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WP1. Historicising Socio-ecological Policy in Etosha-Kunene

Our research opens with the collation of texts, literature review and discourse analysis of published documents regarding 'Etosha-Kunene' stretching back to the 1700s.

Our underlying literature review, organised as a timeline, is viewable at the links below and can be searched by keywords. This document is updated as we read and review additional sources. Our full bibliography and set of abbreviations are available at these links.

1. pre-colonial to 1884

2. 1884 – 1907

= colonial reorganisation prior to gazetting of ‘Game Reserve no. 2’

3. 1907 – 1958

= Game Reserve no. 2 / Etosha Game Reserve & ‘Kaokoveld’ Native Reserves, prior to move of western boundaries to Ugab and Hoanib Rivers

4. 1958 – 1970

= Etosha Game Reserve to Atlantic Ocean in west, prior to ‘Damaraland’ & ‘Kaokoland’ homelands created; Etosha National Park (ENP) reduced in size


5. 1971 – 1997

= fenced and reduced size Etosha National Park; communal area residents alienated from wildlife


6. 1998 – present

= CBNRM / communal area conservancies & ENP


This text-based research comprises detailed study and compilation of written sources regarding the changing boundaries, environmental and species protection policies (see Botha 2005), institutional structures, and narratives shaping the changing Etosha-Kunene conservation territories. We hope to combine this review with semi-structured interviews with key actors involved in conservation policy design and implementation. Our emphasis here will be on gaining deeper understanding of perspectives on the past held by such actors, as well as relationships between these perspectives and diagnosis of both present priorities and desirable futures.

            Critical discourse analysis (Johnstone 2008; Fairclough 2010) will assist with identifying key themes, frames and shifts in actors, perspectives and policies through time (Sullivan & Hannis 2015). Our aim is to offer a more complete and integrated understanding of the changing political contexts and concerns regarding ‘nature' through time.

Proposed milestones, outputs and personnel: this work package will be conducted by the full academic team and will be an iterative process throughout the duration of the project. Primary outputs:

  1. at least one peer reviewed journal article analysing the complex changes in conservation focus and organisations in 'Etosha-Kunene' from its establishment as ‘Game Reserve no. 2’ to the present coalescence of diverse conservation units in the area – target Journal of Political Ecology;

  2. a publicly accessible online chronology (see above) of writing about the region, updated throughout the course of the project;

  3. an accessible locally printed policy-oriented publication detailing the chronology and analysis pursued in this WP, developed and shared with stakeholders and policy actors (for example, through Namibia's Nature Conservation Board, of which Lendelvo is a member), as part of our proposed public engagement strategy detailed in WP6

    Nb. the report listed below on Cultural heritage and histories of the Northern Namib: historical and oral history observations for the Draft Management Plan, Skeleton Coast National Park 2021/2022-2030/2031 is the first of a number of policy-oriented publications deriving from Etosha-Kunene Histories.

Completed Outputs


Sullivan, S. 2021 Cultural heritage and histories of the Northern Namib: historical and oral history observations for the Draft Management Plan, Skeleton Coast National Park 2021/2022-2030/2031. Future Pasts Working Paper Series 12.  ISBN: 978-1-911126-17-1 

AbstractThis report shares documented information for indigenous cultural heritage and histories associated with the Northern Namib, designated since 1971 as the Skeleton Coast National Park. The paper draws on two principal sources of information: 1) historical documents stretching back to the late 1800s; and 2) oral history research with now elderly people who have direct and familial memories of using and living in areas now within the Park boundary. The research shared herein affirms that localities and resources now included within the Park were used by local people in historical times, their access linked with the availability of valued foods, especially !nara (Acanthosicyos horridus) melons and marine foods such as mussels. Memories about these localities, resources and heritage concerns such as graves of family members remain alive for some individuals and their families today. These concerns retain cultural resonance in the contemporary moment, despite significant access constraints over the last several decades. Some suggestions are made for foregrounding an understanding of the Northern Namib as a remembered cultural landscape as well as an area of high conservation value, and for protecting and perhaps restoring some access to sites that may be considered of significant cultural heritage value. Such sites include graves of known ancestors and named and remembered former dwelling places. The material shared here may contribute to a diversified recognition of values for the Skeleton Coast National Park for the new Management Plan that will shape ecological and heritage conservation practice and visitor experiences over the next 10 years.


