Investigation: The Efficacy of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation Model As It Relates to African Elephants
“Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the natural environment into its constitution,” open African Elephant Journal editor Adam Cruise and anthropologist Izzy Sasada in their newly published 53-page Investigation: The Efficacy of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation Model As It Relates to African Elephants.
“The [Namibian] government ostensibly allowed rural communities to manage their natural resources through the creation of communal conservancies,” Cruise and Sasada explain.
World Wildlife Fund
“These conservancies,” assisted by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and other entities – have purportedly restored populations of elephants and other wildlife,” Cruise and Sasada summarize.
“Through trophy hunting, trade in wildlife and wildlife products, and ecotourism, wildlife restoration has, it is claimed, generated meaningful income for rural communities and indigenous peoples disadvantaged through decades of South African apartheid rule prior to independence in 1990.”
Cruise and Sasada proceed from there to demonstrate that the Namibian communal conservancies have mostly not restored populations of elephants and other wildlife, and that trophy hunting and trade in wildlife and wildlife products have accomplished little or nothing to benefit either animals or most indigenous people.
“Costs of elephant crop depredation exceed the benefits of trophy hunting”
The Cruise and Sasada critique of the Namibian trophy hunting-based wildlife management model is scarcely the first, but it may be the most direct, least “politically correct,” and best-researched to date.
Predecessors include Costs of elephant crop depredation exceed the benefits of trophy hunting in a community-based conservation area of Namibia, produced in December 2020 by an eight-member team led by Michael D. Drake, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
“We determined that sustainable trophy hunting only returns ~30% of the value of crops lost to the community and cannot alone offset the current costs of coexistence with elephants,” Drake et al found.
This was shortly before the Namibian government introduced the term “conservation hunting” to replace “trophy hunting, ” in unacknowledged recognition that “trophy hunting” has fallen into disrepute.
Hunter-funded conservation failing here, too
Drake et al, unfortunately, stopped well short of concluding that the whole hunting license-funded North American wildlife conservation model is as inapplicable to Africa as it is increasingly dysfunctional in the U.S.
Trophy hunter Russell Train formed the African Wildlife Foundation and helped to form the World Wildlife Fund more than 60 years ago, as the colonial era in Africa came to an end, on the then almost unchallenged premise that hunting license fees and taxes on hunting equipment and apparel could pay for protecting habitat and preventing poaching.
The North American wildlife conservation model, however, had already begun to fail due to plummeting hunter participation even before Kenya rejected the whole concept and banned sport hunting, including trophy hunting, in 1977.
Today almost the only people who even continue to pretend that the North American wildlife conservation model is working are hunters themselves, trying to hold on to their hegemony over U.S. wildlife management and conservation policy, and corrupt African politicians––among whom the late Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe was a conspicuous example––who plunder their own nations and people to reward the henchmen who keep them in control of land and resources.
Adam Cruise, besides editing the Journal of African Elephants, holds a doctorate in environmental ethics from Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa.
Izzy Sasada, prior to publication of Investigation: The Efficacy of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation Model As It Relates to African Elephants, was best known for researching what she summarizes as “the changing practices of traditional medicine during childbirth” in rural Zambia.
Together, Cruise and Sasada begin by pointing out that the Namibian reputation for relative affluence is largely the product of statistical distortion. The Namibian average per capita income of $5,300 per year is inflated by the inclusion of 3,300 resident millionaires, measured in U.S. dollars, while “about 18% of Namibia’s population live below the poverty line.”
After two months of field investigations in Namibia, Cruise and Sasada conclude that “The perceived success of wildlife conservation and concomitant economic benefits for previously disadvantaged rural communities in Namibia is predominantly a fabrication.”
And so is the purported success of Namibian wildlife conservation, especially of elephants.
Some political history is relevant: “In 1973,” Cruise and Sasada narrate, “the United Nations recognized the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people. The party was, and still is, dominated by the Ovambo [tribal and ethnic group]. Following continued guerrilla warfare, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990. SWAPO has been the only ruling party since independence.”
Tourism, as of 2020, contributed 11.7% of the total Namibian gross domestic product, supporting 16.4% of all employment. More than a million tourists per year visit Namibia, chiefly for wildlife observation in the nine national parks, of which Etosha National Park, the size of Israel, attracts about 200,000 visitors per year.
Namibia sells live elephants & ivory
Despite the importance of elephants to attracting and maintaining tourism, Cruise and Sasada note, “Namibia has regularly proposed a lifting of the ban on commercial sales of ivory at an international level.”
In 1999 and 2008 Namibia won Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species permits to sell stockpiled ivory to Japan and China.
“Namibia has also traded internationally in live African elephants,” Cruise and Sasada mention. “In 2012 and 2013, the country exported 24 live wild-caught elephants,” eighteen of them to Mexico, six to Cuba.
Forty-two elephants were reportedly sold by the Namibian government in early 2021 for export to an as yet undisclosed destination, rumored to be China.
