Archive for June, 2012

Dinner with The Honorable Chief Joseph Mayuni

The Honorable Chief Joseph Mayune

I recently returned from Namibia, where I traveled with government officials, private business owners, and representatives from the World Wildlife Fund who have been working together with local communities to create a paradigm shift in how each community interacts with wildlife. The resulting “Communal Conservancy” program has been a tremendous succes.  (Visit “Namibia’s Quiet Wildlife Revolution,” a story I wrote for for more details.) As of today, 42 percent of Namibia is under conservation management, one of the reasons it is the only country in the world where black rhino, elephants, giraffe, and lions are increasing in numbers and range.

Bwabwata National Park

After a game drive in Bwabwata National Park in Namibia’s swampy Caprivi region, I was lucky to eat dinner with the Honorable Chief Joseph Mayuni, the leader of the Mafwe people. We were at Susuwe Island Lodge, a private safari concession on the bank of the Kwando River, which donates $40 Namibian (US $5) to Chief Mayuni’s community for each guest that stays at the lodge. It’s not a fortune, but it’s a start to a working partnership and a better life for the local people. When I asked Chief Mayuni at what moment he realized the value of conservation, this is what he told me:

Every idea that we see today was a beginning point. It started from somewhere. I was observing the problem between people and wildlife. There was no return or benefit. Animals would destroy peoples’ crops. Because of these problems people began to say ‘There’s no point in looking after wildlife. Let’s kill them.’ My personal observation was that people were dying and we were losing wildlife. Me and my community were losing double. I thought, how best can wildlife live together with my people?

Fortunately around that time the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) came to our area. I clung onto them and gave them the support they needed. It was very difficult at the beginning because the community went against me. They asked, ‘Why are we introducing the concept of conserving?’

“If we conserve the wildlife we create opportunity for tourism business,” I told them. “There will be benefits coming to us who are losing crops and livestock.” With a few meetings we started employing community game guards, who worked on a voluntary basis and were very committed.

After that I sat down to think about how best can we teach the community good management of wildlife. Finally we established this lodge. Then I used the payment I was getting to start compensating my community when it came to livestock and hyenas. What I had to pay was 500 Namibian ($61 U.S.) for livestock killed. That shifted the mindset of my community that they can benefit from good management of wildlife.

Bwabwata National Park

But we all know what we say with oil: Somehow you find a drip from the top, bottom, or in-between. Some members still go around and do the poaching. Still poachers were getting information from a few individuals involved in the system.

It was difficult to know who was poaching and we realized there was a need to find the sources. These sources were coming from our own community. We started confiscating rifles. When all these activities were done and poaching was reduced, I sat aside and a question came to my mind—where can we translocate species? Why don’t we zone our area and reserve a place for tourism? The only place to reserve was the flat plane along the Kwando River. To make an example, I was the first person to move from the river. Then one by one they all moved. That’s the beginning of the whole idea. That’s how we started. It was not an easy process.