Nelson Sabata begins work while it is still dark outside. There is a speck of light from the African sky. From his house, it’s only a 10-minute walk to Camp Chobe. This elegant, but rustic, tented lodge is located along the Chobe River where the northeastern part of Namibia borders Botswana. Sabata is a guide at the lodge, showing tourists how to see the wild splendor of wild giraffes and hippos.
He has an elephant problem. He can’t walk past the elephants, and his grandfather was killed last year by an elephant in their village. He dials the lodge and the manager arrives in time to pick him up in a truck.
Sabata seems unaffected by the brief hitch. He smiles and says, “I’ve used it,” with a relaxed smile. “Elephants stop often by,” he said.
Salambala Conservancy is one of Namibia’s earliest communal conservancies. It was established by communities to protect wildlife and provide a steady income for residents. He loves his job and earns a decent living from it. The solar-powered satellite dish in his tidy, tin-roofed home streams 200 channels to his tiny living room.
For those who are not as exposed to wild animals as the squirrels, living nearby may seem exciting. There are real dangers. In the middle of the night, predators such as lions and hyenas will attack cattle. Farms are often destroyed by elephants and hippos, who are known for their fervent appetites. People like Sabata’s grandfather are often killed. There are reasons for communities to fear wild animals. They may also want to poach wild animals. It is extremely lucrative due to the rising demand for illegal ivory, and rhino horn. Most of this comes from wealthy Asian consumers. A kilogram of ivory can fetch a poacher around US$500. This is a significant amount for a country such as Namibia where one-third of the population earns less than $1.25 per day.
Sabata’s isolated village is, in many ways, at the center of a global conversation that has profound implications for future wildlife. No matter how well-intentioned global conservation strategies or treaties are signed, wild animals will continue to disappear regardless of who develops them. Communities like Sabata are fighting for biodiversity and the rapid loss of species.
About 40 miles from Salambala is Morris Mtsambiwa, who greets each morning from his office in Kasane (Botswana). Kasane is located directly across the Chobe River, Namibia. It is also only 12 miles from the border with Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Mtsambiwa is friendly and optimistic, which are important qualities for his job. After serving as director-general for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zippa), Mtsambiwa was appointed executive director of KAZA. This is the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. KAZA, which was established in 2011, covers an area approximately the same size as France. It spans five countries in southern Africa: Angola Botswana Namibia Zambia Zambia and Zimbabwe. The vision of KAZA, which aims to unify five countries, is ambitious. It aims to promote tourism, protect wildlife and support local socioeconomic well-being.
KAZA is making small steps towards realization, as with many large ideas. The five countries, which were supported primarily by the German development bank KfW and the five partner countries, WWF, Peace Parks Foundation, and non-profit organizations like Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, have developed integrated development plans, identified potential wildlife corridors, created initial infrastructure and identified new tourist offerings.
“What KAZA has so far in terms of formal infrastructure, it makes up in biological richness. KAZA claims to be a “Noah’s ark” for nearly 200 species of mammals and more than 600 species of birds. It is a place of extraordinary national beauty. It is home to the largest concentration of elephants in the world, as well as buffalos and rhinos, lions, and cheetahs.
Mtsambiwa hopes to make KAZA a popular tourist destination. He wants visitors to visit the wonders of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
He wants local communities to be actively involved in the process and reap the benefits of tourism development. Nelson Sabata wants to see more people, like Nelson Sabata, get new jobs and be able to make decisions about the future of the region. Mtsambiwa states that KAZA’s uniqueness is due to its emphasis on bottom-up involvement.