19:55
TED2010

John Kasaona: How poachers became caretakers

Filmed:

In his home of Namibia, John Kasaona is working on an innovative way to protect endangered animal species: giving nearby villagers (including former poachers) responsibility for caring for the animals. And it's working.

- Conservationist
John Kasaona is a pioneer of community-based conservation -- working with the people who use and live on fragile land to enlist them in protecting it. Full bio

In Africa we say,
00:16
"God gave the white man a watch
00:18
and gave the black man time."
00:21
(Laughter)
00:23
I think, how is it possible
00:27
for a man with so much time
00:29
to tell his story in 18 minutes?
00:31
I think it will be quite a challenge for me.
00:33
Most African stories these days,
00:36
they talk about famine,
00:38
HIV and AIDS,
00:40
poverty or war.
00:42
But my story that I would like to share with you today
00:45
is the one about success.
00:47
It is about a country
00:50
in the southwest of Africa
00:52
called Namibia.
00:55
Namibia has got 2.1 million people,
00:57
but it is only twice the size of California.
01:01
I come from a region
01:05
in the remote northwest part of the country.
01:07
It's called Kunene region.
01:10
And in the center of Kunene region
01:12
is the village of Sesfontein. This is where I was born.
01:14
This is where I'm coming from.
01:17
Most people that are following the story
01:19
of Angelina Jolie
01:21
and Brad Pitt
01:23
will know where Namibia is.
01:25
They love Namibia
01:28
for its beautiful dunes,
01:30
that are even taller
01:32
than the Empire State Building.
01:34
Wind and time have twisted our landscape
01:38
into very strange shapes,
01:42
and these shapes are speckled with wildlife
01:45
that has become so adapted
01:48
to this harsh and strange land.
01:50
I'm a Himba.
01:53
You might wonder, why are you wearing these Western clothes?
01:55
I'm a Himba and Namibian.
01:59
A Himba is one of the 29
02:01
ethnic groups in Namibia.
02:03
We live a very traditional lifestyle.
02:05
I grew up herding,
02:09
looking after our livestock --
02:11
goats, sheep and cattle.
02:13
And one day,
02:16
my father actually took me into the bush.
02:19
He said, "John,
02:21
I want you to become a good herder.
02:23
Boy, if you are looking after our livestock
02:26
and you see a cheetah
02:29
eating our goat --
02:31
cheetah is very nervous --
02:33
just walk up to it.
02:35
Walk up to it and smack it on the backside."
02:37
(Laughter)
02:40
"And he will let go of the goat
02:42
and run off."
02:44
But then he said,
02:46
"Boy, if you run into a lion,
02:49
don't move.
02:54
Don't move. Stand your ground.
02:56
Puff up and just look it in the eye
02:59
and it may not want to fight you."
03:02
(Laughter)
03:05
But then, he said,
03:09
"If you see a leopard,
03:11
boy, you better run like hell."
03:16
(Laughter)
03:19
"Imagine you run faster than those goats you are looking after."
03:23
In this way --
03:26
(Laughter)
03:28
In this way, I actually started to learn about nature.
03:31
In addition to being an ordinary Namibian
03:35
and in addition to being a Himba
03:38
I'm also a trained conservationist.
03:40
And it is very important if you are in the field
03:43
to know what to confront
03:46
and what to run from.
03:48
I was born in 1971.
03:51
We lived under apartheid regime.
03:53
The whites could farm, graze
03:57
and hunt as they wished,
04:00
but we black, we were not regarded as responsible
04:02
to use wildlife.
04:05
Whenever we tried to hunt,
04:07
we were called poachers.
04:09
And as a result, we were fined and locked up in jail.
04:11
Between 1966 and 1990,
04:16
the U.S. and Soviet interests
04:19
fought for control over my country.
04:22
And you know, during war time,
04:25
there are militaries, armies, that are moving around.
04:27
And the army hunted for valuable rhino horns
04:30
and tusks.
04:33
They could sell these things for anything between
04:35
$5,000 a kilo.
04:38
During the same year
04:40
almost every Himba had a rifle.
04:42
Because it was wartime,
04:45
the British .303 rifle
04:47
was just all over the whole country.
04:49
Then in the same time, around 1980,
04:53
we had a very big drought.
04:55
It killed almost everything that was left.
04:58
Our livestock was
05:01
almost at the brink of extinction,
05:03
protected as well.
05:05
We were hungry.
05:07
I remember a night
05:09
when a hungry leopard
05:11
went into the house
05:13
of one of our neighbors
05:15
and took a sleeping child out of the bed.
05:17
It's a very sad story.
05:19
But even today,
05:22
that memory is still in people's minds.
05:24
They can pinpoint the exact location
05:26
where this all happened.
05:28
And then, in the same year,
05:31
we almost lost everything.
05:33
And my father said, "Why don't you just go to school?"
05:36
