IRDNC’s origins lie in the arid northwest where in the politically unsupportive climate of the early 1980s it pioneered community-based wildlife conservation in Namibia.
With community leaders we implemented joint action to stop widespread commercial and subsistence poaching of wildlife, including black rhino and desert adapted elephant. Within two years the massive decline of wildlife was halted.

When Namibia gained independence in 1990, IRDNC’s community-based approach resonated with the early idealism of the new Namibian government and we were invited to play a role in changing national conservation legislation. By 1996 community-based conservation was integrated into government policy and in 1998 the first four communities took advantage of this new empowering legislation and formed communal conservancies. The NGO went on to tackle a diverse range of rural development and natural resource management challenges facing this developing African country.

Today IRDNC has a staff of 55, working with nearly 126,000 people in the three most remote corners of the country – Kunene Region in the northwest and Zambezi Region in the north-east, plus in East Kavango, as well as trans-boundary partnerships in Zambia and Angola.

The seed we planted 30 years ago has grown into a vibrant national program led by government, involving 14 NGOs and the University of Namibia under the banner of NACSO (Namibian Association of Community-Based Natural Resource Management Support Organizations) and working alongside tens of thousands of rural people across Namibia. Private sector and scores of donors are playing an essential role.

Garth Owen-Smith is awarded the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa from the Tusk Trust in recognition of his lifetime contribution alongside Dr. Margaret Jacobsohn to the restoration and conservation of wildlife in Namibia.

IRDNC activates Kunene traditional leaders, conservancy committees and members, and with SRT, the Conservancy Rhino Ranger Project and MET all playing interlocking roles, Kunene rhino poaching seems to be under control although extreme vigilance is maintained. Etosha National Park becomes a target for major rhino poaching. The Namibian Government declares the rhino poaching a national crisis. Though elephants are not critically endangered in Namibia, they too are under threat; it is estimated that over 100 elephants have been poached in the Zambezi Region in the past year alone.


Rhino poaching accelerates in tourism concession areas in Kunene where no conservancy members live. IRDNC launches a renewed community-based approach to this crisis.

Colin Nott resigns from IRDNC. John Kasaona takes on role of Executive Director and Karine Nuulimba becomes Programme Director.

John Kasaona & Karine Nuulimba

With IRDNC support, the Opuwo Processing Facility and the Visitors Center is officially opened. The processing of plant resin to produce essential oils is an important step in adding further value to the raw materials and earning additional income for harvesters.

Opuwo Processing Facility


The National CBNRM Policy is launched by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The policy creates the needed framework for a more integrated approach to community-based natural resource management.

By the end of 2013, there are 79 registered conservancies and 32 registered community forests in Namibia, covering at least 163,396 km² and generating N$72.2 (U$6.1 million) income.

Conservancy Map

The commercial viability of new plant species has been tested and further analyses is planned to fully assess the potential for diversifying livelihoods with indigenous plant products.



After two decades of dormancy, more than 30 elephants are poached in the Caprivi (now Zambezi) Region. Most of the elephants are killed inside national parks.

First rhino poached in Kunene Region in nearly two decades. Quick action by community members from Anabeb Conservancy ensures an arrest and recovery of the horns. The poacher is only convicted in 2014, getting seven years.

Poached Rhino


IRDNC’s founding directors, Garth Owen-Smith and Margaret Jacobsohn, retire and the IRDNC Board of Trustees appoints three co-directors; Colin Nott (responsible for agriculture), John Kasaona (responsible for conservancy support in the Kunene Region) and Karine Nuulimba (responsible for the Zambezi Region).

IRDNC Directors

Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe sign a treaty that marks the official launch of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA-TFCA), the largest TFCA in the world, covering nearly 520,000km².

KAZA Treaty

66 registered conservancies generate almost N$50 million (USD $4.2 million) in revenue.


59 registered conservancies and 13 registered community forests generate N$42.5 million (USD$3.5 million) in income.

Communities in Action


The Kyaramacan Association, which represents the residents of Bwabwata National Park, is officially recognised by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as the legal entity representing all people living inside the Park. The Association later secures concessions for trophy hunting and tourism in the park, and obtains quotas to sell Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), a plant sold internationally to reduce pain and fever.

Devils Claw


IRDNC starts triple bottom line process with Himba conservancies to market one of their high value indigenous plants (Commiphora Wildii) internationally. Plant resources that previously were not used commercially are given commercial value and now contribute significantly to the income of rural women who otherwise do not have any chance to gain access to cash income.

Commiphora harvesting

The first of four Transboundary Natural Resource Management Community Forums is established around the Caprivi (now Zambezi) Region.



The ministers responsible for tourism in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet in Katima Mulilo, Namibia and agree to promote a vision that will later evolve into the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).


IRDNC begins rangelands activities in Kunene North. Later, IRDNC technical staff play a vital role in training the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in Holistic Rangeland Management and help bring Community Based Rangeland Management into other regions of Namibia.

Cows in Kunene

IRDNC staff assist the Polytechnic of Namibia to incorporate the teaching of community-based natural resource management into its National Diploma in Nature Conservation, institutionalizing CBNRM into a degree programme.


The Forest Act is amended, opening the door for community forests.


The Namibian Association of Community-Based Natural Resource Management Support Organizations (NACSO) is formed (first called the CBNRM Association of Namibia), with IRDNC as a founding member.



IRDNC begins to promote transboundary natural resource management collaboration between communities in the Caprivi (now Zambezi) Region and their neighbours.

