Innovative environmental approaches – Getting there

Hunting in Namibia’s communal conservancies – A decade of wildlife utilisation
July 15, 2012
Integrated Park Management – Improving conservation and reducing poverty
July 15, 2012
Hunting in Namibia’s communal conservancies – A decade of wildlife utilisation
July 15, 2012
Integrated Park Management – Improving conservation and reducing poverty
July 15, 2012

by Dr Conrad Brain, environmental scientist and pilot

If an artist were to sit in front of a big blank canvas with only the outline of Namibia etched on it and were asked to paint the areas under conservation management in brown, he might think all it required would be a quick and easy sweep of the brush. He might not realise that he would actually need quite a bit of paint, in fact thirty-eight per cent of the canvas would need to be covered, and he would also need a variety of brushes – big, broad as well as very fine. 

The artist’s surprise would be complete when he grasped the geographic distribution of the brown areas. Every far-flung corner and large swaths in-between would need a touch of the brush. At this stage, if he were an intelligent artist, he would realise that it would be a lot easier to paint in the areas not actually under conservation management.

This canvas of Namibia represents a mindset of the Namibian people. Supporting government policies, it has evolved rather quickly and fortunately appears to be very infectious. It is something to boast about and to show to the world through those who arrive in the country under the banner of ecotourists or the enlightened. However, regardless of how our visitors arrive, the picture presented to them poses a problem – the utter vastness of the country and the logistics of getting to the swamplands, deserts, mountains, savannahs and people there who have the potential to benefit from tourism. But because problems don’t exist, only opportunities, the vastness translates rather well to an array of possibilities.

Treading lightly

The opportunity of getting to a destination offers an intriguing chance to those willing to take up the challenge, and that is to complement the fantastic conservation efforts encountered with an equally conservation and environmentally friendly approach to the journey itself. This too is a relatively new mindset amongst a concerned group. Innovative environmental approaches are already emerging. One of the most effective and environmentally friendly ways of accessing remote destinations is by air, especially if the air transport is tailored to form part of a larger environmental programme.

Communities in far-flung conservancies, areas that have seen a rebound of wildlife and biodiversity through local ownerships of resources coupled with concerted conservation activities, are correct in, at times, feeling geographically isolated. Linked by extremely rough roads with seemingly endless logistical lines, time, patience and good shock absorbers are needed to reach many of these areas.

So when a short stretch of runway can diminish that isolation, it is embraced. An aircraft swooping in with visitors, tourists and supplies, bringing income to communities directly and indirectly, is an integral part of the success of the whole conservation concept. By connecting the outside world with the wilderness and its resident communities that are actually responsible for a large part of the conservation success stories of Namibia, is to become a partner in the long-term, sustainable conservation of the area.

Environmentally concerned operations

Operating a fleet of aircraft in this sphere is a challenge in itself, but when the operation complements the environmental drive, it is a triumph. Sefofane Air Charters and Wilderness Safaris have demonstrated a concept where aircraft used in a circuit-type schedule can save close to a million litres of fuel over 12 months, due to fewer emissions, higher levels of efficiency and greater services in supporting community conservation. Moreover, when the flights themselves serve a monitoring and recording function while flying over vast conservation areas, the significance to the overall environmental drive is further enhanced.

When guests arrive in conservation areas, they have already contributed, through their observations, to their conservation. By lodging with a partner in conservation or community joint-venture tourism, long-term goals of community development and conservation are enhanced. So, with this kind of operation, it is not surprising that so much of Namibia is painted brown.

On the ground, further real steps are being implemented to merge community, tourist, wildlife and environment into unified conservation partners. A good example of this is the Abu-Huab Joint Environmental Ecosystem Management Project. In the Abu-Huab area a protocol now exists to bring an array of conservancies, communities, operators and tourists together for the overall benefit of the environment.

The benefits of the project include awareness and training to ensure that the ever-increasing numbers of self-drive visitors appreciate the sensitivity of the terrain and the wildlife. Members of the social and economic community are taking the lead in ensuring that the natural resources that benefit them all will be preserved for the future.

Namibia’s aviation industry is historically well known as a major contributing factor to tourism development in remote and otherwise nearly inaccessible areas. With community-based conservation, aviation is a component that will allow for growth without environmental compromise. Putting efficiency, environment and conservation at the heart of an operation will define its future success.

With tourists becoming more discerning and better informed, they will probably choose to travel with environmentally concerned operations that connect their souls with unspoilt wilderness and fully appreciate and conserve them when they are on the ground.

This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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