John Kasaona

Community Partners are Essential for Conservation  

John Kasaona, an internationally-recognized conservation activist, opened the 2015 SAWA Annual Conference by sharing his experience building programs to protect indigenous wildlife in his home country of Namibia. Kasaona’s approach emphasizes empowering local people to benefit from conservation, in part by encouraging them to turn from poaching to caretaking.

A native of Namibia, Kasaona actively develops ways to improve the lives of the locals and include them in the management of their lands, and works to link wildlife conservation to people and democracy.

“This is how we all survived.”

Kasaona opened his talk by recognizing that his own family were poachers in the past. His father poached to survive because he needed meat to feed his growing family. Recognizing the human needs of people in the local community is central to Kasaona’s understanding of the complex relationship between animals and humans in their habitats. He noted that in Namibia, there are as many animals living outside of protected national parks as they are living within their borders.

The conservation efforts that Kasaona outlined are largely focused on animals and communities outside of official national parks. The effect has been that animal populations have grown in the last three decades, largely because people have understood the financial value of having wild animals in their communities. This value largely comes through tourism, as the animals bring much-needed opportunity to the community.

By focusing that value on conservation instead of poaching, both animals and humans can prosper.

For example, in 1995, there were only 20 lions in the entire northwest of Namibia, but today, there are over 130. Similarly, black rhinos were on the brink of extinction. Today, Kunene, a region of Namibia, has the largest concentration of free-roaming black rhinos in the world. Community-led conservancies made these recoveries possible.

Empowering people to help indigenous animals

Kasaona noted that treating local communities as responsible, well-meaning partners positively impacts conservation efforts and overall community welfare:

“They are equally responsible citizens and can be trusted with valuable natural resources.”

To tap into these resources, community members in Namibia are able to start their own conservancies. There are now 82 conservancies covering 19.7% of the country. These conservancies are generating cash for their communities, improving lives and nutrition in rural areas, creating jobs and conserving land and water throughout the country – all outside of national parks.

It’s not all good news

Kasaona noted that funding issues sometimes make it difficult for community-led conservancies to survive. Commercial poaching, especially of rhinos and elephants, continues to threaten animals outside of national parks. But overall, community-led conservation has allowed many of their indigenous animals to survive the threat of extinction.

In summary, Kasaona’s presentation emphasized the connection between humans and animals in local habitats. Engaging people in these communities is essential to protecting the animals there, much like managing pet overpopulation requires the cooperation and engagement of local communities here at home.

For more information on Kasaona’s approach, see his TED Talk or read more about his work.


This article was written live during the 2015 Annual Society of Animal Welfare Administrators Conference. This post reflects our bloggers’ understanding of the session and the materials shared by presenters.


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