Read, Debate: Engage.
Developing Story
Saving Rhino

Community-based Natural Resource Management

Author: Frank Odenthal

The previous chapter stated the importance of involving empowered local communities to fight poaching. We now take a closer look at action being taken by Rhino Force and speak with Brit Reichelt-Zolho of WWF about community-based natural resource management and the differences of wildlife conserveration throughout Southern and Eastern Africa.

The core of every empowerment must be education because it protects people from making premature judgments against dissenters. This also applies to the coexistence between humans and their surrounding wildlife. The connection of communities with the surrounding flora and fauna must be thoroughly taken into account, as it is the very basis to enable people to see any value in their environment, a spiritual, but also a practical, economical value.

Elephant bathing in Zambezi River.

Ralph Koczwara, the founder of Hemmersbach Rhino Force, is aware of this challenge. His organisation, which is designed according to a “direct action” approach, also has long-term goals in mind, the returns of which may only emerge in a few years' time. In the Lower Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe, he conducts garbage collection projects to familiarise local children with the problems of littered habitats. In addition to poaching, the elephants on the Lower Zambezi River are increasingly threatened by garbage: they perceive it as food and eat it.

Re-using and recycling garbage as long-term goal

Following collection the garbage is used for recycling and re-use projects, Koczwara says, for example the production of artisan products out of plastic waste. Later, it is hoped the garbage will be used in productive ways to benefit the local community. That can be to make building resources like bricks, or even as a form of energy by processing the plastic. The locals seeing the benefits of waste collection is hoped to build to a cultural tipping point in which they will no longer litter but think of it as a resource, as mentioned in the previous chapter highlighting The Marara Project. However, to begin building towards this change now, Rhino Force has engaged in awareness campaigns around the community.

Equipping schools with computers and qualified teachers to prepare new generations for the challenges ahead is also part of empowerment. Hemmersbach Rhino Force is active here, too, for example at the Rutendo Primary and Secondary School in Chirundu, Zimbabwe.

IntegratinG Local communities

In the following interview, Brit Reichelt-Zolho of WWF answers why she promotes the concept of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) and the establishment of community guards, as well as  what makes Namibia special regarding the integration of local communities and the allowance of small-scale trophy hunting.

Brit Reichelt-Zolho was born in Wolfen-Bitterfeld, Germany. After studying agriculture in Halle / Saale, ecology in Edinburgh and biological resource assessment in Newcastle, she has been working as a biologist in Mozambique since 1997. Since 2012 she has been working as programme manager for Southern and Eastern Africa at the World Wildlife Fund For Nature (WWF).

IMG_1895-Brit Reichelt Zolho-Afrika-c-WWF

What are the advantages of integrating local communities in wildlife conservation in southern Africa?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: Involving local communities in nature conservation is of great importance to WWF. No one knows the local conditions better than the people who live there in the vicinity of the wild animals. They know where the animals are, they recognise their tracks, they know how they behave and how to behave themselves, they know where the water points are, etc.


You know, the local communities have a very different relationship to their wildlife. Elephants are feared in many places, because an encounter with them can have fatal consequences. They can trample or eat plants that are vital to communities as food or to make a living. Lions sometimes attack cows and goats.  Therefore, it is important that the people in the local communities not only think of danger or fear when it comes to wild animals, but also see a benefit in protecting them.

That's why WWF promotes the concept of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). People should be involved when it comes to managing their land and resources. In fact the basic pillars for CBNRM to function are that people, who live with wildlife, should engage in taking care of them and also receive benefits from these animals. For CBNRM to work, it is important to build the capacity of the communities. On one hand, local communities have to learn and understand the legal framework behind management of natural resources, for example the laws and regulations that govern forest and wildlife resources. These laws also set out what is legal and what is illegal, for instance killing protected animals or cutting trees in a conservation area is illegal. Often, the communities living with wildlife for generations have insufficient information and they enter into illegal activities without knowing it. Also, communities have to learn how to best manage their land resources. They need to learn about the development and implementation of land use and zoning plans that set aside areas for wildlife habitats, fields and housing. This can assist in separating people’s fields and houses from the wildlife habitats and reduces the conflicts between humans and wildlife.

