While it may take a village to raise a child, it takes a whole nation to conserve its natural environment. Many of the stories in this year's magazine reach out beyond research and show how Namibians from all walks of life are getting involved in conservation.
You can join the growing number of citizen scientists by recording animal and plant sightings using a cell phone application. Click here to find out how to download the Namibian Atlasing app and get started collecting information on a wide range of species. Technology is also a great way to get young people interested in the natural world, and was thus an important part of this year's Earth Day event using the theme Shape Our Future. The young adults who participated in this event were inspired to collect biodiversity data and host their own conservation-related events in their communal conservancies.
Once we know more about the state of the environment through data collection, we need to communicate it in a way that is both useful and engaging. Two brand new Atlases achieve this goal using hundreds of maps, charts, photos alongside informative text (for adults) and hand-drawn illustrations with simple explanations (for children). Another publication produced this year focuses on the 34 terrestrial carnivores of Namibia, describing what we currently know about these species, what research gaps still need to be filled, and what we must do to ensure their long-term survival.
Lions are among the most difficult carnivores to live with, yet their survival in arid north-west Namibia relies on coexistence with local communities. The Lion Rangers programme is one of many initiatives to conserve desert-adapted lions within the context of community-based natural resource management. In a similar vein, Tourism Supporting Conservation (TOSCO) celebrates their first decade of existence, during which time they created closer links between the tourism sector and communal conservancies.
Conservation will ultimately succeed or fail to the extent that people understand environmental issues and are inspired to act. The Let Every Scale Count initiative that links creative writing, art and pangolin conservation is a great example of how to raise public awareness about a serious problem – pangolin poaching and trafficking. Some of the stories written by children from all over Namibia take a heart-breaking pangolin-eye view of being caught and trafficked alive. Rescuing live pangolins and releasing them into the wild is just part of the story, however, and new research reveals that released individuals could be killed by other pangolins soon after release. Solving this problem requires a better understanding of pangolin habitat requirements and existing territories.
Beyond awareness and research, we need to prevent poaching whenever possible and pass strict sentences for wildlife crimes to deter future poachers. Namibia has launched a multi-pronged effort to tackle this challenge – increasing on-the-ground patrols, upgrading security in the national parks, improving investigations and prosecutions, and finally handing down stricter sentences in the courts.
Two other less well-known, but nonetheless serious environmental problems in Namibia are presented here with calls for public participation and help. In The battle against invasive alien species in Namibia members of the newly established Invasive Alien Working Group describe past and current efforts to remove alien plant species that are reducing groundwater and displacing indigenous species. The second threat is even more insidious, since most of us do not think about birds being killed on power lines that deliver electricity to our homes. Big birds, big power lines, big problems calls attention to the problem and explores some potential solutions – including reducing our reliance on imported electricity.
For a good news story, you can read about Namibia's first ever specialist wildlife veterinary medicine course that included eight young veterinarians from Namibia and four other African countries. To tickle your curiosity, read About fairies of all sizes: going beyond the famous 'fairy circles' of the Namib to investigate other strangely circular natural phenomena in Namibia and Angola.
Conservation is everybody's business. We are jointly responsible for leaving our environment in a better state than we found it. We hope that this edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia will inspire you to get involved in Namibian nature conservation. From collecting data on your phone to removing invasive alien plants in your neighbourhood, or simply using less electricity from the national grid, everyone can do something. Children, young adults, artists, scientists, rural community members, and dedicated senior citizens all feature in this year's magazine as contributing to conservation in some way. You can too.
Yours in conservation,
Chris Brown and Gail C. Thomson