Friday, 31 March 2017

Namibia: Etosha 100 Anniversary address

Etosha National Park Namibia -
Address by Hon. Reverend Willem Konjore, Minister of Environment and Tourism
The text of this address is courtesy of SPAN (Strengthening the Protected Area Network Project). SPAN is a collaborative project between the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environmental Fund. The goal of SPAN is to strengthen the environmental, social and economic benefits of Namibia’s parks through sound planning and management.

Address by Hon. Reverend Willem Konjore, Minister of Environment and Tourism
on the centenary of Etosha National Park, 22 March 2007

It is with a sense of great pride that I stand here tonight on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of two of our parks, being Etosha National Park and the Namib Section of the Namib Naukluft Park. There are few countries in Africa, or indeed the world, that have achieved a century of conservation history.

Our conservation track record is of international significance, as Etosha and our parks have helped prevent some of our most precious species from possible extinction.

Since Governor Dr. Friedrich von Lindequist proclaimed Game Reserve No 2 in 1907, we have walked a long and often winding road. Along the road we have passed many milestones. The most significant of these for conservation, is undoubtedly the successful restoration of our elephant, black rhinoceros, white rhinoceros and endemic black-faced impala populations.

When the Etosha National Park was proclaimed in 1907 there were no elephant or rhino to be found in this park. The last elephants were shot at Namutoni in 1881 and this population of animals could only be observed in Etosha again in 1946.  To this end I can proudly state that we have restored the elephant population in Etosha and can with confidence inform you tonight that there are now about two thousand five hundred elephants in Etosha National Park alone.

Our black rhino population in Etosha was extinct at the time of the proclamation of the park, but was gradually recovering before twenty three of these animals were poached in 1989.  This resulted in a drastic action and a decision to be taken by the then Department of Nature Conservation to remove the horns of some rhinos to save them from poacher’s rifles. Today, Etosha’s rhino population has recovered drastically and we are now in a position to return these animals to their historic areas, on both commercial farms and in communal area conservancies.

As a centenary gift to the Namib-Naukluft, nine black rhino – four of which originated from Etosha National Park - were recently moved from a nearby custodianship farm to the Naukluft area. This is the first time in more than one hundred years that a stable population of these majestic animals once again occurs in the rugged mountains of the Namib-Naukluft.

The black-faced impala, which is only found in Namibia and parts of Angola, has been saved from possible extinction due to its protection within the borders of Etosha National Park. Conservation efforts have been so successful that these animals are now being returned to their historic distribution areas in the Kunene Region, and are being conserved by our rural residents in communal area conservancies.

Indeed, we have come a long way since desperate measures were taken a century ago to save the last herds of game from hunter’s rifles.

But there have also been costs involved, mainly to our neighbouring communities and in particular to the Hai//om community that was left landless after they were evicted from the park in 1954. Since Independence in 1990, we have worked hard to redress this situation, by introducing a new approach to conservation that looks towards integrating the protection of our biodiversity with national development plans, poverty reduction strategies and Vision 2030 at its heart.

Our greatest achievement was to change our mandate from that of a law enforcement agency to that of a service provider. Officials of my Ministry now work very closely with our park neighbours to ensure that they do not only bear the costs of living alongside Etosha, but reap benefits from one of our greatest natural heritage assets.

There are no easy solutions to problems, particularly human wildlife conflict. But, as we move into a new era of conservation, where the voices of our people are heard and their needs are taken into account, we are seeking win-win solutions to age old problems.

One solution is to ensure that our park neighbours benefit from tourism in these parks. Our parks attract a big number of tourists, bringing in between N$1 billion and N$2 billion annually to the state revenue, creating jobs and income opportunities for Namibians. Etosha attracts close to two hundred thousand tourists annually.  We are making areas north, west and east of the park accessible to our visiting tourists by opening new gates and routes that will enable them to experience the rich and diverse cultures of our communities.

The upgrading of the Oshivelo airstrip and the envisaged opening of an entrance gate near Oshivelo will greatly benefit the Hai//om community.  Our Government’s decision to purchase two neighbouring farms for the Hai//om community to be developed into conservancies will lead to huge tourism potential.  This will create jobs and other income opportunities, leading to social upliftment, poverty reduction, enable our Hai//om community to farm on their own land, send children to school, help parents pay clinic fees and allow fledgling entrepreneurs to develop tourism-related enterprises.  The Narawandu gate and the western Etosha gate will also be open to enable our tourists to experience the rich and diverse culture of our communities to the west and north of the park.

