“A support system for the San”
by Bill Torbitt
Naankuse is currently managed by a partnership of four: Dr Rudie and wife Marlice van Vuuren, Chris Heunis and Jan Verburg. Marlice’s parents are the owners of the famous Harnas Wildlife Foundation, patronised by Angelina Jolie.
Apart from the conservation interest, Naankuse offers a very pleasant alternative to the usual city hotel pre-flight overnight. With a pair of binoculars you could see your plane arriving – the airport is visible at a comfortable distance on the horizon and you could be there within a few minutes.
The décor of the main dining/reception area is an interesting blend of traditional African and modern materials – glass, steel and aluminium, with a grey/silver overall motif.
The food we were served – a variety of grilled meat and home-made sausages, a spread of assorted roast vegetables to please the vegetarians, and plenty of fresh fruit – was a refreshing change from the standard ‘lodge’ dinner.
There is an exclusive group of only six chalet units, unusually designed by architect Dirk Heunissen, each featuring a tall soaring archway on the front façade, a high interior roof, and a rear that is mostly floor-to-ceiling plate glass, which gives you the opportunity at night to stargaze without the inconvenience of having to leave your bed.
The overall colour scheme is grey and silver again, and the most intriguing features are the ‘curtain’ lights, the ‘invisible drain’ washbasin (don’t drop the soap) and the sunken bath in the centre of the room, imparting a feeling of slightly Roman decadence (but again, be careful if you get up in the middle of the night).
You would be wasting an opportunity though, if you used Naankuse simply as an overnight spot, good though it is. You must see something of the conservation effort – the animals, ranging from cheetahs to orphaned baby baboons, being rehabilitated, and kept in as near natural surroundings as possible – and have a chat with the multinational group of volunteers who make all this possible.
The baboons are of course ‘characters’. When we visited there was one that had escaped and ran amok, grabbing all the raw eggs he could find as a breakfast supplement, and had not been recaptured by the time we left. Perhaps this happens every morning.
The resort’s wildlife sanctuary provides a safe home for orphaned and injured African wildlife including cheetahs, leopards, baboons, caracals and wild dogs.
The aim is to rehabilitate and release as many of the animals as possible back to the wild, and only those that wouldn’t survive remain at the sanctuary.
The carnivore conservation programme assists many farmers to catch big cats on their farms but who thankfully, instead of shooting them, bring them to Naankuse.
Efforts are made to find safe releasing sites to return these carnivores back to the wild, and track them using radio collars to learn more about their movements and behaviour after release. Funds are being raised for temporary holding camps to house the wild leopard and cheetah before they are released back into nature.
Visitors will note that most staff members are San people.
One of the key aims is to improve the lives of these marginalised people through employment, health care, education and improved living conditions. This includes the Lifeline Clinic that provides free primary health care to the San people in the remote region of Epukiro. Funds are urgently needed to cover the medicines and running costs for this vital service. No government support at all is received for these activities.
As mentioned, the day-to-day work is done by the volunteers – an engaging and exciting programme. Those interested can volunteer from any country, for any time from two weeks to three months on a variety of projects. You can find out more at www.volunteersnamibia.com.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘09/Jan ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.