Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Professor returns from sabbatical to Namibia

Associate Professor Susan Todd (pictured at left) spent 13 months in Namibia on a Fulbright sabbatical. “I loved every minute,” she said. “It was such an adventure.”

Todd departed for Africa in July 2011 and returned to UAF in time for the fall 2012 semester. She chronicled her experiences of teaching, learning and traveling in a blog, Gemsbok Gazette: An Alaskan in Namibia.

“As far as wildlife conservation goes, this is one of the greatest success stories ever told,” she said. Namibia is one of the newest countries in South Africa, having gained independence in 1990. Prior to that locals were not allowed to hunt; that was for whites only. Poaching had destroyed much of the wildlife. Due to a radical new way of managing resources, things are in much better shape.

Communal conservancies were established in 1996 to protect wildlife and provide greater economic advantages for village residents in the poorest areas. A communal conservancy is a legal entity with set boundaries and members that is granted certain rights to wildlife and tourism activities. When the country was formed, Together, communal conservancies and public parks and forests make up 34 percent of Namibia’s total land .area.

On 64 conservancies covering 14.4 million hectares, elephants, rhinos and lions supplement the income that people make from livestock . The country has an elephant population of 15,000 and lions have increased by 300 percent. “They harvest springbok like we do moose,” Todd said. “The country has some of the biggest elephants in the world.” An elephant hunt costs $50,000 to $100,000. There are also photography safaris.

The people decide how to manage the habitat and wildlife using government quotas for hunting. Plans have to be approved by the government.. “This has changed Namibians’ lives,” Todd said.

In some areas, safari companies operate lodges and guiding services. They train the locals to work for them and give 10 percent of proceeds back to the community. Some lodges are turned over to the community after a certain number of years. She said the conservation effort became a conduit for development of inland fisheries, water management and even AIDS information.

Todd was impressed with students who worked on the poaching patrol, carrying guns and trying to curb illegal shooting of animals. “The students are so dedicated to the environment,” she said.

In addition to the gorgeous vistas, Todd said Namibia has a rich cultural diversity that she enjoyed getting acquainted with. The country is twice the size of California and is home to 2.1 million people, making it the second least densely populated country in the world. (Mongolia is the least densely populated.) The country is very dry, getting only 25 millimeters of rain a year in the dry areas along the coast.

Namibia’s conservancies are inspiring others, with 70 countries having sent people to find out how to start such a program. “It’s a great benefit for the local people and people are proud of what they have done.”
Susan Todd (left) presented a talk about her sabbatical to College Rotary Club Oct. 8. She is pictured with Cynthia Wentworth.

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