The People’s Park – one million hectares under protection

CCFA, together with partner, TUSK Trust, is pleased to have supported a conservation initiative in the Kunene region of Namibia. Ombonde People’s Park is a progressive version of a national park that has the potential, in phases, to put one million hectares of Namibia’s spectacular Kunene region under protection.

The Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) – the implementing partner for the People’s Park – has received funding from Tusk, the Oak Foundation and ourselves to finalise the management plans and a third conservancy has signed up. They are waiting for the new Wildlife Act to be passed, which will ensure the people’s Park model can be rolled out even further, depending on budget.

In a royal show of support for this initiative, HRH Prince William visited Kunene in September 2018 where he met with community leaders and government officials and was given an update of the project.

 TUSK’s mission is to amplify the impact of progressive conservation initiatives across Africa. The charity identifies and invests in the best projects and partners with them in the long term.  TUSK approached CCFA because we are aligned in terms of believing that, ‘successful conservation is only possible if it is implemented at grass roots level.’ The donation totaled $64,750 (R1.2 million)

Kunene is home to desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, lion and cheetah, all vulnerable or threatened in Africa. What makes the People’s Park different from conventional national parks is that it builds on and enhances community ownership of wildlife and natural resources.  The People’s Park is another authentic partnership between community conservancies and the government.

Even prior to COVID-19 the area was in trouble. There has been a serious drought which has put community-based conservation in the region under severe threat. A series of domestic stock invasions into communal conservancies, core wildlife conservation and tourism zones, including black rhino habitats had also taken place.

Herders have been implicated in rhino poaching (amongst others) and pasture intended for wildlife has been degraded. Successful court actions against the invaders over a four-year period, coupled with meetings with traditional leaders, have broadly countered this threat. However, there is nothing to prevent similar occurrences in the future in drought-prone Kunene.

Tusk identified two of the worst affected conservancies to CCFA – Ehirovipuka and Omatendeka, then initiated and worked with IRDNC to find legal and mutually beneficial ways to consolidate the integrity of their exclusive wildlife and tourism zones. Majority support by conservancy members – including women, youth and traditional leaders – has been achieved by a community-based and led process over the past year.

The development of the Ombonde People’s Park as a land tenure model for Ehirovipuka and Omatendeka’s exclusive wildlife and tourism zones, could link the Skeleton Coast Park with Etosha National Park and even with Iona National Park in Angola. This would provide sustainable long-term protection for critically endangered rhino, elephant and other wildlife habitats and ensure that tourism, to these areas, directly benefits those communities that live with and near their wildlife.

The People’s Park model could be adapted and used elsewhere in Namibia and in other African countries. The project demonstrates a new way for communities to benefit from living sustainably with wildlife while, at the same time, strengthening wildlife conservation.

Tusk has worked with Garth Owen Smith (Winner of the 2015 Prince William Award) and Dr Margie Jacobsohn of IRDNC over the last few years providing the necessary funding to underwrite the community engagement and political process.