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Community-based wildlife management in Africa

D. Williamson

Douglas Williamson is Forestry Officer (Wildlife and Protected Area Management), Forest Resources Division, FAO Forestry Department, Rome.

How rural people can share the economic benefits from wildlife resources.

Among conservationists and wild-life managers, it is becoming widely accepted that the future of wildlife in developing countries depends largely on its capacity to deliver benefits to rural people and that the most effective way of delivering benefits to rural people is to give them the right and the responsibility to manage wildlife. Translation of this idea into a practical and sustainable reality on the ground has been limited and patchy, but there are success stories, and over the past two or three decades important lessons have been learned about involving communities in the management of wildlife and other natural resources.

Potentially the largest source of benefits to rural people from wildlife is wildlife-based tourism, including trophy hunting. For example, in 1996 trophy hunting alone contributed US$225 million to the economies of South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (Elliott and Mwangi, 1998). Wildlife tourism has the potential to contribute much more than it currently does because it is labour intensive and depends on a range of goods and services that can be provided by local people. At present local people often benefit less than they could and should, but mechanisms are being developed to increase their participation in wildlife-based tourism. For example, some governments make the awarding of business licences to tourist operators conditional on partnerships with local people. Some international ecotourism companies are well advanced in the process of involving local people in their operations, through both employment and the purchase of goods (e.g. handicrafts, fruit and vegetables) and services (e.g. laundry). One such company is Wilderness Safaris, which operates mainly in southern Africa.

Bushmeat is also an important source of human benefit. The actual amount of bushmeat being harvested is difficult to quantify because the harvest is mostly informal and illegal, but it is clearly enormous. In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, it was estimated that in 1996 around 120 000 tonnes of wild meat was harvested by over a million hunters (Caspary, 1999a, 1999b). This was more than twice the yearly production of meat from domestic livestock, and its market value of around US$150 million represented 1.4 percent of the gross national product. The amount of bushmeat being harvested in the Congo Basin has been variously estimated as 1.2 million, 2.5 million and 5 million tonnes. These numbers support the widely held view that wild meat is an important component of the dietary intake of many people. Many people also sell bushmeat in order to generate income for other purposes.

In Namibia, community-based wildlife management has contributed to significant progress through the establishment of conservancies. These are legally recognized and democratically governed associations of community members living in a designated area with specific, devolved rights to benefit directly from natural resources and responsibilities for their sustainable use and management. The policy that enables conservancies to become established and operational was enacted in 1996 and the outlook for their future is promising. The harvestable value of wildlife in the areas where they operate has increased by 30 times since 1980. The current value of wildlife-based tourism in this area is US$10 million and is projected to increase to US$30 million to $40 million (USAID, 2002), which could result in a doubling of the average income of rural people in the area.

One of the crucial lessons learned through experiences with community management is that not all communities are stable and socially cohesive, and their members do not always act in concert or make all decisions for the common good. Moreover, there is no guarantee that decisions made by communities will necessarily accord with the interests of biodiversity conservation. For example, a community may want to exterminate large predators that might be attracted into the area through reforestation, whether the predators are endangered or not.

Successful community-based natural resources and wildlife management involves a set of conditions and measures, all of which need to be addressed. These include:

  • policies, laws and regulations which allow and enable effective action at the local level;
  • effective institutions at all levels – from national government to local government to village and community, including non-governmental and civil society organizations – and provision of technical, economic and management capabilities;
  • knowledge management to provide the information and knowledge that is needed for good economic, governance and environmental outcomes;
  • capacity building, in other words investment in human resources, which is required in the domains of environment, economics (marketing, business skills) and governance (rights, organizational management);
  • integration of policies and laws in different sectors, which are sometimes contradictory and confusing and therefore tend to inhibit investment in natural resource management.

The harvest of bushmeat is mostly informal and illegal, but it is still an important source of food and income


Potentially the largest source of benefits to rural people from wildlife is wildlife-based tourism



Caspary, H.-U. 1999a. Utilisation de la faune sauvage en Côte d’Ivoire et Afrique de l’Ouest – potentiels et contraintes pour la coopération au développement. Eschborn, Germany, German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).

Caspary, H.-U. 1999b. When the monkey “goes butcher”: hunting, trading and consumption of bushmeat in the Tai National Park, Southwest Côte d’Ivoire. In M.A.F. Ros-Tonen, ed. NTFP research in the Tropenbos Programme: results and perspectives, p. 123-130. Wageningen, the Netherlands, Tropenbos Foundation.

Elliott, J. & Mwangi, M. 1998. The opportunity cost of the hunting ban to landowners in Laikipia, Kenya. Laikipia Wildlife Economics Study, Paper No. 4. Washington, DC, USA, African Wildlife Foundation.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 2002. Nature, wealth and power in Africa: emerging best practice for revitalizing rural Africa. Discussion Paper. Environment and Natural Resources Team, Sustainable Development Office. Washington, DC, USA.

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