Trophy hunting: 0.3% of Namibian GDP
The Nambian government introduced the “conservancy” management scheme in 1996. Conservancies are defined as community-managed “areas with defined borders and governance and management structures outside of state-owned parks.
Among the major differences between Namibian national park management and conservancy management, Cruise and Sasada emphasize, is that “Trophy hunts are not permitted in national parks, but permits to shoot large mammals such as elephants, lions, leopards, rhinoceroses and giraffe are provided for hunts on private land and community-based conservancies.
“Trophy hunting is regarded as a significant and growing component of the Namibian conservation policy and economy,” Cruise and Sasada continue, yet trophy hunting accounted for less than 0.3% of the Namibian gross domestic product in 2019.
“Compared to the revenue brought in by photographic tourism,” Cruise and Sasada note, “this actually amounts to an insignificant amount of revenue generated, especially since most of the revenue generated by trophy hunting remains in the hands of the hunting outfitters, lodges, airlines,” hunting guides, and the functionaries who issue the hunting permits.
CAMPFIRE burned out of control
The Namibian conservancy scheme appears to have been patterned after the CAMPFIRE scheme introduced in Zimbabwe in 1989 by the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAid].
From 1989 through 2004, USAid pumped more than $40 million into CAMPFIRE, essentially subsidizing trophy hunts. CAMPFIRE raised about $2.5 million per year in revenue during those years, more than 90% of it from hunting.
Mostly, though, CAMPFIRE rewarded Mugabe regime insiders for neglecting the promises to nationalize resources and redistribute land that brought them to power.
By 2000 the catastrophic failure of CAMPFIRE to do anything much for anyone outside Mugabe’s inner circle caused Mugabe to quell unrest by authorizing followers to undertake “land invasions” that simultaneously destroyed most of the Zimbabwean wildlife conservancies and Zimbabwean agricultural production.
USAid repeated Zimbabwean experiment in Namibia
USAid funded the development of the Namibian conservancy system beginning in 1993, assisted by the World Wildlife Fund, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the World Bank, and the Canadian Ambassador’s Fund, Cruise and Sasada recall.
Currently, Namibian conservancies include about 20% of the nation, with about 9% of the national human population, generating revenue of “more than $10 million a year,” in U.S. dollars, Cruise and Sasada report.
“The money is supposed to go directly back to communities either as income or to support anti-poaching operations, wildlife management, education and health initiatives, and other community-related issues,” recount Cruise and Sasada.
“Some 20% of value generated by the tourism and hunting sectors is captured at conservancy community level,” Cruise and Sasada continue. “It is claimed that much of this income derives from the hunting of elephants, said to contribute over 50% of all conservancy hunting revenue on a national scale, and almost 70% in the Zambezi region conservancies.”
Meanwhile about 80% of the Namibian population “depend upon subsistence-level farming for at least part of their living, especially in the communal areas of Namibia where wildlife roams freely,” explain Cruise and Sasada.
“For many rural communities,” Cruise and Sasada acknowledge, “wildlife can be a constant problem. Elephants can destroy crops and livestock, while predators such as lions, hyenas, and wild dogs may prey on livestock. Human-wildlife conflict can lead to retaliatory persecution and killing of wild animals. Therefore, the theory behind the promotion of trophy hunting and other consumptive use of wildlife is that wildlife becomes a benefit rather than a detriment to community members.
“After 25 years the program has not been able to sustain itself”
“Conservancies that derive an income from trophy hunting contract professional hunters as partners who, in turn, bring clients to conservancies to hunt. Typically,” Cruise and Sasada explain, “a registered and licensed professional hunter will be contracted to hunt a fixed quota of animals, who must be paid for whether they are hunted or not.
“Above that, payments are made for specific hunts of high-value species. Trophy hunting in Namibia is organized by the Namibia Professional Hunting Association, and all professional hunters on conservancy land are members of the organization,” Cruise and Sasada summarize.
“Despite claims for the success of Namibia’s community-based conservation, and the global recognition that has ensued as a result, after 25 years the program has not adequately been able to sustain itself financially,” Cruise and Sasada learned.
“For the past two decades, only 17 out of the current 86 conservancies have been able to cover their own running costs. More than half of the current conservancies still require substantial external financial support.”
Further, many of the most nominally successful Namibian conservancies are actually struggling.
No photo safaris for hunting lodge guests
“While the ≠Khoadi //Hôas Conservancy is rated as one of the best in Namibia,” Cruise and Sasada report, “it nevertheless is experiencing a steady year-on-year decline in wildlife populations of most species, including elephants. As a result, trophy hunting quotas are low and tourism game drives [photo safaris] are not offered to lodge guests. For the majority of residents in the ≠Khoadi //Hôas Conservancy, unemployment is high, and resource-based income virtually non-existent.”
At the Uibasen-Twyfelfontein Conservancy, occupying a UNESCO World Heritage Site that normally draws about 40,000 visitors per year, Cruise and Sasada found “a large discrepancy between the ‘potential’ benefit distribution and ‘reality’ received by the residents. Overall lack of transparency tends to make matters worse.
