Southern Africans Tackle Poaching

Elephants in the Okavango Delta
Elephants live in Southern Africa’s Okavango Delta, one of the world’s largest freshwater wetlands.
Conserving wildlife in the Okavango River Basin
“People protect their wildlife when they benefit from it.”

The Okavango River Basin is one of the world's largest inland water systems. This shared, vital, natural resource for the Southern African countries of Angola, Botswana and Namibia is a rich, but fragile source of biodiversity supporting the livelihoods of approximately 1 million people.

This internationally important region is supported by a partnership between USAID and the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission through the Southern African Regional Environment Program (SAREP). The $23 million, five-year program, which began in 2010, promotes a transboundary approach to conserve biodiversity and ecosystems while strengthening good governance and resilient livelihood options for millions of Africans depending on the basin.

The Okavango Delta is home to elephants, rhinos and other wildlife. Poaching and unsustainable harvesting are among many threats faced by the Basin's wild inhabitants. Building on a successful, decades-old, community-based system, SAREP aims to shift incentives away from illegal, risky and environmentally destructive practices to legal, lucrative and sustainable alternatives. These alternatives include ecotourism, conservation agriculture, fisheries and natural product harvesting and marketing.

“People protect their wildlife when they benefit from it,” says Doreen Robinson, USAID/Southern Africa’s regional environment adviser.

Communities and governments are also improving their land use planning skills through new science-based Geographic Information System tools that help local and national governments allocate land for conservation and reduce human-wildlife conflict. Community-supported conservation areas support the wise use of natural resources to improve lives through a healthy environment that provides food and income. As a result, residents move away from destructive patterns and are motivated to protect their wildlife. Nearly 4,000 people in 50 communities have benefited from the creation of these areas since SAREP’s inception.

At the same time, the program helps local people protect the Southern African Delta. Area managers develop guidelines for managing and protecting wildlife while training community game guards to keep better track of wildlife throughout the Okavango River Basin. The program currently works closely with 35 partner communities in key biodiversity-rich areas of Angola, Botswana and Namibia to promote the use of a data-based tool for monitoring trends in natural resource populations on their land.

By empowering local people with the skills, data and guidelines to measure changes to their environment, the tool—called the Management Oriented Monitoring Strategy (MOMS)—helps communities to identify adverse changes to local ecosystems, including suspected poaching, and to take prompt action to mitigate them.

USAID, in tandem with other partners, is promoting dialogue and capacity to tackle illegal wildlife trading. For the future, the Agency plans to provide a dedicated special adviser to report to Botswana's Minister of Environment on conservation and anti-poaching issues.