SMART conservation in Nyae Nyae

Nyae Nyae Conservancy Game guards and Management committee receive SMART training
Nyae Nyae Conservancy Game guards and Management committee receive SMART training
Raymond Peters conducting the training
Raymond Peters conducting the training

The Nyae Nyae Conservancy, located in the Otjozondjupa region in Northeast Namibia is home to a diversity of wildlife including some of the big five such lions, buffalos, elephants, leopards, and a variety of small and big antelopes.

To monitor and protect the natural resources within the conservancy, 12 community game guards conduct daily and monthly patrols and monitor wildlife incidents.

The conservancy covers an area of 8,992 km2. With such a large area, patrols are a labour-intensive process, and the game guards cover the whole area in just a month. It was one of the first four conservancies to be established in Namibia in 1998, and it is one of the last two remaining San lands. The Ju/'hoansi of Nyae Nyae still practice traditional hunting using bows and arrows to hunt certain wildlife species such as kudus, duikers, warthogs, and bush pigs, among others.

In August 2021 the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) together with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Namibia Association of Community-Based-Natural Resources (NACSO) and Nyae-Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN) introduced a SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) mobile application to Nyae Nyae to aid in patrolling the conservancy’s expansive and rocky terrain.

Eleven of the conservancy’s game guards and five management committee members who attended the workshop indicated that they were interested in the pilot project and received training guides on how to collect field data using automated processes (SMART mobile) installed on android smartphones. The pilot phase which will for now only integrate the current manual monthly Fixed root patrol looks at wildlife species distribution, biological diversity, and demographics in a landscape. Other components of natural resource monitoring are envisaged to be added after the trial and learning stage.

SMART offers the most cost-effective, systematic, and reporting tool that collects, store, communicate and evaluate range-based data for conservation management. It records information such as observations of wildlife, human activities (both legal and illegal), the condition of natural features, and movements and activities of patrol teams.

Raymond Peters of WWF who conducted the workshop reported that, the training was well received and that “it was easier to introduce the system to the game guards since they already had a brief exposure from an academic pilot study that was done the previous year. Their enthusiasm shows that they are open to change and interested in improving their monitoring system”, he said.

“I now understand better the things that I did not get earlier in the first training. I can already tell that working with SMART is going to be fun and will my job easier”. Said Boo Daqm, Game Guard.

The information is geo-referenced and provides real-time data on species distribution which can be processed right away, such as plotting the observation onto digital maps. Additionally, it also covers the distance walked when doing the fixed-route patrols. This will demonstrate the value of the game guard efforts and performance.

The ability to take pictures of events is another benefit that will verify what is being reported. “During the audit, we spotted some errors that we could now avoid with the use of SMART ”. Said Gerry Cwi, Conservancy Chairperson. “We will also be able to determine the game guards efforts and verify if what is written in the reports is really what is happening on the ground.” He stressed.

“We will now get to have a more accurate distribution of certain species. With this information, we hope that we will get more hunting quotas.” Said Ikaece Tshao Game Guard.

Monitoring involves a five-step process starting with the collection of field data by ranger patrols, through to decision-making and strategic planning. The innovative application has already been used in some state protected areas such as Bwabwata National Park and some of the conservancies in the Kunene and Zambezi region where it has proven to be a success.

“I am certain that it will improve the management of the data system. We are looking forward to seeing the results after two months and hopefully roll out the project to other conservancies soon.” Said Raymond.

“I am very optimistic about the use of the app and how the results will look like,” Fransisco Jolo, Game Guard. “I hope that the data will help us to attract donors to sponsor some of our capital projects such as Fixed root patrols,” he added.

The results are anticipated to improve the conservancy’s adaptive management strategy as well as the ministry’s monitoring and evaluation and help inform decisions on hunting quota settings as data will be accurately recorded by better-quality hunting report backs, with GPS coordinates, pictures, hunting effort and trophy quality measurements of hunted animals.

“I would like to encourage other conservancies to get the SMART application because technology is changing, and we need to move at the same pace as the technology. Said ≠Oma Jacob /Ai!are, Game Guard.

Sigrid Nyambe

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