Conservation Of African wildlife And Scientific Best Practice For A Sustainable Future

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As the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES/COP19) held in Panama City, Panama closed, I got reminded of the paper I co-authored with other colleagues (Professors Richard Fynn and Olekae Thakadu) at the Okavango Research Institute. In this paper, we discuss how wildlife conservation in Africa should be carried based on scientific best practice with the hope to create a sustainable future.

In that paper, we note that numerous scientific studies are demonstrating that wildlife and biodiversity are in decline across Africa; large herbivore numbers in most regions have declined greatly, migrations are lost, forests and woodlands are depleted, rangelands degraded, ecosystems fragmented and biodiversity lost.

This is despite a growing and extensive network of protected areas (PAs) and militarisation of anti-poaching units within conservation agencies. It is becoming increasingly recognised that PAs embedded in larger human-dominated landscapes are too small, not covering sufficient habitats and different resource types distributed across the larger landscape.

A key point not recognized by many is that wildlife ecosystems are not merely ecological systems, driven only by ecological factors, but in reality are social ecological systems where social and political forces play a major role in determining the character and sustainability of wildlife populations and their associated habitats.

Thus conservation of wildlife in Africa, if it is going to be sustainable and successful, must be managed under the social-ecological systems (SESs) framework developed by Nobel Prize winner, Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues. In the past, both wildlife and local communities (LCs) were able to move over large landscapes and gain access to the required seasonal resources but can no longer do so because resources within PAs are not accessible to people and resources outside PAs are not accessible to wildlife.

Sound wisdom and scientific best practice clearly points to the following steps to be implemented in policy and practice by the Botswana government: (1) Each LC (as a village) around the Delta and Makgadikgadi must be allocated its own concession area of sufficient size and wildlife tourism potential to provide sufficiently large financial benefit flows to the LC; (2) Each LC must be devolved autonomy of decision-making rights over that concession to provide a “sense of place” and ownership sentiment to the LC as it was at the beginning of CBNRM; (3) The value of wildlife to the LC must be maximized by allowing both photographic tourism and trophy hunting (only if the LC wants trophy hunting); (4) Government and NGOs will work in partnership with LCs to provide advice, help with management of finances, securing international funding, and assessment of wildlife natural resources within the concession.

Research has shown that the most successful community conservation projects are where LCs have strong networks linking to various government departments and ministries and to NGOs and conservation organizations at regional, national, and international scales. LCs left isolated as lone rangers in the globalised world of conservation and tourism, are likely to fail. Thus, LCs need critical support, they cannot just be thrown into a concession and be expected to make a success of a highly complex system, including institutional and ecological management, wildlife and natural resource assessments, tourism partnerships, tourism development and marketing, funding acquisition, legal advice, financial management, human resource development and management. Such a diverse and complex field requires a diverse set of skills and expertise best attained through networks and linkages to a diverse field of partners at various scales.

The final point for consideration in the governance of large landscapes is that they are usually made up of several autonomous LCs and many other stakeholders, creating additional complexity. Consequently, an integrated, cohesive, and overarching management framework for the entire large landscape will have to create multi-stakeholder forums and dialogue where activities among the various stakeholders of the large landscape are coordinated in a manner that facilitates the overall integrity and functioning of the large landscape and achieves the overall vision of all stakeholders, including government.

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