in these communities have tangible reason to support wildlife conservation. This progressive form of community-integrated tourism is changing lives, protecting animals and establishing Namibia as a leader in sustainable tourism.
At the heart of Namibia's conservation revolution are communal conservancies, management units of neighboring communities who have been awarded rights to oversee wildlife and natural resources on their communal land. WWF sees the creation of these conservancies as an opportunity to enhance conservation and change the mindset that wildlife was government owned and therefore not valuable to individual Namibians. Now, wildlife is seen as a community resource to be protected and managed for the benefit of conservancy members.
With the help of WWF and other partners, the communal conservancies are forging innovative joint-venture partnerships with tourism investors and management companies, creating high-quality tourism lodges and experiences that have direct financial benefits to the conservancies and individual communities. Revenue earned as part of these ventures is paid to a community fund that supports local projects such as education, water access and health care.
Thanks to the conservancy movement, wildlife became valuable and poaching unacceptable, resulting in an unprecedented recovery in wildlife numbers: since 1995, Namibia's desert-adapted lion population has quadrupled, the elephant population has more than doubled and the endangered black rhino populations are healthy enough to be moved out of national parks and into communal conservancies.
Today, wildlife is the basis of a new rural economy that is creating jobs and providing direct benefits to communities that have chosen to live in harmony with it. Thanks to the communal conservancy system, Lena and her peers have realized the commitment "We will live with wildlife" is not a sacrifice to be made, but a choice that ensures prosperity for the community and the country as a whole.
"With the skills the conservancy members have acquired and new attitudes toward wildlife and natural resources management," Chris Weaver of WWF Namibia says, "Namibia has become a model for other impoverished countries."