For the fight against poaching, the local communities are of particular importance, not only because of their local knowledge, but also because the people in the villages can be the eyes and ears of wildlife protection on the ground, as they immediately notice when a stranger comes to their community, committing something illegal or planning to do so, for example poaching. They can immediately alert the authorities. But as I said: they need to recognise a benefit in the protection of wild animals.

We also support the engagement /establishment of community guards. These are community members, who are selected by the communities and trained to detect illegal activities on the community land. However, community guards are not allowed to carry weapons and they don’t have a mandate to arrest people. Despite this, they are very important as they can patrol the buffer zones of national parks, in which the local communities live and where rangers have no mandate to enforce the law. Once they detect anything illegal, they call the police or rangers to assist and follow up. In some projects and to kick-start anti-poaching work, WWF covers the initial costs of training and equipping the community guards as well as providing a monthly subsidy. However, in the long run, this will be taken over by the revenue of the communities from tourism projects. 

What difficulties can arise in the integration of local communities?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: Education is actually a big problem in local communities. In many African countries, the national educations systems are not well developed and implemented in rural areas. Often, community members only attend school until 4th grade. Many people don't know the wildlife laws of the country. For example, sometimes they don´t know that shooting an animal in a conservation area is prohibited.

So first of all, we have to carry out a basic capacity building in order to enable people to understand and make a contribution to community-based natural resource management. About 80 percent of the people in Africa live in rural areas and practice shifting cultivation for their living. They often live next to conservation areas and/or in the buffer zone of conservation areas. Their shifting cultivation can destroy the habitats for the wildlife and encroach on the borders of the conservation area. Therefore, we also promote sustainable agriculture to increase the soil fertility of existing fields. This reduces the needs for clearing new land and helps to maintain the forests.

Rhino Force also is teaching permaculture in Mozambique direct to poaching communities. This was arranged between Rhino Force and the third biggest poaching kingpin in Mozambique as a trade-off to stop poaching. The kingpin and community leader has a problem with orphans and widows due to poaching, but there is no income for his people. This is where permacutlture and sustainable, effective farming methods can make a difference.

At WWF, we believe that the revenue generated by the national parks and wildlife conservation should go as fully as possible back to local communities, ideally 100%. That would make the benefits of wildlife conservation very tangible to people, and then they have the money at disposal in their own hands. One of the countries that is putting this in practice is Namibia.

Namibia has written conservation into its constitution: state policy is aimed at the maintenance of ecosystems, biodiversity and sustainable use for the benefit of its people both present and future.

Brit Reichelt-Zolho, WWF

After independence, the young Namibian state created the basis for the integrated conservation model of community conservancies. The subsidiary legislation (conservancy legislation) then provided for right over wildlife and tourism to be given to communities that form a conservancy and be managed for the benefit of people. It means that when a tourism concession is awarded to a conservancy (except in a national park), the full payments for all tourism fees goes back to the conservancy with none of it going to government.

In other countries in southern Africa, however, things are still very different. In Mozambique, for example only 20 percent of the revenue goes back to local communities. Zambia is currently talking about raising communities' share from 30 percent to 70 percent. What it looks like in Zimbabwe is hard to say, the country’s economy is in distress and state budget for conservation is very limited and it's hard to imagine that much money goes back to the communities. In South Africa on the other hand, the situation is different since South Africa is not a developing country, and does a great deal to protect the national parks and wildlife. 

