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The Story Behind the Scenes

By NALI SAFARIS

When standing atop the Jan Joubert hill in the Puros Conservancy you may spot the long dark line of a giraffe’s neck jutting out from the crusty earth or see a dark boulder at the foot of a far-off mountain beginning to move and realize it’s an elephant. There aren’t many roads in Puros, but today if you were to look down one, it would be dotted with wildlife. Thirty years ago, however, the road was very long.

 

In the 1980’s the Himba living in Puros continued to honor important men at their funerals with a chant that included the line, “It takes a very great heart to kill an elephant.” Yet ironically, at that time elephants were long gone from Puros, as was most other wildlife, due to rapacious poaching in the region.

But in 1987 a small project that began as a joint venture between a tour guide and the Puros community, grew into something of a national movement.

From elephant killing to protecting, the story of Puros Conservancy.

“Any road is long when there is no wildlife to see.”

The tour guide paid a small bed-night levy for his guests to camp in Puros, and in return the residents became caretakers of the wildlife. Animals started to rebound and even elephants returned. This approach to conservation – where communities benefit from managing their resources – became a model across the country. And in 1996, in part due to examples like Puros, a national policy was enacted to allow communities to benefit from wildlife and tourism by forming conservancies.

 

Since becoming one of the first conservancies in 2000, Puros now has three of its own businesses – a campsite, a mid-level self-catering lodge and a Himba traditional village and craft market. It has benefit-sharing contracts with a nearby five-star luxury lodge and a high-quality tented camp. Puros also earns annual income from a small trophy-hunting contract and has the right to a controlled amount of game utilization. Of the 300 residents in this conservancy, most adult members who want a job, have one, in either tourism or in the conservancy itself. And in an area where water, infrastructure and services are scarce, Puros has a school, a shop and piped water and taps.

 

Today, with elephants and other wildlife present, the funeral chant has changed: “It takes a very great heart to protect an elephant.” And that is what most Puros residents are doing.

Conservation is a cornerstone of the Namibian experience. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution, and the government has reinforced this by giving its communities the opportunity and rights to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies.

 

Today, over 43% of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management. This includes national parks and reserves, communal and commercial conservancies, community forests, and private nature reserves.

After Independence in 1990, visionary conservationists in the field and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism enacted policy changes that allowed rural communities to benefit from wildlife by forming conservancies. In 1998, the first four conservancies were registered.

 

Today, more than 70 registered conservancies embrace one in four rural Namibians. A sense of ownership over wildlife and other resources is encouraging people to use their resources sustainably. Wildlife is now embraced as a complimentary land use method to agriculture and livestock herding.

 

People are living with wildlife, including predators and large mammals, and are managing their natural resources wisely. They are also reaping the benefits. In 2009, community-based natural resource management generated over N$ 42 million in income to rural Namibians. All the while, the program is facilitating a remarkable recovery of wildlife.

 

Namibia now boasts the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos and cheetahs in the world and is the only country with an expanding population of free-roaming lions. Namibia’s elephant population more than doubled between 1995 and 2008 from 7,500 to over 16,000 individuals. This remarkable turnaround has led some to call Namibia’s conservation efforts the greatest African wildlife recovery story over told.

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