We all know of the massive strides that Namibia has made in terms of conservation. Not only is it the first country to have included conservation in its constitution upon independence, but it is the only country that has managed to grow its rhino populations to such an extent that they can be taken out of conservancies and re-introduced into their former range areas.
Namibia is at the fore-front of community conservation, giving local populations ownership of their conservancies and thus ensuring that these animals have more value to them alive, rather than dead – and now this has extended to include the Bwabwata National Park in the Caprivi Strip. This National Park is unique in that it supports not only large wildlife populations, but also large human populations.
The Bwabwata National Park is the first in Namibia where communities are allowed to live within the National Park, and have rights over the wildlife, subject to quotas set by the government. This has meant that this region has gone from being a poaching ‘hot-spot’ during the early ‘90s to one where, after the re-introduction of local species, tsessebe, sitatunga and buffalo are once again flourishing.
The then Caprivi Game Park was originally declared in the 1960’s, but there was no wildlife management put in place because the area was designated as a restricted security zone and many of the locals were conscripted into the army, this, and the spillover of the Angolan civil war led to high incidents of poaching throughout the Park.
In 1992 a community game guard system was put in place by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and since then the wildlife in the National Park has been relocated to the newly named Bwabwata National Park.
Comparative wildlife surveys are incredibly encouraging in 1978 there was only one breeding herd of elephant, totalling 35 animals. Today there are about 340 animals in the area, with thousands migrating through this area. There was only 1 Sable and 1 Hippo, compared with the 277 and 350 (respectively) that are found there today.
The local conservation initiatives have a system in place which compensates the inhabitants of the National Park should they lose livestock to predators or their crops get damaged. The Kyaramacan Residents Association (KA) oversees these processes, together with the community-based tourism developments and employs 27 community game guards to monitor the human/wildlife interactions and also assist the MET with game counts.
Through these efforts and the work done by the local communities the Bwabwata national Park is changing the face of conservation and tourism in Namibia!
“We cannot invite tourists to come and see our maize fields, but we can invite them to see the wildlife that is so close to us. This is the most important point.”
Traditional Authority Chief Tembwe Mayuni (award winning conservationist)