Property Rights Key to Conservation in Namibia

Today on Morning Edition, Christopher Joyce interviewed Namibian farmers to discuss their innovative conservation policy:

In the arid northwest, farmers and others who lived from the land were allowed to form “communal conservancies.” These are like village councils. They wield control over the wildlife within the conservancy boundaries, which are set by conservancy members and the central government. Conservancies then partner with tourist lodges and safari companies and take a cut of the income from tourists who come to see the giraffes, zebras, lions, rhinoceroses and other exotic animals. They operate campsites, too. And they collect thousands of dollars from trophy hunters who come to shoot lions and cheetahs and antelopes. A single lion can bring in up to $10,000.

This marks a shift from colonial and apartheid policies, where wild animals were essentially property of the ruling elite, and many species reached the brink of distinction extinction. By returning these property rights to the rural farmers who live with the animals, many species’ numbers have rebounded significantly.

The Namibian conservation system is not without challenges, though, with humans living alongside large game. One Joyce explains:

Elephants hunt water. To try to cut down on these human-animal conflicts, the conservancy is building them water wells, away from the farms. Guiseb says that’s good. The wildlife had to adapt to people, he says. Now people must learn to adapt to wildlife.

These results are in line with the Mercatus Center’s Karol Boudreaux’s findings in her field research in Namibia. Incentives matter, so providing a way for people to profit from the long-term health of wildlife rather than the short term benefits of poaching, improves species’ numbers.