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Swapping my desk for the field

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Nothing beats getting out there with the people managing Africa´s incredible wildlife.

I have a passion for working with rural communities who live with wildlife, understanding the challenges they face in balancing their livelihoods with conserving wildlife, and helping them make their plans and solutions for those challenges a reality.

P7250536The general meeting.

Too often though I find myself deskbound, writing and reviewing project documents, proposals, reports, policies  and the like… or in meetings in offices in congested cities discussing how those same documents can be used to make a tangible difference to people’s lives and to conservation. All very critical activities, which ultimately enable my colleagues and I to support communities, but I often feel very removed from those who actually live with wildlife and should benefit from it.

So I was very happy to spend three days camping in a community conservancy in Namibia this past week, attending the bi-annual Caprivi conservancies meeting. It was an opportunity to hear from the 17 community conservancies in this region  about the achievements and challenges over the past six months. These community based organisations are responsible for wildlife management and economic and social development from wildlife based enterprises.

WWF's Melissa de Kock at the camp site in her traditional "chitengi", which you have wear in front of the traditional authority.WWF’s Melissa de Kock at the camp site in her traditional “chitengi”, which you have wear in front of the traditional authority.

Increased elephant poaching
While each conservancy is unique, a common challenge is the increasing poaching in the area. The Caprivi is a thin strip of land between Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the crossing point for elephants between the other four countries. Poaching of elephants for ivory has increased significantly this past year, and while there are also increased numbers of arrests for poaching, the numbers of elephants being brutally killed is also increasing. Last year 72 elephants were poached in the Caprivi.  This translates into roughly 7.5 million Namibian Dollars (about NOK4.5 million) in lost revenue for communities who obtain income through wildlife based enterprises which depend on elephants and other wild animals.

Induna (Senior Councillor) Gilbert Liswaniso of the Bukalo Kuta.Induna (Senior Councillor) Gilbert Liswaniso of the Bukalo Kuta.
A threat to 20 years of progress
One evening around the campfire, I had the privilege of speaking with Induna (Senior Councillor) Liswaniso of the Bukalo Kuta (traditional council), one of four traditional authorities in the Caprivi, who is extremely worried about the increasing poaching. His traditional council was one of the first to support the community conservancy movement when it started in the Caprivi in the early 1990s, as they recognised it as a means to uplift their people, and he is very worried that this poaching could undermine 20 years of progress in wildlife conservation and community development.  But he was also optimistic that collaboration between all the stakeholders in the region – from communities and traditional authorities to governments, and NGOs such as WWF and their local partner the IRDNC – will be able to put a stop to this threat in the Caprivi.  WWF’s role at a global level too, working to eliminate the illegal transport and sale of ivory and other wildlife products in international markets, is also critical to stamping out this illegal trade.

Preparing food for the whole meeting.Preparing food for the whole meeting.

The future is hopeful
Listening to the conservancy representatives challenging each other, advising each other and joking amongst themselves during the formal daytime sessions and late into the night, I thought about how these communities are doing all they can to conserve wildlife, despite the immense challenges they may face and how this community based approach is improving natural resources and local livelihoods.  And, this gives me the motivation to return to my desk and those documents each day so that I can to support them to continue this work.

Even the youth come along to the general meeting. Even the youth come along to the general meeting.

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  • Petrie le Roux

    Listening, working with and encouraging the conservancy representatives is surely the best and most rewarding way to harness energies and initiatives on the ground, literally and figuratively.

    We can start feeling hopeful about future wildlife conservation, thanks to the WWF staff.

    Look forward to more blogs from Melissa de Kock