Over the past week, a technical team composed of the Lion Rangers’ Leadership Team, in partnership with IRDNC Coordinators and WWF-Namibia Program Staff, met with core lion-range conservancies in Kunene. The agenda is developing an innovative new program to pay communities for living sustainably alongside lions. This program is called Wildlife Credits and will be an important part of demonstrating to communities the commitment of the international conservation community to recognizing the work of Africans conserving lions.
Wildlife Credits is an innovative form of paying communities for conservation performance. Unlike the majority of past conservation programs, where donations come as money or equipment with the promise of performance, Wildlife Credits supports existing work where, in this case, communities are already conserving their wildlife. It is an incentive-based performance system to reinforce the importance of wildlife conservation, while recognizing that conservation must be economically competitive. Within Namibia this program is being spearheaded by NACSO and CCFN.
Based on the concept of Ecosystem Services, Wildlife Credits recognizes that intact ecosystems also make important contributions to human wellbeing, including regulating services such as water purification, provisioning services such as food and materials, cultural services such as sacred or recreational spaces, and supporting services such as nutrient cycling and habitat provision. This approach to ‘valuing’ ecosystems is part of a broader conservation economics movement to diversify considerations of what undergirds human livelihoods, economies, and wellbeing. In effect no longer taking for granted the work of the natural world.
It is recognized that lions provide cultural services, both locally and across the world. Furthermore, lions provide regulating services, such as eliminating diseased prey, and controlling ‘meso’-level predator numbers, such as black-backed jackal – which effectively cause greater numbers of human-wildlife conflict in the form of killed lambs and goat kids. Communities understand the important role of lions. Part of the work of the Lion Rangers and our partners is to ensure their work continues to be supported.
The community meetings focused on introducing the Wildlife Credits program and getting community feedback. The most important question is, are communities interested in piloting a Wildlife Credits for lions program. This was answered with a resounding ‘YES!’ Second, the technical team sought input from the communities about what type of performance – whether Ranger and Game Guard deployment, participation in quotas, limiting human-lion conflict – should be rewarded. And, critically, how should payments be structured. Each community provided important insights into the challenges of living with lions. Once the technical team has distilled community feedback, program structure will be finalized in follow-up meetings, to take place before the end of 2022.
While Namibia’s constitution enshrines the rights of the natural world, Namibians often suffer economic hardship because they live close to nature. This can be the case with lions, who are responsible for livestock losses and threats to human safety across Kunene. Wildlife Credits will help balance the costs of living with lions by tangible benefits. We look forward to further developing the Wildlife Credits product with our partnering communities – the true leaders in lion conservation!