Namibia’s rural farmers regularly lose their livelihood when tourist loving wildlife kill their livestock. But should Trophy Hunting be part of the solution to Namibia’s wildlife conservation challenge?


I am staring at a black rhino. It’s 300m away. He is shorter and stouter than I expected and his horn has been removed to make him worthless to poachers. He looks nervous and fidgety under the shade of a small tree. He does not exude the authority of other animals his size.

This is a tourist zone of Damaraland in northwest Namibia, where animals are protected. But next to this tourist zone, just a few km away, lies the trophy hunting zone. There, visitors can legally purchase permits to shoot rhinos and other wildlife. There is no fence between the tourist zone and the trophy hunting zone. The rhino and other wildlife can simply walk over the boundary and risk being legally shot.

Why does Namibia believe that trophy hunting is part of the solution to its wildlife conservation challenge?

NAMIBIA’S HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT

Driving around Namibia we spent hours on bumpy gravel roads without passing a petrol station, shop, village or even another car. It is a vast desolate country where only 2.5 million people live in a space larger than Texas.

But wildlife is prevalent. From our car window, we regularly spotted ostrich, giraffe, oryx and springbok. They are not just in the national parks but all over the country; a country with one of the densest wildlife populations in the world.

Outside the towns we passed numerous small rural farms. Tin roofs and wooden shacks, baking in the day and freezing at night. Eighty per cent of Namibians depend on the land for their subsistence, planting crops and raising livestock.

But the presence of large mammals is a problem. Elephants pull down houses and destroy trees. Rhino wreck crops and crash through fencing. Large carnivores like leopards, cheetah, lion and hyena kill livestock and endanger children. The wildlife, which we marvelled at from the car window, destroys the livelihood of poor rural farmers, who often kill these large mammals to protect their way of life.

But for Namibia it is not just a domestic conflict of rural farmer vs animals. As home to the unique desert-dwelling elephant and the world’s largest populations of cheetahs and free roaming black rhinos, its decisions affect endangered species and carry global significance.

NAMIBIA’S NATIONAL PARKS SEGREGATING MAN AND ANIMAL

Namibia is a new country. Gaining independence from South Africa in 1990, it was the first African country to place wildlife conservation goals in its constitution; aiming to preserve wildlife while still improving the quality of life of rural Namibians.

Staring at the orange dunes of the Namib-Naukluft, driving the endless grey plains of the Skeleton Coast, and searching for game in Etosha National Park, we saw the government’s commitment to its wildlife. These are just 3 of the 20 plus National Parks covering 17% of Namibia’s land. They are surrounded by fences to protect the wildlife and access is limited to paying visitors. They are a joy to visit.

But as we passed through, we see the odd farmhouse decaying under the beating sun. The farmers that used to live here have been removed; forced to make their life somewhere else.

COMMUNAL CONSERVANCIES SEARCHING FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Before 1990, farmers who were not allowed in parks and who could not afford private land, would make their livelihood on common land. The wildlife on this common land was owned by the government and farmers were forbidden to use them for economic gain. With no incentive for locals to protect the wildlife that was destroying their crops, buildings and domestic livestock, hunting and poaching increased. Wildlife numbers collapsed.

The Namibian government took action and in 1998 the first communal conservancy was set up. Its goal, not segregation of man and animal, but shared development, balancing the needs of rural Namibians with those of the wildlife.

Conservancies have fixed borders and are managed by local communities, who have ownership rights over use of the land and the wildlife in it. They are free to boost their incomes from both as long as they do so in a sustainable manner. Today there are over 80 conservancies covering more then 20% of Namibia’s territory; home to 1 in 4 rural Namibians.

Most communal conservancies are split into zones. A settlement zone where locals live, work, buy food and go to school; a farming zone where livestock graze and live off the land; and a tourism zone where visitors, like us, can experience the wonder of the wildlife and scenery of this remarkable country.

And a zone for trophy hunting.

GROOTBERG LODGE

Grootberg Lodge is part of the #Khoadi- // Hoas Communal Conservancy, a 3,364 square km area of northwest Namibia supporting 3,200 rural Namibians. It was the first lodge owned by a conservancy and the reason we are here today.

It’s warm and welcoming. The revenues from the room we sleep in, the food we eat and the tourist activities we take go to the local community. Wages support locals that work in the lodge. An education fund supports those who are unable to pay school fees. A soup kitchen provides food for those that don’t have enough and a compensation scheme pays farmers for the losses to their livestock.

Providing tourism and sharing the benefits has turned wildlife from a burden to a boon.

BLACK RHINO TRACKING

We join a black-rhino tracking drive that Grootberg Lodge runs in the Klipriver Valley. Our instructions are clear: don’t wear bright clothes or cologne, wear hardy walking shoes and bring plenty of water.

It is a long painful ride along the hard red basalt rock tracks. Our driver is throwing the car at it and within an hour, one of the tyres has given up. A quick change and we are off again.

At the first waterhole our tracker is out, bending close to the ground and poking with his stick. Shrugging he returns to the car. We pass a couple of Namibian Police officers camped in the bush and pick them up. Poaching is a problem here and they track, monitor and protect the rhino. I am bouncing up and down in the jeep, as his gun sways back and forth, swinging towards my head.


