The income generated by tourism and conservation hunting currently supports most Namibian conservancies, yet both of these industries rely on international tourism and they do not necessarily connect conservation action directly with community benefits. The CBNRM programme therefore needs to diversify income streams into conservancies in such a way that community conservation is recognised and rewarded. One promising income model that achieves this goal is Wildlife Credits.
Wildlife Credits is based on a payment for ecosystem services model, whereby measurable conservation performance (e.g. number of animal sightings increasing) is rewarded with cash payments to the conservancy. Suitable Wildlife Credits products are decided in each community, according to local conditions and the species or area to be conserved. For the financing of the Wildlife Credits scheme, private sector partners and/or large conservation agencies are sought out to either pay directly to a conservancy that has performed or to invest into a central Wildlife Credits fund that makes the payment on their behalf. Local tourism operators may also add to payments from the Wildlife Credits fund for their respective conservancies.
Several pilot projects have shown how the Wildlife Credits concept works and have explored different ways of implementing the same idea. In Wuparo and //Huab conservancies, the performance payments are linked to tourist sightings of lions and rhinos, respectively. Lions pose a major challenge for conservation, as their damage to livestock and the fear they arouse reduces local tolerance for this species. Rhinos are not a conflict species, but they are a challenge to conserve due to the high value placed on their horn by commercial poachers. Paying for rhino sightings recognises the valuable role conservancies play in protecting this species.
In Sobbe Conservancy, the system has been adapted to reward the community for maintaining an ancient elephant movement corridor. In this case the partner is Distell Namibia (producer of Amarula liqueur), which uses images of elephants to market their product. The contribution from Distell was invested into the national Wildlife Credit fund that then entered into an agreement with the conservancy. Annual payments are based on evidence for the corridor remaining free of crop fields and human development; evidence of elephant use obtained through satellite images and camera trap photographs. This version of the model reveals that Wildlife Credits is highly adaptable and can be used even in areas where tourism or hunting operators are not present.
Once funds are received through the Wildlife Credits system, each conservancy can decide how to use them, according to local priorities. In Wuparo, Wildlife Credits payments based on lion sightings by guests at Nkasa Lupala lodge (one of the Wild Waters Group of Lodges) were used to fund the construction of six predator-proof kraals that are proven to reduce lion attacks. In //Huab, payments based on rhinos seen by guests of Huab Under Canvas (an Ultimate Safaris Camp) are used to strengthen rhino community conservation measures through employing more rhino rangers and improving other security measures. Sobbe conservancy once again shows the flexibility of the system, as these funds contributed to their electrification project for several villages to improve the living standards of those living near elephant corridors.
Wildlife Credits holds enormous promise for Namibian conservancies, as diversifying income streams and creating direct links between benefits and conservation are both key priorities for the conservancy programme. These successful pilot projects reveal that innovative thinking can lead to sustainable positive outcomes for people and wildlife.