Zambezi Region

Late 1990s

Namibian legislation is amended to allow for the establishment of communal conservancies. Two years later the first four conservancies are registered.

Communal Conservancies


Damaraland Camp opens in the emerging Torra Conservancy and becomes the first joint venture tourism partnership between a community and the private sector (Wilderness Safaris) in Namibia.

Damaraland Camp


IRDNC’s two founding directors are honored with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Global 500 Award.

Global 500 Award


The Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) programme brings in major donor support (USAID and WWF) and IRDNC takes its first steps towards a national programme.


IRDNC helps a community establish the country’s first resident’s trust – this later becomes the Torra Conservancy once enabling legislation gets passed.

Torra Landscape

IRDNC’s founding directors receive the Goldman Grassroots Environmental Prize for Africa, the first international recognition for IRDNC’s ground-breaking work.

Goldman Award

The Okavango-Upper Zambezi International Tourism Initiative (OUZIT) project begins as part of the Strategic Development Initiative (SDI) supported by the Development Bank of Southern Africa – this is a precursor to KAZA (Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area). The plan is to make the Okavango and upper Zambezi more attractive to investors and to strengthen coordination between tourism projects.



Namibia’s newly independent government embraces a community-based approach to conservation. IRDNC is invited to start working in the Zambezi Region as well as its long-term Kunene Region programme.

Independence Celebration

The new Ministry of Environment and Tourism asks IRDNC to help with its community consultative process aimed at developing new conservation legislation for communal areas. WWF International and later WWF-UK provide IRDNC’s first international support.

IRDNC meeting with communities

WWF International becomes IRDNC’s first international donor.



IRDNC begins the Puros project, which is the first community enterprise in Namibia to earn income from wildlife through a bed night levy from tourism.

Puros Campsite


Illegal hunting has been halted and a local vision of wildlife being more valuable alive than in a cooking pot has been nurtured.

1st community game guards


A small team of conservationists, some of whom went on to found IRDNC, forge a pioneering partnership with community leaders to stop poaching. Local leaders appoint the first community game guards. From the start they are accountable to their communities, not to the NGO, and their aim is to ‘stop’ poaching, not merely ‘catch’ poachers. These men go on to help solve more than 22 serious poaching cases.

Early days picture of headmen


Wildlife is property of the state; widespread illegal commercial and subsistence hunting reduces once rich wildlife numbers in Namibia’s northwest. Desert adapted elephants number less than 150 and black rhino are down to below 60 individuals. The worst drought in living memory grips the region, with more than 180,000 head of cattle dying of starvation. This, plus a voracious external market for ivory and rhino horn, increases local incentives to poach wildlife for both meat and money.


Year Awards
2015Garth Owen-Smith: Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa from the Tusk Trust in recognition of his lifetime contribution alongside Dr. Margaret Jacobsohn to the restoration and conservation of wildlife in Namibia
2015John Kasaona (IRDNC): Environmental Investment Fund Sustainable Development Award
2014 Conservancy Safaris Namibia, a community-owned safari company that IRDNC helped facilitate: International Travel and Leisure Global Vision community award
2013 Namibia’s Community Game Guards: REI Sustainable Tourism Award
Republic of Namibia: 2nd WWF Gift to the Earth Award
2012 2012: NACSO and MET: CIC Markhor Award for Outstanding Conservation Performance
2011 Maxi Louis (NACSO): Cheetah Conservation Fund Woman Conservationist of the Year Award
2010 NACSO: World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Community Award’s finalist
John K Kasaona (IRDNC): Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Conservationist of the Year Award
2007 The Kyaramacan Association and MET: International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC)’s Edmond Blanc Prize
Chief Mayuni (Mafwe Traditional Authority, Caprivi): Nedbank and Namibia Nature Foundation’s Go Green Environmental Award
2006 Beavan Munali (IRDNC Caprivi, now Zambezi): Nedbank Namibia and Namibia Nature Foundation’s GO Green Environmental Award
2006 Anton Esterhuizen (IRDNC Kunene): NAPHA’s Conservationist of the Year Award
2005 Damaraland Camp and its private sector partner: World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Conservation Award.
2004 Torra Conservancy: United Nations’ Development Program (UNDP) Equator Prize, Sub-Saharan Africa.
2003 Garth Owen-Smith and Margaret Jacobsohn (IRDNC:) Cheetah Conservationist Fund’s Special Conservation Award
2001 Prince George Mutwa (IRDNC and Salambala Conservancy): Namibia Nature Foundation’s Environment al Award
Benny Roman (IRDNC and Torra Conservancy): Namibia Professional Hunting Association’s Conservationist of the Year Award.
2000 Janet Matota (IRDNC Caprivi, now Zambezi): Namibia Nature Foundation Environmental Award
1998 Republic of Namibia: WWF Gift to the Earth Award as first four conservancies are launched
Damaraland Camp, Namibia’s first joint venture between private sector and a community, facilitated by IRDNC and partners: British Guild of Travel Writers Silver Otter Tourism Award
1997 Garth Owen-Smith and Margaret Jacobsohn (IRDNC): Netherlands Knights of the Order of the Golden Ark.
1994 Garth Owen-Smith and Margaret Jacobsohn (IRDNC): United Nations’ Environmental Programme (UNEP) Global 500 Award
1993 Garth Owen-Smith and Margaret Jacobsohn (IRDNC): Goldman Environmental prize for Africa
1992 Garth Owen-Smith (IRDNC) named Conservationist of the Year by the Rhino and Elephant Foundation of southern Africa