RELATED / ETOSHA GUIDE


Another hour and another waterhole. A derelict farm stands here. Abandoned for the farming and settlement zones. Our tracker and the police officers are out. Some more bending and more prodding, but then a smile comes to their faces and they are off. We stay in the car as the disappear into the distance. Shortly their voices crackle over the radio.

Getting out of the jeep we continue on foot. The ground is rocky and uneven. The sun is beating down; it’s a harsh country. Every plant has thorns or spikes or some other way to harm you. In only half an hour I realise how tough life would be out here. But then, as if by magic, standing in front of me, is the endangered black rhino.

COSTS AND BENEFITS OF TROPHY HUNTING IN NAMIBIA

Next door to the tourist zone where I stand staring at the rhino, lies the trophy hunting zone. Trophy hunting in conservancies can only be done with the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and only in accordance with strict game-management plans and annually reviewed quotas.

Each year the ministry offers up to 5 permits for trophy hunters to kill rhino. In 2014, at an auction organised by the Dallas Safari Club, the American Corey Knowlton purchased a black rhino permit for $350,000. In 2016, another permit sold for $275,000.

Trophy Hunters pay these large fees to shoot carefully selected animals. The rhino chosen by the ministry are older bulls that no longer breed. They are fiercely territorial and aggressive and have been known to kill younger breeding bulls, calves and cows hindering black rhino population growth.

Around 20% of conservancy revenues come from trophy hunting. The money it generates is not only funnelled back into the local community but also used to increase anti-poaching policing, to build waterholes and water infrastructure and to finance animal relocations. Furthermore, meat from the kill is often distributed to poorer local families who struggle for food.

TREATING WILDLIFE AS ASSETS

In the 1970-80’s there were about 70,000 black rhino in the world. But hunting and poaching saw a 96% collapse to just under 2,500 in 1995 before rising to around 5,500 now. It is still critically endangered but the population is heading in the right direction.

Namibia is home to about 2,000 black rhinos with 5% to 6% population growth a year, and conservancies have played their role. Trophy hunting and tourism have converted rhino and other wildlife into valuable assets and the conservancies work with police and Save The Rhino Trust to protect these assets.

The rhino we tracked is not natural to the area but was reintroduced because Save the Rhino Trust believe it can be protected here. Our rhino tracking tour not only provided money to the conservancy, but also offered logistical support to anti-poaching officers, and although poaching is still a big problem, both the government and local community are working together to prevent it.

Furthermore the rhino here is currently safe from trophy hunting, which has been banned until 2020 due to a drop in numbers from a prolonged drought.

Questions, however still remain. Is trophy hunting really the economic boon it is presented to be? If it is 20% of revenues now, surely tourism could be encouraged and trophy hunting whittled down to zero, without causing much detriment. Does killing one really save the many? It is hard to believe killing the odd old aggressive rhino is going to genuinely help black rhino wildlife populations.

But more importantly, perhaps in today’s more modern world, we owe a little more to the wildlife around us. Might we owe them a greater status than being treated as assets to be managed, not just because they are endangered, but because they suffer and feel pain, just like humans? Such a change, however, would have implications far beyond the few numbers killed by trophy hunting every year.

TROPHY HUNTING: A BETTER UNDERSTANDING

Namibia is a new country with the age-old problem: how to manage human-wildlife conflict. National parks and conservancies cover over 45% of the land and are increasing. They have created an environment that enables elephant, lion and rhino numbers to begin increasing and supports the largest free-roaming cheetah and black rhino populations in the world. It is a far cry from what is happening in other nations.

Namibia may just be the wildlife jewel in Africa’s crown.

And trophy hunting in Namibia has played its part. By making animals more valuable to local communities, those communities are more actively engaged in wildlife protection. For the loss of a few hunted animals it appears many more are being saved and poor rural communities enriched.

I find it hard to understand why someone would want to pay so much money to shoot these magnificent animals, but after spending two weeks in the national parks, conservancies and private farms of Namibia, I have a greater understanding of the complexities of the issue and the implications for poor rural communities.

Before I arrived in Namibia, I had a powerfully negative gut reaction to trophy hunting. Social media often portrays it as savage, senseless and pointless.

Upon leaving, I am still convinced it is wrong. But if it is wrong because we should treat animals better, then it has much broader implications for the world than a few rhino permits a year.

DETAILS

Grootberg Lodge / Room rates start at N$3420 for a double. The 3/4 day rhino tracking tour is N$1925 per person. A number of other guided tours are available, all the details are on their website.

Save the Rhino Trust / To see how you can participate in saving the rhino, check out their website.

Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism / Find out what’s happening with tourism in Namibia here.

#Khoadi- // Hoas Communal Conservancy / To learn more about the conservancy we visited for this article, this brochure has some excellent background information.

Fifi and Hop

Fancy an update? 

To stay up to date with our latest posts and travel updates, subscribe to our monthly newsletter. No junk. No spam. We’ll never share your email address with anyone.

LIKE THIS ARTICLE? PIN IT!

Our experience with Namibia's wildlife conservation efforts and Trophy hunting challenges / Trophy hunting in Namibia / #namibia #wildlife #rhino #conservation

Our experience with Namibia's wildlife conservation efforts and Trophy hunting challenges / Trophy hunting in Namibia / #namibia #wildlife #rhino #conservation

Share via