“Elephant population could collapse”
“The entire elephant population in the Kunene could be on the verge of collapse,” Cruise and Sasada warn. “Of major concern are the extremely low numbers of breeding bulls. Elephants are not the only species in trouble in this region. Most other species are showing similar downward trends.
Water supply, medical and education provisions, and employment opportunities are minuscule. Corruption and poverty are rampant.
The Nyae-Nyae Conservancy, inhabited chiefly by the San, or “bushmen,” Cruise and Sasada suggest, “is perceived by community members as continuing past negative practices, whereby external powers dominate. The conservancy model is associated [by the San] with exclusion and discrimination. With their traditional ways of hunting and gathering declining, a lack of modern employment opportunities, and marginalization from other ethnic groups, most San survive on hand-outs and benefits such as pension and child benefit schemes. Attempts to ‘keep the culture alive’ through living museums and related ‘traditional’ employment opportunities fall short of empowering the Ju/’hoansi San in a meaningful way.
Cattle & alcohol
“Non-San settlers,” Cruise and Sasada found, “were accused of bullying the San residents. As well as bringing cattle,” who encroach upon communal and wildlife habitat, “and monopolizing the resources upon which the San depend, there were reports of underpaid labor and harsh working conditions. One San alleged that he worked for a year for an Ovambo farmer and was never provided with water during working hours.
“Further,” Cruise and Sasada report, “there are multiple shebeens (bars or pubs) run by non-San settlers in N≠a Jaqna Conservancy. These businesses do not contribute to the economic development of the San community. Studies have indicated that alcohol is a threat to San livelihoods, and interviews corroborated that alcoholism was having a negative impact on the community, as money is spent on alcohol rather than on schools, medical clinics, agricultural and business schemes and food. It was suggested that shebeen owners were granted permission by the Traditional Authority,” dominated by Ovambo, “to conduct these businesses.”
Zambezi region has the most elephants
“Historically, geographically, linguistically, and politically,” Cruise and Sasada warn, “the groups within the Zambezi region in Namibia (who still refer to themselves as Caprivians) feel alienated from central government in Windhoek, and there is a strong feeling of political separation and segregation. There have been a few attempts at secession from Namibia, most notably in 1999 when the Caprivi Liberation Front conducted a failed armed coup. In the latest general elections, about half the constituencies voted against the governing party of SWAPO.
“Most interviewees revealed a general mistrust of central government and the ruling Ovambo ethnic group,” say Cruise and Sasada. “Many also did not believe that the conservancy areas were providing any benefit; some did not even know they lived in one.”
Observed Cruise and Sasada, “The small area of Namibia’s Zambezi region contains the country’s largest elephant population,” most of whom wander back and forth over the national borders with Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
“The region also represents the highest concentration of conservancies and the highest elephant quotas. All hunting safari operators assessed in this investigation are owned and managed by white Namibians or white foreigners,” Cruise and Sasada found.
Moreover, “There does not appear to be any hunting operation owned and managed by local members of conservancies anywhere in Namibia,” Cruise and Sasada added.
“As with the ethnic minorities in the Kunene region and the San of the Nyae-Nyae and N≠a Jaqna Conservancies, the communities in the Zambezi region feel that the Ovambo dominated government is exploiting them and preventing them from having equal representation, both at a political and economic level,” Cruise and Sasada found.
“In this region, there appears to be a strong desire to secede from Namibia and form an independent country,” assess Cruise and Sasada, despite the failure of past secession efforts.
“Wildlife of many species declining”
Of most immediate concern, having a ripple effect on all of the human issues involved, “wildlife populations of many species are declining. Elephant, oryx, Hartmann’s mountain zebra , and lions are the large mammals most negatively affected, largely as a result of drought, trophy hunting, own use hunting, conservation mismanagement and human/wildlife conflict incidents.
“This region also faces the specter of the capture, auction and possible export of live elephants,” Cruise and Sasada mentioned, “which will likely threaten the entire existence of this isolated and uniquely desert-adapted elephant population that is already in sharp decline.”
“Human communities remain impoverished”
Cruise and Sasada saved their most severe criticism of Namibian wildlife management for last:
“Throughout the entire northern region, and especially within the twenty-nine conservancies visited during this investigation, human communities remain impoverished to the same extent, and in some cases more so, than during South African apartheid rule prior to independence.
“Many communities, most of whom are minority ethnic groups in the Namibian demographic landscape, are oppressed and exploited by central government, dominated by the largest ethnic group – the Ovambo.
“The Ovambo and other larger ethnic groups, such as the Herero, have in recent years moved into communal spaces of minority groups (San, Himba, Kavango, Caprivian, Damara) in pursuit of commercial capitalization of the natural resources.
“Thus, far from being a success-story, Namibia’s much-touted wildlife conservation model, and its adherence to sustainable utilization of wildlife through community-based management has, in fact, achieved the opposite of what is commonly presented.”