The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) has been assisting in the organisation of the international conference under the theme “Crossroads- Leading the Way for Wildlife Conservation”, which is taking place in Windhoek, Namibia from May 2-4, 2019. The conference, hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Namibia, serves as a platform for workshop style discussions and presentations on wildlife conservation successes, challenges, and best practices from Namibia, Africa and across the world. At a time when wildlife conservation appears to be at a crossroads, this conference brings together various stakeholders to discuss related issues from African, European, and Global perspectives, as well as taking a unique look at the important roles youth and women will play in the future success of conservation efforts. The ultimate aim being to bring conservation efforts together onto a common path.
At the opening ceremony yesterday, Honourable Pohamba Penomwenyo Shifeta, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia started off the conference by giving his thanks along with a welcome address. He spoke of conservation and deriving benefits from wildlife, and how the sustainable use of wildlife is the future for conservation in Namibia. Minister Shifeta also talked of tackling issues such as the illegal use of wildlife, which can diminish the value of a nation’s critical resource. He concluded by mentioned how shaping the narrative around wildlife conservation will be critical ahead of CBD COP and CITES, IUCN world conservation congress.
President of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, George Aman gave his welcome speech, and stressed how hunters are prime conservationists, as hunting is inherently dependent on a healthy wildlife and nature. He also underlined the conference title ‘Crossroads’, which refers to the sustainable use community and our need to change our paradigm and to put conservation first. Building new alliances, communicating our message and being present in the media were mentioned as key factors in achieving this goal.
Danene van der Westhuyzen represented the CIC Namibian Delegation, and called for responsibility in conservation, and asked hunters to take responsibility when it comes to matters relating to conservation as it is the rightful role of humans to participate in nature.
Dr. Holly Dublin mentioned how polarity and vision is hampering the conservation process and its subsequent success. Objectives were presented, which are to think and examine ongoing confrontations in the field of conservation and hunting – looking for alliances with the most unexpected partners, as working together will be essential going forward. In addition, the need to go from discussions to acts after the conference was stressed. 2020 and the IUCN World conservation congress was referred to as a big step in conservation, with this being a critical point in bringing in new expertise and conducting significant changes.
The two keynote speeches by Tim Witting and Shane Mahoney set the scene for an enthralling day of discussions on the direction in which wildlife conservation, and the hunting community in particular should go.
Tim Witting gave a keynote speech on Illegal Wildlife Trade and how anti-corruption initiatives can be used to strengthen efforts against it. Illegal Wildlife Trade is a key threat to the survival of species, and can be regarded as a globalized professional criminal enterprise. What is visible at site level in poor communities is poaching – these poachers barely benefit from this type of trade. Behind all of this are professional, organised, international criminal networks, which converge with other threats (including drug and human trafficking, corruption and terrorists groups). This can be regarded as a national security threat that is worth 20 billion USD per year, with many wildlife products being more profitable than drugs such as cocaine. It was also mentioned how Illegal Wildlife Trade overlaps with other important issues in conservation, with examples such as ivory trafficking in Mozambique and the Czech Republic being a transit hub for rhino horn.
The case study of carcasses to a port in Tanzania was given – this involved an ivory shipment in SEA and was linked to the former President. Persons arrested included government staff and employees of big companies. This highlights how corruption underlies the industrial scale of Illegal Wildlife Trade, which includes permit frauds, misdirection of conservation funds, bribes, etc.
Shane Mahoney gave a speech on the topic of ‘Putting Conservation First’ – in a broad sense, conservation can be regarded as an ethic and a program of resource use allocation and protection. Namibia and its adoption and delivery of a broad conservation program was addressed, with particular attention to their success and achievements made through NP, conservancies etc. This is proof of possible success when linking sustainable use and protection.
Additionally, he spoke of the perceptions of the hunting community by outsiders (especially regarding their motivations), and put forward the point that many do not believe that hunters put conservation first. It was proposed that the community should focus on a holistic support of nature and conservation, not simply the species that are being hunted. This would include an examination and discussions of biodiversity loss, animal welfare issues, and the human threat to wildlife.
Communication was also stressed as a key point of discussion – as social trends will not be reversed, our points and arguments should be framed in a favorable way within this narrative. While hunters do care about wildlife, not enough is done to properly inform others of our point of view. This may involve developing programs to communicate effectively, and speaking more of individuals rather than organisations when giving examples of conservation based hunting.