Advancing the war against poaching [Part 2]

Staff Writer
With experts projecting a decline in diamond mining and sales over the next decade, Botswana's 'new gem' is the eco-tourism sector which made P8 billion last year. But the sector is grappling with a threat that won't go away - poachers armed to the teeth. In this second of a two-part interview, Staff Writer GOTHATAONE MOENG reports on the journey with World Wildlife Fund senior programme officer for African Species Conservation Matthew Lewis about how communities can derive maximum benefits from the wildlife on their land and what the recent ban on trophy hunting means for communities in tourist areas. Lewis was in Botswana as a guest of the American Embassy where he spoke about the economic value of wildlife conservation

MMEGI: You have talked in your presentations about how in Namibia you have been able to put value on wildlife; to gauge whether it has positive or negative value.  Can you please explain how you did that?

LEWIS: That's another element of CBNRM that for it to be fully successful and for communities to realise its full benefits, they must be allowed to obtain the maximum economic value of the species they are committing to protect.  So animals have different levels of value, but the ones that we can really assign hard monetary value to are things like meat so we know communities can derive a certain amount of value from the meat. And then there is the value potentially from the trophy hunting of those animals. Another layer of value comes in from tourism.  So when you add all those values in monetary terms, you get a figure that you can assign to an animal.  With an elephant, for instance, you can say this elephant is worth this amount of money to the community, and that is a very positive incentive to the community to keep that elephant on their land.  The inverse of that is that elephants cause a lot of damage to crops and buildings, and that is a negative financial value.

Then we add in predators which not only cause a negative impact to the community but also eat the species that provide meat and other benefits. So that is a double negative value; trying to recoup the positive value that you get from potentially hunting and tourism. It costs a lot of money to offset those big losses.  Usually it's really hard to do that. That's why we need to think outside the box in encouraging communities to keep those species around. One of the really unique methods we have been working on in Namibia, which I think holds a lot of potential, is working with a lodge, say, when people go on a game drive in a communal area, the operator of the game drive will report back for how many lions they have seen that day and the tourists would pay a premium, a bonus for those animals, and the community would receive that in the form of money directly, and they would say today the tourists saw five lions and we received a cash bonus. So they would associate lions with cash, and that is one system we have been trying to launch and get off the ground on a pilot scale in Namibia where you really increase the value of the species, depending on what the tourists are willing to pay. One standard rate if they go on a boat cruise or game drive, but paying a bonus if they see some of the animals that have a large negative value.

MMEGI: In a country like Botswana where there is a lot of money from tourism but it goes back to the central government, what would you recommend to ensure that communities themselves feel like they benefit directly from income made from the animals on their land?

LEWIS: If it's agreed that that's the system that is going to remain in place, then what needs to happen is an education component. Perhaps the government needs to educate people thoroughly on where the development money comes from so that they are aware that a large development portion of the development fund comes from the wildlife, and I think transparency and accountability are the keys to that.  The government can show clearly that this year this many tourists came to Botswana and we received this much money and therefore you are receiving this amount of money.  People will make those links because they will see it very clearly. Currently I am not very sure if a new road is constructed, if people know if that money came from diamonds or from tourism revenue. Maybe one of the things that can be looked into is if there is a new project, a sign can be put up saying the money from this project came from tourism and wildlife revenue.

MMEGI: How can countries ensure that there is a fair distribution of revenue from tourism to the areas where that money was made?

LEWIS: It's a major issue in other countries. I don't think I have a good solution for it. I am just aware that it is a major problem. I am not in a position to really give advice to the Government of Botswana on how to handle this issue. But this is an issue that needs to be addressed because if people are feeling like they are bringing in more money through tourism but they are not receiving a fair share of the benefits, then it's going to cause problems.

MMEGI: You have said where local communities feel ownership over wildlife and get benefits from it, they can help in fighting poaching. In a situation like in the Chobe District where the local communities believe the animals belong to the government and that the people who get most of the benefits are foreign businesspeople, how would you recommend things to be done so people can feel they own these animals?

