Life Skills From the Camel-Thorn TreeJuly 17, 2018
Mika Shapwanale and the Strength of the Human SpiritJuly 17, 2018
Text and Photographs Conrad Brain
In my mind, the future of conservation and wildlife survival in Namibia lies in effective partnerships and a fusing of skills, talents, expertise and experience. Sometimes unlikely partnerships produce unexpected results. If the diverse range of characters mentioned in the following events can achieve so much in such a short time, Namibia could cement its reputation as a wildlife haven and a retreat for the human soul.
Conservationists and biologists are usually, through the nature of their work, people who work in isolation – especially those that are field based. Communications between individuals or even organisations may be limited to formal information exchanged via publications, workshops or social media. Events that unite multiple people, structures and organisations in a personal and interactive manner, a sort of one-on-one interaction in the desert, swamp, ocean, savannah or wherever they might be working, are rare.
Last year an announcement was made that was to change all that. Westair Aviation had donated a Cessna 182, through the Namibia Chamber of Environment (NCE) and Welwitschia Insurance, which was designated for the exclusive use of conservation.
Two factors immediately struck home on learning of this: It was an extremely generous and selfless gesture from Westair, Welwitschia and NCE, but much more than that, the opportunities to make use of this “gift” seemed as vast as the Namibian horizon and as timely as our recent rains.
Details were provided by NCE on procedures to follow in order to access the use of the V5-IIM aircraft. Like the directors of this far-sighted organisation, they are direct, hassle free and precise.
With close to ten thousand flying hours, I knew I would soon be adding to this total. I was right, and though the reason for my flying is singular – conservation – the uses of V5-IIM have been extremely varied.
TRENDSETTING OPERATION NUMBER ONE – ZAMBEZI
This was the first operation of the plane where I had the honour of becoming part of what was probably the trendsetter in terms of adopting a conservation collaborative approach. It was an aerial survey of the Zambezi Region wetlands and floodplains.
After twelve days of flying, a comprehensive total survey of the Okavango, Kwando, Linyanti, Chobe and Zambezi rivers and their floodplains produced results that will significantly add to the history of prior surveys of that region. In fact, every survey conducted adds exponentially to the value of all previous surveys as wildlife trends and population demography emerge and develop through the data.
From the onset and throughout the planning and execution of the survey, there was a complete openness across a broad range of participants. NACSO requested and headed the survey, while the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Wilderness Safaris, NCE and Westair seemed unusual partners initially, but together a formidable team was created.
“HOLIDAY” IN THE AIR ABOVE DAMARALAND AND WESTERN ETOSHA
Very soon after the Zambezi survey another request was made that would involve the exact opposite terrain – Damaraland and western Etosha. Coordinated by Save The Rhino Trust Namibia and the MET, our holiday was spent in the air, helping to protect Namibia’s black rhinos. With support from Westair and NCE for the plane, and additional support from Wilderness Safaris and Journeys Namibia, the SRT, MET and I worked with the Namibian Police Special Field Force and the Namibian Defence Force to provide aerial surveillance and monitoring of the black rhino home range areas in western Namibia over the Christmas and New Year period. Again, a diverse and unusual team achieved results above expectation.
V5-IIM TO THE RESCUE
While some operations can be planned down to the minute, others, due to the nature of wildlife work, are as unpredictable as the animals themselves. In the western Hoanib River area of the Skeleton Coast, a cheetah known as “Mama-cheetah” had apparently fallen and broken her two front legs. This cheetah is of particular significance because she is the most westerly located cheetah that we know of in the desert, and by monitoring her we are gleaning invaluable data on species survival in the desert.
The Desert Lion Conservation Project asked for help and via the AfriCat Foundation and Wilderness Safaris’ Hoanib Camp, the V5-IIM was on the way again. The plan was to immobilise and move the cheetah to AfriCat’s clinic where she could be assessed, treated and allowed to recover before returning her to her home in the Hoanib as soon as possible.
The aircraft arrived fully equipped to move the cheetah but on inspection and gathering the history of the case, another scenario emerged. Mama-cheetah had just weaned a cub, missed two kills and had fallen off a river embankment. Her two front legs were swollen but didn’t appear to be fractured. Being a veterinarian myself, I assessed the case as most likely a metabolic condition from calcium deficiency and infection.
We decided to treat the animal on site rather than expose her to the stress of a translocation and all that goes along with that. We were right. After two months of field medication the cheetah recovered and returned to a normal cheetah life in the desert, hunting successfully and surviving. All of us were ecstatic. For two weeks. That was when, at a waterhole in the desert known as Auses, a leopard killed Mama-cheetah.
TRACKERS ON THE GROUND, WITH EYES IN THE SKY
Northwest Namibia was by now no stranger to the V5-IIM, and another diverse task was on the horizon. In a highly efficient operation, with a team whose expertise is unsurpassable, a major rhino protection and de-horning procedure has just been completed. The team players were again diverse, and just as effective. Spearheaded by MET and SRT, the operation included highly skilled trackers on the ground plus the aircraft and two helicopters above. In the most extreme terrain imaginable we hopefully gave the rhino population a future chance and a breathing space for survival.
In my mind, the future of conservation and wildlife survival in Namibia lies in effective partnerships and a fusing of skills, talents, expertise and experience. Sometimes unlikely partnerships produce unexpected results. If the diverse range of characters mentioned in these events can achieve so much in such a short time, Namibia could cement its reputation as a wildlife haven and a retreat for the human soul.
This article was published in the Winter 2018 edition of Travel News Namibia.