Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) is a field-based, non-governmental organization and registered trust. It evolved out of a pioneering partnership with community leaders in the early 1980’s to end the massive commercial and subsistence poaching of black rhino, desert adapted elephant and other species then taking place in the Kunene Region of Namibia formerly known as Damaraland and Kaokoland.
The community game guard system – whereby local people were appointed by and responsible to their traditional leaders – was initiated in 1983. Their role was not just to catch poachers, but to stop illegal hunting – by conservation extension, monitoring wildlife and anti-poaching patrols in the areas where they lived. Although this community empowering approach went against the political climate of that time, it made a major contribution to the recovery of wildlife in Namibia’s northwest. The active participation of local people in conservation also nurtured a vision of wildlife becoming a valuable cultural, social and economic resource. In 1990, at the request of traditional leaders, IRDNC started a similar community-based program in the Caprivi Region.
At independence the new Namibian Government embraced the community-based conservation model to democratize discriminatory aspects of the conservation legislation. An intensive consultation process by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, with IRDNC and other partners, in five communal areas, gave communities who lived with wildlife the opportunity to have an input into a new policy. In 1996 communal area dwellers received the same legal rights as freehold farmers through conservancies.