WINDHOEK, Mar. 27 – A Project on Co-desigining of Conservation Technologies for the Iona-Skeleton Coast Transfrontire Conservation Area of Angola and Namibia was launched today at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST.)
NUST is the lead applicant and coordinator of the Project, in partnership with the Angolan Instituto Superior de Ciências de Educação da Huíla (ISCED).
Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta said that a multi-disciplinary team from NUST and the Higher Institute of Education Sciences in Angola will research and develop technological tools to support government and community conservation in managing and monitoring the Northern-Namib Desert ecosystem.
“It will use state-of-the-art technology developed in-house, as well as globally to protect and enhance this unique ecosystem for the two national parks (Skeleton Coast and Iona), as well as surrounding communities,” said Shifeta.
He added that current research included Ecosystems Services Assessment, new wildlife Censusing technology, impacts of fencing and roads on wildlife, the sustainability of trophy hunting, sustainable range land management and human-wildlife conflict reduction.
The Head of the European Union’s (EU) delegation, Jana Hybaskova said the Project had been evaluated by delegates in Kenya and that NUST had succeeded after facing enormous competition from other institutes.
“Against enormous competition, you (NUST) have won. We wanted to put skeleton coast on the world map of wildlife protection of sub-Saharan Africa. This is one of the first EU Trans-frontier Projects formed in this area,” she said.
She also said that the EU had funded the SCIONA Project to the amount of N$16 800 000.
Vice Chancellor of NUST Dr Tjama Tjivikua said the Iona – Skeleton Coast area was one of several recently established transboundary areas in southern Africa.
“It is situated in the northern Namib with its endemic fauna and flora and contains the Kunene River Delta which is the second most species-rich coastal wetland in Namibia.”
He explained that many challenges and threats in conservancies included anthropogenic disturbances like illegal mining, overfishing and poaching of the endangered desert black rhino.
“This is especially due to remoteness, inaccessibility and vastness of the area, covering approximately 44 000 square kilometres.”
He said that despite the challenges, wildlife populations in the Skeleton Coast Park and the adjacent conservancies had increased over the last 40 years, owing to the Namibian Community-based Natural Resource Management CBNRM policy that promotes the involvement of communities in ecotourism, sustainable natural resources use and conservation.
Namibia has been at the forefront of devolving natural resource management authority to local communities through the CBNRM programme.
Tjivikua added that local communities that relied on livestock to supplement their sustenance were particularly vulnerable to conflicts due to a growing population of predators such as lion, hyena, leopard, cheetah and crocodile.
“As a recent example in November 2017, 256 sheep and goats were killed by a pride of lions in a conservancy neighbouring the Skeleton Coast National Park.”
In that regard, the project aims to develop innovative and adaptive technologies for wildlife and ecosystem monitoring; design livelihood support mechanisms, design and implement training programmes for community para-ecologists.
“We are confident that SCIONA will contribute to the reduction of the apparent human-wildlife conflicts and create the much-coveted job opportunities in these remote communities.”
“Our Angolan partner – the Instituto Superior de Ciências de Educação da Huíla (ISCED) – situated in Lubango about 200 km from the Iona–Skeleton Coast Transfrontier Conservation Area, has extensive experience in fauna and flora , and especially herpetology, of the area.”
He then lauded the Namibian and Angolan governments for declaring the transboundary area and recognising the enormous management task that it entailed.
Said Tjivikua, “The SCIONA project is therefore timely in that it will strengthen cross-border management and wildlife enforcement by co-designing and implementing conservation monitoring technologies with the local communities.
“This echoes the spirit of the Namibian Parks and Wildlife Bill that advocates for joint wildlife management with communities as key partners and beneficiaries. Therefore, support from ministries responsible for the environment and wildlife in both countries is crucial to create a smart bridge for wildlife, communities, governments and scientists in the transfrontier conservation area.”
A multi-disciplinary and experienced team that consists of specialists from IT, wildlife ecology, ethnobotany, community-based natural resources management, remote sensing, and ecosystem modelling is mostly from faculty members from the Faculties of Natural Resources and Spatial Sciences (FNRSS) and Computing and Informatics (FCI), respectively.
The team also includes specialists from ISCED in Angola and will be complemented by students and local experts, especially the local Himba communities and park managers.