LEWIS: In that scenario, the way forward in my view, would be the CBNRM approach where communities are given the responsibilities and the rights over the wildlife. Where that is not possible I think education needs to come into play where people are taught where the development funds come from.

MMEGI: You have said that

there has been a hike in poaching because there has been a rise in demand for ivory and rhino horn.  Do you know what has caused this rise?

LEWIS: There are two different ways that the global community monitors the killing of elephants and seizures of ivory. One is a programme under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which is called the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). The MIKE programme has detected an increase in all its monitoring sites across Africa. What they tried to see is what does this increase correlate to, what could be driving this increase. After their latest analysis of the data, the number one thing has been the increase in purchasing power in Asia, primarily in China. The average person in China having more money to spend is the one thing that has most highly correlated with the increase in poaching.  So it appears that the very strong economy, the purchasing power of the average person in China, has a lot to do with demand. Demand has always been there, ivory has always been a luxury product. It is just a status symbol. If people don't have money, they won't buy it. But if people have extra money and they want to show off their wealth, they will buy ivory as a status symbol and I think that is what is happening. People are now able to buy this luxury item that before was very hard to access, it was only available to people of the upper classes.  With rhino horn, it appears that the most recent spike in rhino poaching has been driven by the belief in Vietnam that rhino horn can cure cancer, which is a myth as far as we know.  But again, Vietnam has a strong purchasing power, and if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness and you have money to spend, you will try any last-ditch efforts to cure yourself.

MMEGI: As governments look into anti-poaching methods and technologies, is there room for countries where poaching takes place to work with governments where these products end up? And how can governments do that?

LEWIS: Some governments have started working together to some extent. Vietnam and South Africa have started working together over the past couple of years, which is really needed, especially at the level of customs and importation. Working on agreements that if we know for sure that rhino horn is leaving South Africa and ending up in Vietnam, where do we fill in the gap in between, how is it getting there and if police in Vietnam seize rhino horn that is coming in, who do they contact in South Africa. Who are their counterparts?  And now DNA technology has emerged that allows us to get sophisticated with the way we investigate rhino poaching cases because there is a rhino database in South Africa that allows us to 'finger-print' every single rhino. So if rhino horns are seized, they can check the DNA from the horn and find out exactly what rhino that came from. And if we know for sure that it came from a rhino that was poached on a certain farm, now you have a crime scene and you can convict people based on DNA evidence. There are a lot of ways in terms of technology, but also in terms of agreements.

MMEGI: I guess one of the ways of helping with poaching may be the periodical granting of hunting quotas where professional hunting companies are allowed to hunt legally. But in the case of Botswana, trophy hunting was recently banned. What do you anticipate will be the effect of this ban?

LEWIS: Honestly, I am not sure what's going to happen in Botswana as a result of the closing of the trophy hunting. I don't think it is going to have the impact on poaching that some people expect it will because I don't really see a tight link between legal and well-managed trophy hunting and poaching. These are two different issues, so I don't really see that it is going to address the root cause of the problem. I don't think legal hunting has caused a decline in species in this country, so if it is being done as a way to counter the decline of species, I think it's probably the wrong approach. I think it remains to be seen what the impact would be.We spoke earlier about the layers of value of wildlife. Two of those values are meat and trophy hunting. If you don't have the ability to hunt the animal, you don't get the meat and can't get the trophy hunting. So the only value that remains is tourism, so that is really almost tying the hands of the community on how they can make money from the wildlife. You are saying your only option is tourism, but obviously there are places in this country where tourism is not an option. It maybe too difficult for tourists to access those places for there is no infrastructure.

MMEGI: So in essence, the biggest impact of the hunting ban is going to be the loss of value of the wildlife for communities?

LEWIS: The way I would frame it is to say that we know that for CBNRMs to be fully effective, communities need to be able to obtain the maximum benefits from the species. So if you are removing options from them, you are limiting their ability to benefit fully.




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