Key words: Northern Namib; on-site oral history; cultural landscapes; Khoekhoegowab; !nara (Acanthosicyos horridus); Skeleton Coast National Park; Namibia


























Lendelvo, S., Mechtilde, P. and Sullivan, S. 2020 A Perfect Storm? COVID-19 and community-based conservation in Namibia. Namibian Journal of Environment 4(B): 1-15

The first months of our project were dominated by COVID-19 and associated lockdown restrictions and travel bans. We responded by publishing a telephone survey of people in five communal-area conservancies to find out what their biggest challenges were due to COVID-19, focusing in particular on intersections between COVID19 travel restrictions, tourism/trophy-hunting incomes and 'community-based conservation'. The peer-reviewed paper has now been published by the Namibian Journal of Environment:

Abstract: We report on a rapid survey of five communal-area conservancies in Namibia to understand initial impacts on community-based conservation of national and international policies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Namibia’s Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) programme has been growing for over 30 years, with high economic reliance on tourism and conservation hunting. We review the interrelationships between COVID-19, CBNRM, tourism and hunting, and discuss our findings under eight interlocking themes: 1) disruption to management and regular operational processes of conservancies, including 2) effects on conservancy wildlife patrolling and monitoring; 3) losses of revenue and cash flow in conservancy business operations; 4) impacts on Joint-Venture Partnerships; 5) impacts on employment opportunities and local livelihoods; 6) effects on community development projects and social benefits, including 7) disruption to funded projects and programmes; and 8) lack of technical capacity regarding communication technologies and equipment. In our conclusion we discuss tensions between an assumption that normal business can or will be resumed, and calls for the COVID-19 pandemic to create an opportunity for global choices away from ‘business-as-normal’. It is too early to tell what mix of these perspectives will unfold. What is clear is that communal-area conservancies must derive benefits from conservation activities in their areas that are commensurate with their role as key actors in the conservation of Namibia’s valuable wildlife and landscapes.

Keywords: communal-area conservancies, Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), conservation hunting, COVID-19 pandemic, Namibia, rural livelihoods, tourism, wildlife

A blog summarising our article has also been published by the Conservation Namibia blog of the Namibian Chamber of Environment, see Communal Conservancies Cry for Help to Survive Coronavirus Perfect Storm.



Historicising black rhino in Namibia: colonial-era hunting, conservation custodianship, and plural values
by Sian Sullivan, Simson !Uriǂkhob (CEO of the Namibian NGO Save the Rhino Trust), Birgit Kötting (Control Warden for Namibia’s Rhino Custodianship Programme, Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism), Jeff Muntifering (Science Adviser, SRT), and Rob Brett (Flora and Fauna International).

Forthcoming in Bollig, M. and Anderson, A. Conservation in Africa (title tbc). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. First presented at a workshop on 'Conservation in Africa', organised by the University of Cologne, 19-21 April 2021.

Abstract: The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is a threatened species of which the south-western subspecies (D. bicornis bicornis, synonym D. bicornis occidentalis) currently thrives on communal land and elsewhere in Namibia. It does so despite its clearance from most of the animal’s former range due to the expansion of colonial hunting with firearms, and the concentration of marginalised Namibians alongside this high-value species in the challenging landscapes of north-west Namibia in particular. We trace what is known about the patterns and impacts of colonial-era hunting of rhino in the territory that is now the modern state of Namibia, introducing an online map of documented historical encounters with rhino in Namibia and the pressures on them from late 1700s. This map of historical encounters is currently complementing baseline information on the past distribution of black rhino in Namibia held by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) in support of its collaborative Black Rhino Custodianship Programme (BRCP). We outline contemporary pressures on black rhino and conservation responses to these circumstances, tracing the emergence of a novel approach to rhino conservation in Namibia that recruits people living under different kinds of land tenure as ‘custodians’ of these animals, so as to support the reintroduction of both black and white rhino throughout their former range. We focus in on proactive rhino conservation work in communal-area conservancies of west Namibia which combines the translocation of black rhino to areas of its former range with an array of endeavours to pluralise the animal’s contemporary value, including rhino tourism, the recruit of local ‘rhino rangers’, and ‘rhino pride’ initiatives. In this context, and differently to custodians on freehold land, a vulnerable, large-bodied, space-requiring and sometimes dangerous mammal with very high international conservation value, simultaneously lives alongside peoples impoverished historically and with their own ambitions towards self-determination. This custodianship model of rhino conservation can be understood in part as a creative species conservation response to the very challenging structural circumstances effected by both past impacts on rhino and present inequality in land distribution and tenure, both of which add heat to questions of access to land and resources, including wildlife.


















Botha, C. 2005 People and the environment in colonial Namibia. South African Historical Journal 52: 170-190.
Fairclough, N. 2010 Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. London: Routledge.
Johnstone, B. 2018 Discourse analysis, 3rd Edn. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Sullivan, S. & Hannis, M. 2015 Nets and frames, losses and gains: value struggles in engagements with biodiversity offsetting policy in England. Ecosystem Services 15: 162-173.

Sites SCNP.jpg
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