Communities living with wildlife are asking for a new deal for conservation—one that places them as the primary guardians of the natural resources at their door step and allows them to reap the benefits.

In a declaration presented to Heads of State, the private sector and international organizations at the African Wildlife Economy Summit in June 2019, 40 community groups from 12 African countries asked for a new agreement that respects their right of ownership and management for the natural resources that drive the continent’s wildlife economy.

This is an invitation to Heads of State and governments of Africa, the private sector and international organizations to work with us to allow our continent’s communities to achieve a New Deal that will become a stronger foundation of Africa’s Wildlife Economy,” the declaration said. “We trust that this is the first step in a meaningful process bringing us together as equal partners to conserve our biodiversity into the future.”

People who live alongside wildlife have long resented their exclusion from the decision-making around conservation, despite being the ones that experience the realities of living with wild animals every day. As the continent’s population expands, protected parks that do not benefit the people living next to them are becoming a target of debate.

Chief Fortune Charumbira, the Chiefs Council President of Zimbabwe, said that until communities do not feel the value of living and conserving wildlife, human and wildlife conflict will continue.

“How many times have we formulated policies on wildlife by working with international players, without the villages themselves,” he said. “If the communities view animals as not theirs, the poaching and thieving will continue. If they see themselves as shareholders, they will protect those animals as they protect their cattle.”

Namibia is one of the best examples of community-based natural resource management. Communal land conservancies now cover more than 14 per cent of the country and involve over 200,000 people, and generates US$2.5 million every year, according to the International Institute for Environment and Development of the United Kingdom. In the process, the countries’ main wildlife resources have recovered, while poaching and other illegal activities have decreased.

“The reality is that the fate of wildlife lies mainly in the hands of those who live with it daily,” said Maxwell Gomera, Director of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Branch at the UN Environment Programme. “These people must have incentives if they are to live with dangerous animals. Conservation efforts that fail to acknowledge the rights of such people and help them to live safely alongside dangerous animals and become wildlife defenders force them and wildlife into a battle from which both emerge as losers.”

With the declaration, communities are asking governments, international organizations and the private sector to capitalize on indigenous knowledge, ensure that community voices are reflected at all governance levels, promote investment in community-owned wildlife projects and change the development model for communities to take charge of their own development.

“Communities are tired of benefitting from handouts, they want to learn to do the fishing,” said Edson Gandiwa, professor of Wildlife Conservation and Management at Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe.

The African Wildlife Summit is co-organised by the Zimbabwean government, the African Union, UN Environment, Space for Giants and others.


This story has been co-authored by The Independent and UN Environment and has also appeared in The Independent.