Although Namibia is faced with alarming wildlife crime, the country’s elephant population has grown from an estimated 7 500 animals in 1995 to over 20 000 to date, of which a large percentage occur outside parks.
Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta hailed Namibia’s healthy lion populations in several national parks and an expanding lion population outside parks, which has grown in northwestern Namibia from an estimated 25 animals in 1995 to around 150 to date.
Shifeta, who was speaking this week during the relaunch of the Namibian conservation parliamentary caucus with a focus on conservation efforts in Namibia, said the country has the largest population of free-roaming cheetahs in the world, the vast majority of which occur outside parks.
He said much of Africa, including Namibia, lost large components of its wildlife over the last century, for a variety of reasons. He pointed to colonial laws, saying they alienated people from wildlife conservation and destroyed the traditional land and natural resource management systems that had evolved in Africa.
“Post-Independence instability in some countries and problems with governance in general are well known to have exacerbated this further. Within the last few decades, the continent lost most of its elephants, almost all of its rhinos, and many other species became confined to protected areas, such as national parks. It is unfortunate that this process is still ongoing in some countries,” he indicated.
Further, he said Namibia has healthy giraffe populations in several national parks and an expanding giraffe population outside parks. Shifeta also noted that Namibia has healthy leopard populations in several national parks and leopards occur across much of the country’s private and communal farmlands.
“Namibia has a healthy crocodile population. Namibia has reinstated several species that had become locally extinct in communal areas. We need to ask what the underlying causes of this reversal were, and what is required to maintain this trend,” he stated.
Some of the key elements of government’s approach in maintaining healthy animal populations include an enabling policy and legal framework aimed as restoring rights over wildlife and natural resources, as well the usage of the economic value of wildlife as an incentive for conservation.
Forging a strong linkage between conservation, rural development and poverty alleviation in national development plans, are some of key aspects he mentioned.
He said Namibia has a strong regulatory and monitoring framework for the use of wildlife resources, whether for own use, trade or conservation hunting.
However, there are still many challenges and opportunities, such as market access for wildlife producers.
Human-wildlife conflict is another. Shifeta says government recognises that living with wildlife often carries a cost, with increased wildlife populations and expanded ranges into communal and freehold farming areas, resulting in more frequent conflicts in many areas between people and wildlife, particularly elephants and predators.
This has resulted in livestock and crop losses, damage to water installations and in some instances, the loss of human lives.
Illegal hunting, especially that of elephants and rhinos, is another challenge the country faces. The protection of wildlife, he says, should involve preventing such crimes, as the focus should be on preventing animals being killed illegally and not just on following up after they have been killed.
The minister noted that in the face of high-value products, such as rhino horn and ivory, and the involvement of international criminal syndicates, this is seldom sufficient and additional components and more funds are required. “We need to find ways to stop these illegal activities that threaten our biodiversity. In this regard, we need to collaborate with other stakeholders and find resources for effective implementation of our activities,” he urged.