The organised poaching syndicates promise local people fast-earned money at low risk. What can one oppose to the lure of easy money and rapid wealth if NGOs and even the state authorities can't offer comparable sources of income?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: That's a big problem indeed. We started a project in Mozambique in 2014 where prosecutors were sensitised about the needs of wildlife conservation and the fight against poaching. Wildlife offenses are unfortunately not taken as seriously in Mozambique—similar to other African countries—as robbery or murder or car accidents. This is of course fatal, because if the prosecution does not courageously chase them down, wildlife crime will be treated more like any trivial offense. The problem is, impunity can come with a habituation effect. But people have to realise that there are consequences if they go to a national park and kill a rhino. Therefore, we have explained to the prosecutors the details of the new Nature Conservation Act, which came into force in Mozambique four years ago but also all other related legislation. And we took them to South Africa, to assist court cases where poachers were convicted.

Rhino Force does necropsies (crime scene analysis) for local farms and police. They provide them with metal detectors allowing them to find the bullet and collect it as evidence. Many times this has led to integral evidence in arrests and trials.

Also, the rangers, when first discovering a crime scene must know how to treat it correctly and how to collect evidence. Often rangers are not trained in this and they can end up blurring the evidence by collecting cartridges or other crime scene pieces without properly investigating and mapping the site first. If the evidence is not presented correctly and if there are errors detected, then the court has an excuse to dismiss the case, which often happened in the past. Courts are often poorly equipped in financial terms. Sometimes, they cannot complete the court cases because they don’t have funds to travel to the site or transport the witnesses. In such cases, WWF assists the court to complete the investigation successfully.

And of course it is also helpful if you have as many rangers on duty as possible. Scientific research shows, that the likelihood of being caught by a ranger is a much stronger deterrent from poaching then extremely high sentences. That means that sufficient rangers must be employed. However, because of budget shortages in African countries, conservation areas are notoriously under-staffed and under-financed. 

Would you have some examples of specific projects involving local communities?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: WWF has supported from the early beginnings the community conservancy approach on communal lands and often near/around national parks. This idea goes back to Garth Owen-Smith, a Namibian environmentalist who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1993 for his fight to protect wildlife in Namibia. To do so, the NGO Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation IRDNC was founded in 1990.

The state of community conservation in Namibia as published in the summary of the annual report 2016 by NACSO.

For example, twelve conservancies were established in the Zambezi region (formerly Caprivi Strip) in northeastern Namibia, not inside the national parks but around them. They tried to avoid creating "islands" where the animals were isolated from each other, but creating buffer zones, gentle transit zones between protected areas and settlements of the communities. And they established open spaces and corridors for the wildlife. These conservancies manage themselves completely, receiving 100 percent of their land's revenue, including national park revenues. We encouraged them to make up land use plans in order to avoid disputes and to simplify the organisation and management of conservancies. Today there are 82 conservancies in Namibia in total, and they're getting more every year. Surely a success story.

Are there any examples of projects with a negative outcome?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: WWF projects are usually long-term projects. There is not really a negative outcome, because of our approach of adaptive management. That means that if we notice any difficulties or realise that a project is not working properly, we reassess and adapt our activities until it finally works and the objectives of the project are achieved.

To give an example, we are currently supporting a project to protect lions in the Zambezi region (formerly Caprivi Strip). It turned out that the lions have repeatedly killed cows of neighbouring peasants. So we adapted our project; at night, we put up lion-proof fences, so-called kraals, around the herds of cows. The lions could still smell the animals, but because the fences are made up of opaque plastic sheeting, they couldn't see them, and they do not jump fences unless they see what's behind it. The fences are also mobile and move with the cattle after a few days.  This adaptation is working perfectly for the Zambezi region (formerly Caprivi Strip) and also in Zimbabwe.

In Botswana , however, it didn't work, because here the farmers wanted to bring the animals into a fixed kraal in the evening. So we adapted the project again: instead of the mobile fences, we will now support the construction of fixed fences. The local farmers were happy with it. You see, such long-term projects do not really fail, but are constantly evolving and being adjusted.