And they sent me off to school, just to get busy somewhere there.
05:40
And the year I went to school,
05:43
my father actually got a job with a non-governmental organization
05:45
called IRDNC, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation.
05:48
They actually spend a lot of time a year in the communities.
05:52
They were trusted by the local communities
05:56
like our leader, Joshua Kangombe.
05:59
Joshua Kangombe saw what was happening:
06:02
wildlife disappearing,
06:04
poaching was skyrocketing,
06:06
and the situation seemed very hopeless.
06:09
Death and despair surrounded Joshua
06:12
and our entire communities.
06:15
But then, the people from IRDNC proposed to Joshua:
06:18
What if we pay people that you trust
06:23
to look after wildlife?
06:27
Do you have anybody in your communities, or people,
06:30
that know the bush very well
06:33
and that know wildlife very well?
06:35
The headman said: "Yes. Our poachers."
06:38
"Eh? The poachers?"
06:42
"Yes. Our poachers."
06:44
And that was my father.
06:46
My father has been a poacher for quite a long time.
06:49
Instead of shooting poachers dead
06:53
like they were doing elsewhere in Africa,
06:56
IRDNC has helped men reclaim their abilities
06:59
to manage their peoples
07:04
and their rights to own and manage wildlife.
07:06
And thus, as people started feeling ownership over wildlife,
07:10
wildlife numbers started coming back,
07:14
and that's actually becoming a foundation for conservation in Namibia.
07:17
With independence, the whole approach of community getting involved
07:22
was embraced by our new government.
07:25
Three things that actually help to build on this foundation:
07:28
The very first one is
07:31
honoring of tradition and being open to new ideas.
07:33
Here is our tradition:
07:37
At every Himba village, there is a sacred fire.
07:39
And at this sacred fire, the spirit of our ancestors
07:43
speak through the headman
07:46
and advise us where to get water,
07:49
where to get grazings,
07:52
and where to go and hunt.
07:54
And I think this is the best way of regulating ourselves
07:57
on the environment.
08:00
And here are the new ideas.
08:03
Transporting rhinos using helicopters
08:06
I think is much easier
08:09
than talking through a spirit that you can't see, isn't it?
08:11
And these things we were taught by outsiders.
08:14
We learned these things from outsiders.
08:17
We needed new boundaries to describe our traditional lands;
08:20
we needed to learn more things like GPS
08:24
just to see whether --
08:28
can GPS really reflect the true reflection of the land
08:31
or is this just a thing made somewhere in the West?
08:34
And we then wanted to see whether we can match our
08:37
ancestral maps with digital maps made somewhere in the world.
08:41
And through this,
08:45
we actually started realizing our dreams,
08:48
and we maintained honoring our traditions
08:52
but we were still open to new ideas.
08:55
The second element is that we wanted to have a life,
08:57
a better life where we can benefit through many things.
09:00
Most poachers, like my father,
09:03
were people from our own community.
09:07
They were not people from outside.
09:10
These were our own people.
09:12
And sometimes, once they were caught,
09:14
they were treated with respect, brought back into the communities
09:17
and they were made part of the bigger dreams.
09:20
The best one, like my father -- I'm not campaigning for my father --
09:23
(Laughter)
09:26
they were put in charge to stop others from poaching.
09:28
And when this thing started going on,
09:32
we started becoming one community,
09:35
renewing our connection to nature.
09:38
And that was a very strong thing in Namibia.
09:40
The last element that actually helped develop these things
09:46
was the partnerships.
09:49
Our government has given legal status over our traditional lands.
09:51
The other partners that we have got
09:56
is business communities.
09:59
Business communities helped bring Namibia onto the world map
10:01
and they have also helped make wildlife
10:06
a very valuable land use like any other land uses
10:09
such as agriculture.
10:14
And most of my conservation colleagues today
10:16
that you find in Namibia
10:19
have been trained through the initiative,
10:21
through the involvement of World Wildlife Fund
10:23
in the most up-to-date conservation practices.
10:26
They have also given funding for two decades
10:29
to this whole program.
10:32
And so far, with the support of World Wildlife Fund,
10:35
we've been able to scale up the very small programs
10:38
to national programs today.
10:41
Namibia ... or Sesfontein
10:43
was no more an isolated village somewhere,
10:46
hidden away in Namibia.
10:49
With these assets we are now part of the global village.
10:52
Thirty years have passed
10:55
