The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, has once again raised serious concern about increasing anti-trophy hunting pressure and the general international trend away from trophy hunting.
This follows several calls by international leaders urging Namibia to burn to ashes its piles of ivory worth millions of dollars, although government insists it wants to sell them to generate funds to protect the country’s wildlife against poaching and illicit trade.
Shifeta said proceeds from the legal trade in wildlife and wildlife products in Namibia, including rhino horn and ivory, are re-invested in a host of conservation measures through dedicated environmental funds, including the Game Products Trust Fund and Environmental Investment Fund of Namibia.
This income, Shifeta explained, for example funds a translocation programme, which has relocated over 10 000 head of wildlife from state-protected areas to communal conservancies and offsets costs to rural communities for losses resulting from conflict between humans and wildlife.
“We see trophy hunting as an integral part of our conservation strategy and the broader economy. It is also a lifeline for our communities as well as a sector with huge potential for future expansion,” Shifeta said on Sunday during the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Cancun, Mexico.
He said Namibia’s utilisation of wildlife is tightly regulated, controlled, and informed by the principles of sustainability and the application of scientific research.
Annual game counts and surveys are carried out in all regions to inform a strict system of quotas and permits to ensure that all harvesting and use of wildlife is done on a sustainable basis, he underlined.
President Hage Geingob was unapologetic on the matter when he met Britain’s minister for Africa and the Middle East Tobias Ellwood in London last week, after the minister suggested that Namibia must demonstrate to the world that it is serious against poaching by burning all its ivory stocks.
According to Shifeta, the overall outcomes of Namibia’s approach to conservation has seen a dramatic increase in wildlife numbers on communal land, including endangered species such as elephant, black rhino and lion, which have re-established strong and viable populations in areas where they had been hunted to the verge of extinction a century ago.
A recent study estimated the number of financially profitable conservancies would be drastically reduced if conservancy income from hunting is eliminated.
This, Shifeta says, could trigger the decline of Namibia’s community-based approach to conservation and lead to increased levels of poverty, illegal wildlife trade and cases of poaching.
According to him, Namibia has been able to establish a comprehensive and interlinked network of protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity, which now covers over 45 percent of the country.
This network involves national parks, community managed conservation areas, freehold wildlife management units and tourism concession areas. Shifeta said it is Namibia’s view that it is not enough just to conserve wildlife in isolation in protected areas but that it must manage and utilize it with the full involvement of local communities and for the benefit of people, economy and environment.
Other uses of wildlife such as live game auctions, the sale and processing of wildlife meat as well as the farming of wildlife are also important income generators and contributors to poverty reduction.
Namibia’s most recent natural wildlife capital accounts indicated that wildlife contributed to almost 4 percent of GDP and that there is huge scope for this contribution to be expanded and to add to the achievement of a number of the Sustainable Development Goals.
During November alone, seven carcasses of rhinos have been discovered in the Etosha National Park and all were confirmed to have been poached. This brought the total number of rhinos poached this year in Namibia to 47.
With regard to elephant poaching, 69 animals have been killed this year, mainly in the Zambezi and Kavango East regions.
“Without hunting, wildlife will not remain a viable form of land use in rural Namibia, and may be replaced by other forms of land uses more damaging to our ecosystems,” Shifeta noted.
He revealed that over the past 20 years there has been the development of a strong rights-based legal framework to devolve user rights for Namibia’s communities over wildlife and other natural resources.
He added that this has given rise to a community-based natural resource management network of communal conservancies and community forests, now covering almost 20 percent of the country.
Namibia’s conservation policies are hailed as being among the best in the world, and the country continues to review and update them to fit the changing circumstances and needs of its conservation efforts.
Shifeta said the wildlife sector in Namibia is also an excellent example of how biodiversity can be mainstreamed with productive sectors of the economy – in this case tourism – for improved human and ecological well-being in line with the recently endorsed Cancun Declaration.