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Identifying criteria for the successful implentation of community- based conservation initiatives : evidence from two case studies in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

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For over a century, wildlife in Southern Africa has come under the exclusive management of states, which tends to centre on the exclusion of local communities from wildlife areas. In many cases, this approach has led to the hostility of wildlife management policies by excluded communities. This widespread dissatisfaction has caused a paradigm shift in conservation thinking towards a more community-based conservation (CBC) approach. A major assumption of this new approach is that providing socio-economic benefits on a sustainable basis to formerly excluded communities will result in conservation. Indeed, some advocates of this management regime have stressed community incorporation and inclusion as the only path to conservation. As a result, numerous CBC initiatives have been implemented throughout the African sub-region over the past ten years with varied success. As there is no alternative to the CBC concept that attempts to enhance all three elements, namely the economic, social and biological components, of the sustainable development premise in conservation areas, it is imperative to ensure that CBC initiatives are monitored and evaluated in order to determine what the recurring problems and challenges are in implementing and running such initiatives so as to achieve the three sustainable development goals. By establishing what these recurring challenges are during the implementation process, a broad framework of necessary principles, criteria, pre-requisites and co-requisites can be established to guide future CBC initiatives. The purpose of this study is to identify the successes, challenges and problems that have either enhanced or detracted from the socio-economic and biological elements of CBC initiatives during the implementation processes of different projects. Previous documented project examples from around the sub-region, as well as two case study examples of CBC initiatives in KwaZulu-Natal, namely the Mabaso Community Game Reserve and the Usuthu Gorge Community Conservation Area, are used in this thesis to best determine how to enhance the social and economic elements of the sustainable development premIse III order to achieve, in theory, the biological components necessary for a successful conservation strategy. The findings within this study, from the case study examples and secondary research, show that there are several recurring challenges and problems shared by initiators of CBC initiatives throughout the sub-continent. Issues include long project implementation periods due to government bureaucracy, planning procedures and the necessity to gain community support; debates over devolution of authority to local municipalities or tribal authorities; the risks of elite capture and/or the free rider concept whereby individuals do not change their hunting practices despite communal benefits accruing from wildlife conservation; community participation and benefit distribution; as well as the need to have clear communication channels between the community and the project implementers. The main conclusions drawn from this study emphasise several needs necessary for making CBC initiatives sustainable for the long term. Firstly, CBC initiatives need to conserve as well as create a variety of different ways for communities to earn a living and to minimise any disruption by CBC projects of pre-existing livelihood strategies carried out by local residents. Secondly, there needs to be a provision of outside assistance to facilitate local projects and to ensure the development of the necessary skills for local communities to eventually take on the initiatives themselves. Thirdly, clearly defined property rights, as well as conflict resolution mechanisms and the enforcement of any rules and regulations are further crucial criteria. Fourthly, it is important for communities to avoid exploitation and to maximise any benefits accruing from private investors utilising local community resources by developing favourable legal contracts. Fifthly, it was found that the inclusion of tribal structures in both the case study examples increased the trust and feeling of ownership by the respective communities. Finally, it was found that CBC projects require specific locations and the right criteria to be in place for their successful implementation. Not all communities or communal areas meet these criteria, which is why CBC should be seen more as an important and necessary supplement to conservation strategies as opposed to a holistic conservation policy tool.


Thesis (M.Dev. Studies)-University of Natal, Durban, 2004.


Natural areas--KwaZulu Natal--Management--Citizen participation., Theses--Development studies., Conservation of natural resources--KwaZulu-Natal--Citizen participation., National parks and reserves--KwaZulu-Natal--Management.