since my father's first job as a community game guard.
10:58
It's very unfortunate that he passed away and he cannot see the success
11:02
as I and my children see it today.
11:06
When I finished school in 1995,
11:09
there were only 20 lions in the entire Northwest -- in our area.
11:11
But today, there are more than 130 lions.
11:16
(Applause)
11:22
So please, if you go to Namibia,
11:28
make sure that you stay in the tents.
11:30
Don't walk out at night!
11:32
(Laughter)
11:34
The black rhino -- they were almost extinct in 1982.
11:35
But today, Kunene has the largest concentration of black rhino --
11:40
free-roaming black rhinos -- in the world.
11:44
This is outside the protected area.
11:47
(Applause)
11:50
The leopard -- they are now in big numbers
11:53
but they are now far away from our village,
11:57
because the natural plain has multiplied,
11:59
like zebras, springboks and everything.
12:02
They stay very much far away
12:05
because this other thing has multiplied
12:08
from less than a thousand to tens of thousands of animals.
12:10
What started as very small,
12:14
community rangers getting community involved,
12:18
has now grown into something that we call conservancies.
12:21
Conservancies are legally instituted institutions
12:25
by the government,
12:31
and these are run by the communities themselves, for their benefit.
12:33
Today, we have got 60 conservancies
12:36
that manage and protect over 13 million hectares
12:39
of land in Namibia.
12:43
We have already reshaped conservation in the entire country.
12:46
Nowhere else in the world
12:51
has community-adopted conservation at this scale.
12:53
(Applause)
12:57
In 2008, conservancy generated 5.7 million dollars.
13:02
This is our new economy --
13:07
an economy based on the respect of our natural resources.
13:10
And we are able to use this money for many things:
13:13
Very importantly, we put it in education.
13:16
Secondly, we put it for infrastructure. Food.
13:19
Very important as well -- we invest this money in AIDS and HIV education.
13:22
You know that Africa is being affected by these viruses.
13:27
And this is the good news from Africa
13:31
that we have to shout from the rooftops.
13:35
(Applause)
13:38
And now, what the world really needs
13:45
is for you to help me and our partners
13:49
take some of what we have learned in Namibia
13:56
to other places with similar problems:
14:00
places like Mongolia,
14:04
or even in your own backyards,
14:08
the Northern Great Plains,
14:12
where buffalo and other animals have suffered
14:15
and many communities are in decline.
14:18
I like that one:
14:21
Namibia serving as a model to Africa,
14:24
and Africa serving as a model to the United States.
14:28
(Applause)
14:33
We were successful in Namibia
14:41
because we dreamed of a future
14:43
that was much more than just a healthy wildlife.
14:46
We knew conservation would fail
14:51
if it doesn't work to improve the lives of the local communities.
14:55
So, come and talk to me about Namibia,
15:02
and better yet, come to Namibia
15:07
and see for yourself how we have done it.
15:10
And please, do visit our website
15:12
to learn more and see how you can help CBNRM
15:15
in Africa and across the world.
15:18
Thank you very much.
15:21
(Applause)
15:24

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About the Speaker:

John Kasaona - Conservationist
John Kasaona is a pioneer of community-based conservation -- working with the people who use and live on fragile land to enlist them in protecting it.

Why you should listen

John Kasaona is a leader in the drive to reinvent conservation in Namibia -- turning poachers into protectors of species. It’s a standard nature-documentary scenario: a pristine animal habitat under constant threat by the people who live there, hunting, camping, setting fires. But John Kasaona knows there is a better way to see this relationship between people and environment. As the assistant director for the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) , Kasaona works on ways to improve the lives of rural people in Namibia by involving them in the management of the lands they live on -- and the species that live there with them.

Kasanoa's Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) program helps rural villages set up communal conservancies, which manage and use local natural resources in a sustainable manner. Essentially, it's about restoring the balance of land and people to that of pre-colonial times, and allowing the people with the most interest in the survival of their environment to have control of it. His work was featured in the recent film Milking the Rhino.

The World Wildlife Fund has set up a portal for TEDsters to help in John Kasaona's work. Learn more >>

More profile about the speaker
John Kasaona | Speaker | TED.com