Conservancies, along with private game reserves and farms, add hugely to our national protected area network, transforming a patchwork of unrelated areas into a fluid network strategic for restoring age old wildlife migration routes.

The time has come for Etosha to share its wildlife wealth with the nation. Already, animals such as black rhino, black-faced impala, giraffe, gemsbok and zebra have been translocated back to their historic areas in communal conservancies and other game parks, and will also be loaned to emerging farmers through the Wildlife Breeding Stock Loan Scheme. Symbolically, rhino are being returned to areas from where they were removed decades ago, with communities now empowered and trained to monitor and protect these majestic creatures, with the active involvement of all community members.

Farming with wildlife and, increasingly, other natural resources, makes indigenous biodiversity and wilderness landscapes valuable, creates wealth and jobs, leads to diversification, household security, improves capacity and skills and creates greater opportunities for the poor.

However, we realise that for this to work, a stronger policy and legislative framework is needed. Therefore, during the centenary year celebrations my Ministry is busy reviewing the draft Parks and Wildlife Management Bill to be tabled in Parliament in the near future.  We are also moving towards the finalisation of our Human-Wildlife Conflict Management Policy and the much awaited Policy on Tourism and Wildlife Concessions on State Land.  We will also continue with our day to day dialogue with park neighbours to ensure that we are upholding our mandate to protect our biodiversity while implementing our national development plans and Vision 2030.

We do not know where the road will lead us in the future, but we are taking stock of where we want to go and what we need to prepare for our journey ahead. We will walk this road hand in hand with our park neighbours, with greater collaboration on management of fences, resources and ecosystems through cooperative management practices. Our protected areas such as Etosha have the potential to generate opportunities for economic development, particularly for surrounding areas. By linking surrounding areas and parks into co-management partnerships, we can create incentives for compatible land uses across park boundaries.

We will also work closely with regional, national and international stakeholders. The importance of our parks is being realised as wildlife and our scenery take their place as national income earners.

Our new approach to conservation and the generation of benefits from wildlife to communities has helped turn Namibia from a nation where poaching was the norm to where conserving our precious game is the order of the day. This is testimony to the tremendous work and sacrifice of our unsung heroes and heroines, our dedicated and humble rangers and wardens, both current and those long gone, who have devoted their lives and energy to conservation and environment.

I also wish to acknowledge the support of partner NGO’s and donors agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme, the Global Environment Facility and programmes and projects such as the Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN – Project). Our Regional Authorities, Traditional Authorities and line Ministries as well as our rural communities have also helped us along the road to reach this historic milestone, and we will continue to walk and work with them on the road ahead.

During my previous media interactions when I announced the activities for these centenary celebrations, I urged the private sector as well as every Namibian to participate in this remarkable event.  I would therefore like to extend my gratitude and appreciation to the Namibia Breweries Limited, Namib Mills and NamPost who have heeded my call for private sector support for the Centenary celebrations. Your generosity is an example for others to follow.

Our success as a nation depends, in no small measures, on the conservation of areas such as these parks, whose centenary we celebrate today.  It demands conditions in which every sector of society can join hands to make a unique treasure accessible to our nation and its visitors, and to ensure that future generations will have the same privilege.

Finally, our celebrations and awareness of this historic milestone starts tonight and will continue for the period of one year, and will be marked by a series of events which will be highlighted in the local media. Later in the year on the 28 September a glittering commemorative ceremony event will take place at the renovated Namutoni Fort to mark the official celebrations. This event will highlight the importance of the park to the biodiversity, the national heritage and to the Namibian economy.

In concussion the road ahead is unknown but with vigour and determination we can be guaranteed of another one hundred years for our conservation efforts.  Therefore lets join hands together and look forward into the future with hope and confidence.

I wish all of you enjoyable celebrations and I am looking forward to welcome each and every one of you in our parks.

Hon. Reverend Willem Konjore, grew up in Karasburg in the Bondelswarts communal area. He obtained his Teaching Diploma from St. Joseph College, Dobra, in 1967. He taught at Tses Nowak Primary School until promoted to Koichas Primary School as the principal in 1972. He obtained his theological training at the Diocese of Keetmanshoop in 1979. A member of the National Assembly since 1990, Minister Konjore assisted in drafting Namibia's constitution. Prior to his appointment to the post of Minister of Environment and Tourism, he aided Reverend Kameeta as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly from 1992 and became the Deputy Speaker in 1995.