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How Poachers Became Wildlife Caretakers

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From the near extinction of much of its wildlife, to wildlife population abundance, Namibia has succeeded wildly…with the help of poachers.

In this TED Talk, John Kasaona tells about how he grew up the son of a poacher. At the time Namibia was in chaos, with extreme poverty the norm. Communities were struggling to stay alive – communities that were home to these very poachers – and the old traditions of people living in concert with the land and animals were being lost.

But something changed, when men who had been poaching wildlife – like John’s father – were recruited to protect the very animals they once poached. Suddenly the communities were responsible, and felt a sense of ownership, for the wildlife. Things began to change, both for the communities and for the wildlife.

Essentially, it’s about restoring the balance of land and people to that of pre-colonial times, and allowing the people with the most interest in the survival of their environment to have control of it.

John indicates that there are three things that build on this foundation:

  1. Honoring tradition and being open to new ideas. This involves respect for the old ways, for spiritual traditions, along with a willingness to embrace modern tools and methods.
  2. Recognize that people want to have a life, and that people have dreams. The men who formerly acted as poachers blossomed once they realized that they could have good lives, respect and could take care of their families through this new system. No more did they have to live in fear of being caught and they were doing work that made them proud.
  3. Working with partners/developing partnerships. WWF, area businesses, hunters, have all partnered with these groups of men and their communities, and it has grown to heights only dreamed of years ago. Today, these communities have become conservancies, with a vested interest in preserving the habitat and wildlife.

Lion populations have exploded, as have black rhino populations. These animals were once on the road to extinction. The animals in the area of a conservancy are utilized as a renewable resource. Money comes into the community, increasing the standard of living of the people, while the animal species benefit as well.

“We were successful in Namibia because we dreamed of a future that was much more than just healthy wildlife,” says Kasaona. “We knew conservation will fail…if it doesn’t work to improve the life of the local communities.”

What Kasaona doesn’t specifically mention, but what is an essential part of the system, is the involvement of trophy hunters. Hunters are a part of the partnership he talks about between communities and other players. Hunter dollars help fund the conservation efforts he speaks of.

The IUCN recently released a paper supporting trophy hunting as a revenue generator and force for funding conservation in Africa.

This video is five or six years old. Namibian wildlife and the communities that support it and work directly with it – the communities that live with the wildlife –  have continued to prosper. Today Namibia is a model for how African wildlife conservation can and should work.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his Facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

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How Poachers Became Wildlife Caretakers