Last week, SCI Foundation held the 21st African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF), SCIF’s flagship program that brings together conservation stakeholders in southern Africa annually. Hosted by Namibia, this year’s forum was an unrivaled success with productive dialogue on the sustainable use community’s priorities. Sustainable use stakeholders in attendance included conservation academics and biologists, professional hunting associations, range state governments, and community leaders.
The week featured informative presentations from experts on topics ranging from data collection in conservation areas, status updates from the Government of Namibia, reframing hunting in communications, and the importance of community ownership of resources. Based on these sessions, attendees created several discussion groups focusing on data collection, rhino and elephant, and community leadership. These breakout sessions, done for the first time this year, were a highlight of the forum with each group agreeing to priorities that will address ongoing issues related to sustainable use conservation. Most importantly, all attendees agreed to build on momentum from this year’s AWCF to pursue desired, region-wide outcomes, including by possibly meeting multiple times per year to ensure that the sustainable use community is proactive rather than reactive in addressing its needs.
Like at most prior AWCF meetings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gave presentations regarding the status of processing import permit applications for certain species. The forum provides an annual opportunity for FWS staff to consult directly with African range state representatives and other stakeholders. Similarly, as with many prior AWCF meetings, CITES was a topic of discussion threaded throughout many discussions. AWCF regularly allows for participants to coordinate for upcoming CITES meetings.
The AWCF also provided an opportunity to highlight SCIF’s conservation activities in Africa. This included the ongoing leopard population surveys in Botswana and soon additional countries, our biweekly PATROL antipoaching newsletter, and our partnership with the Mozambique Wildlife Alliance to improve elephant habitat conditions in Mozambique. We also used the opportunity to introduce an exciting new area-focused antipoaching program that will be introduced this year.
This year’s forum, with structured discussion and goal-oriented presentations, was considered by many to be the most productive since its beginning 21 years ago. Once again, SCIF would like to thank Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism for hosting this year’s meeting and all our partners for their contributions to this critical conference. We look forward to the work ahead, and especially next year’s AWCF in South Africa!