In another project, we invited local communities in Mozambique to a neighbouring national park and also took them to tourist accommodation. The idea was to show them what tourism means from the tourists' point of view. The participating communities were enthusiastic, they loved it. But the neighbouring communities were less enthusiastic; they were jealous and complained that they were not invited.

So we learned that we should not impose such projects from the outside, but either involve all parties or just propose a project and then ask the communities themselves if and how they would like to join and implement it.

Brit Reichelt-Zolho, WWF

You always have to consider the cultural background. But these are learning processes that the projects go through, too, but again, I would not call them a failure.

There could be conflicting interests between the protection of endangered animals on the one hand and the protection of indigenous peoples who share their habitat with the animals on the other hand, for example in terms of hunting rights. How do you think indigenous communities could be integrated into wildlife protection?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: I can hardly answer the question with respect to southern Africa, because really sealed-off indigenous communities do not really exist here anymore. There are the people of the “Khwe”, who were formerly called the Bushmen, who could be called an indigenous group, but they are pretty much integrated into Namibian society now, they go to work, they send their children to regular schools.

In the Zambezi region (formerly Caprivistrip), which is part of their former distribution, Khwe are part of the management of the Bwabwata National park where they are involved as closely as possible. A resident association of Khwe people has been formed and participates actively in decision-making for the park. But here, too, capacity building is crucial for the Khwe to participate effectively in the management processes of the park. Often, local people do not speak up during meetings but they must learn to do so if their voices should be heard. 

What does WWF's cooperation with local players look like, such as politicians, authorities, and the private sector?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: As far as the Law Enforcement is concerned, I have already talked about the project to sensitise prosecutors in Mozambique. We are a non-governmental organisation, so we are not allowed to carry out law-enforcement activities ourselves, we are not involved in that. In Zambia we are now working to introduce a "bonus" system. Community guards who arrest poachers will receive a reward once a lawsuit is opened. This should increase the motivation, since their salaries are quite low.

As far as contact with private companies is concerned, WWF doesn't usually join such cooperations but we promote dialogue between governments and civil society to ensure social and environmental standards are adhered to. We also have an internal restriction not to cooperate with companies whose business areas are not in line with our environmental criteria, such as oil drilling companies. In Mozambique, we developed a platform in which the communities affected by oil drilling could unite to raise their voice and their concerns. This can be described as "lobbying": we have been giving a voice to the environment, to NGOs and to local communities.

Local communities could also be involved in the transition from trophy hunting to photo safaris / sustainable tourism. How do you see the chances (and the limits) of success here?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: WWF is critical towards the way trophy hunting is often conducted in reality. However, there are cases in which strictly regulated trophy hunting could make sense. This is the case if the wildlife population in the area is stable and not under threat, there are effective regulations in the country, quotas are generated by a number of science based methods, revenue is been given to the communities and they can thus achieve, for example, a better protection of animals from poaching.

The rule of thumb is that only very few animals, usually much below one percent of the wildlife stock in a particular area should be made available for hunting.

Brit Reichelt-Zolho, WWF

However, in many places trophy hunting doesn’t work out for conservation and local communities. 

Would you have any positive examples for trophy hunting, too?

REICHELT-ZOLHO: Namibia is the best example as there are very elaborate, progressive laws in this respect. Some community conservancies in Namibia do it just like I described above. They allow trophy hunting on a very small scale and then finance their community development programmes through nature conservation and sustainable tourism with the revenues. And it seems to work.

Eventually, so-called joint venture lodges are the most successful of all forms of tourism there. These are cooperation’s between local communities and private investors. The local communities lease out their land, receive the revenue, provide wildlife and habitat protection; the private investors finance the construction of the lodges and the tourist infrastructure, for example hiking trails through mangrove forests or similar things. Such tourism projects are considered particularly successful in southern Africa.

Ms. Reichelt-Zolho, thank you for the interview.