Finding a balance
If communities are to live together with wildlife, to offset losses from crop raiders such as elephants and predators, including lions, they need to receive benefits in return. These come from tourism and associated income, including crafts, and from conservation hunting.
A very important benefit to conservancy residents is meat harvested from wildlife, under a quota system based upon game counts and a scientific assessment of the sustainable off-take rate. Finding a balance between the sustainable harvesting of game and the distribution of benefits, including meat, is a challenge that faces many of Namibia’s communal conservancies.
Many conservancies manage both tourism and hunting enterprises, and also harvest game to sell and to distribute as a community benefit. The varied sources of natural resource returns and the complementary roles of tourism and consumptive wildlife use, as well as the income and in-kind benefits to conservancies and households are found in figures in the Livelihoods section of this report.
Conservancies actively monitor wildlife using event books and by taking part in annual game counts. The information is used to guide management decisions – and to adapt to constant environmental change, including periods of drought. Annual utilisation quotas are set, monitored and revised by the MEFT in liaison with conservancies through annual quota review meetings.
The tri-annual quota setting exercise was completed in 2019, which is based on the adaptive management principles. Once the quotas are officially approved through the process explained here, annual meetings are held to review quotas and adjust them where necessary. Quota setting is nonetheless an important process that sets the bar for the next three years.
Following the system in the flowchart, data are first collected from game counts and other monitoring methods, which are used to produce data-derived and recommended quotas that are discussed at the conservancy level. The conservancies may want to reduce or increase the quotas for particular species based on their objectives, so these negotiations are an important step in the process. Finally, the agreed quotas are approved by MEFT and used as the basis for issuing permits for conservation hunting, own use game harvesting, and live sales.
The quota for conservation hunting is small but valuable, as hunting clients are willing to pay large fees for taking older male animals. The conservancy negotiates a contract with a hunting partner that has the requisite Professional Hunter’s license and has access to international markets. 100% of that negotiated fee is paid to the conservancy; the hunting client is charged more than this to cover other costs and the hunting operator’s own fees (e.g. accommodation, hunting guide salaries, etc.).
All hunts, regardless of quota type, are monitored using a permit and tagging system, which ensures that quotas are not overused. The tagging system was piloted for the first time in 2019 to further improve the quota monitoring system. Reports from the game guards who monitor the hunts and the hunting operator are then fed back into the adaptive management system, along with other data collected during that year.
Harvest rates require careful consideration based on recognised scientific methods. Depending on environmental conditions, springbok populations can, for example, grow by up to 40% per year, while gemsbok and zebra populations may grow by 20%. Harvest rates of less than 20% per year for these species are therefore unlikely to reduce overall populations under normal conditions. Game use data shows that harvest rates remain below estimated growth rates, even as a percentage of the animals actually seen during game counts.
A review of 2019
- This year was a quota-setting year, which will be reviewed annually
- The quotas were generally underutilised, particularly for species affected by drought
- Many conservancies have Game Management Utilisation Plans that are out of date
- Conservancies were disappointed that predators causing HWC could not be added to conservation hunting quotas due to MEFT procedures
Conservancies in the drought-affected north-west want wildlife populations to recover, despite the fact that grazing herbivores compete with the cattle kept by many conservancy residents. Grazing competition intensifies during drought and, like the wildlife, many cattle have died from starvation. These conservancies voluntarily gave up the shoot-and-sell part of their quota, whereby certain plains game species were harvested and their meat sold.
The own use quota, used for conservancy and traditional authority events, is still available as much fewer animals are harvested for this purpose. Similarly, the conservation hunting quotas are still used, as this form of hunting targets a very small proportion of the population yet generates large returns. Nevertheless, the purpose of a quota is to establish the maximum sustainable harvest, it is not a target that needs to be met. Combining both types of hunting, most species were hunted well below quota in 2019, which ranged from 0% of the lion quota to 97% of the buffalo quota used. Notably, only 8% of the Hartmann’s mountain zebra and 6% of the springbok quota was used this year, in response to drought-related population declines.
What is conservation hunting?
To ensure a sound understanding of conservation issues and threats, clear distinctions are needed between illegal hunting and legal, well-controlled hunting that makes a tangible and positive contribution to communities and the environment.
Legal trophy hunting carried out in communal conservancies under the control of professional hunters is defined as conservation hunting, as it has clear, measurable conservation and human development outcomes. The label conservation hunting is used by the MEFT and NACSO to describe legal hunting in communal conservancies.
Poaching by local people is stealing from others, as no community returns are generated and indiscriminate, uncontrolled killings have severe impacts.
Wildlife crime is commercial poaching, which indiscriminately and ruthlessly targets animals for their valuable parts, to be smuggled to markets in Asia or elsewhere.
Conservation hunting includes legal trophy hunting, ‘own-use’ hunting by conservancies for meat, and ‘shoot and sell’ hunting for meat sold to butcheries. It has the following verifiable prerequisites and outcomes:
- It is governed by a national legal framework with clear systems of controls and reporting requirements.
- It meets all CITES and IUCN species conservation criteria.
- It targets only free-roaming, indigenous species in natural habitats large enough to ensure healthy population dynamics.
- Wildlife population trends in the greater landscape are closely monitored and offtakes are adapted as needed to ensure the population health of all targeted species.
- Hunting offtakes are sustainable, based on species-specific, scientifically-accepted annual quotas for the hunted population.
- It promotes the natural diversity of all indigenous fauna and flora in the hunting area.
- It safeguards wildlife habitat (the hunting area) against destructive land uses.
- A major portion of generated income goes back to the land holders and is spent on the conservation and human development needs of the hunting area.
- It employs local people to carry out conservation activities in the hunting area, including wildlife monitoring and anti-poaching activities.
- It mitigates human-wildlife conflict amongst local communities if these occur in, or adjacent to, the hunting area.
Through these criteria, conservation hunting creates clear incentives to adopt wildlife management as a land use.