NOWHERE IN AFRICA
Text Helge Denker
Photographs Olwen Evans
Text Helge Denker
Photographs Olwen Evans
P eople, places and wildlife. Africa’s drawcards. Wildlife usually comes first on the list: lions and leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffaloes. The ‘Big Five’, originally tallied as the animals most dangerous to early European hunters in Africa, are now the key wildlife attraction for tourists. Yet discerning travellers have long since realised that Africa’s real charm lies in its enchanting mix of spectacular landscapes, iconic cultures and charismatic wildlife. Nowhere in Africa can these be experienced better than in Namibia’s community conservation areas.
The Himba: proud, semi-nomadic cattle herders wandering desert landscapes in search of pasture. Twyfelfontein: one of the most stunning rock art sites in the world. The desert lions, near mythical, roaming from the Skeleton Coast to the escarpment. Contrast that with the floodplains of one of Africa’s mightiest rivers, the Zambezi; with large elephant herds along the Kwando River; with lush riverine vegetation concealing the secretive sitatunga; with the vibrant cultures of the Subiya and Fwe.
And among these and so many other marvellous sights a sprinkling of wonderful, unique lodges from which to explore them. These are not ordinary tourist lodges, but lodges that help facilitate a balance between the needs of rural Africans and wildlife outside national parks. They provide unique and authentic visitor experiences that generate vital returns for local communities, helping them to coexist with large and sometimes dangerous wildlife. This is conservation tourism in Namibia.
Namibia’s communal areas cover over 40 percent of the country. The land was set aside long ago for livelihood use by local communities, owned by the state but governed by local people through traditional structures. Communal conservancies have enabled communities to become the rightful beneficiaries of tourism and the sustainable use of natural resources in their areas. The conservancies are officially registered with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and now cover around one fifth of Namibia. They harbour some of our country’s greatest attractions.
Numerous great cultural products in community conservation areas make the traditions of local people accessible. Living museums, cultural villages, festivals and craft markets all promote Namibia’s often overlooked cultural heritage. The San and the Herero in the East, the many different communities of the Kavango and Zambezi regions, the Nama in the South and the Ovambo in the North.
The first joint-venture agreement between a local community and a lodge operator was signed at Torra Conservancy (at that time still known as the Ward 11 Residents’ Trust) in 1995. Today there are 37 operational lodges in community conservation areas that have written agreements with conservancies. The joint-venture lodge experience in Namibia is a true success of sustainable tourism – it changes the lives of visitors and local communities alike by providing great visitor experiences while benefitting conservation and community upliftment.
The stunning lodges bring travellers close to free-roaming wildlife and facilitate cultural exchange. Generated returns are shared with the custodians of the land – local people committed to conservation. The lodges provide vital employment and training as well as conservancy income to help with running costs and conservation activities. In the process, community conservation is renewing a sense of ownership over resources and is reinforcing a vital sense of responsibility. It is cultivating community cohesion and a pride in cultural heritage.
While the current focus of conservation tourism is largely on the northwest and the Zambezi Region, community conservation areas in the central north, the east and the south all have their own distinctive charm and will surely attract more and more visitors looking for unique adventures off the beaten track.
Eco-ethno-tourism. That is the dream envisaged by Namibia Exclusive when they created their four new joint-venture lodges, the first of which opened in August 2015. Situated in surreal landscapes the lodges are eco-friendly, the architecture blending beautifully into the natural surroundings. The placement of the lodges in these wild areas benefits local communities and encourages them to become part of the conservation efforts that are intrinsic to such a project. Communities receive a percentage of the net profit derived from accommodation, sales and activities generated by the larger tourism presence in the area. Namibia Exclusive strives to recruit and train 80% of lodge staff from the local community in order to support local development. To learn more about Namibia Exclusive’s new joint-venture projects or to book your stay at Sorris Sorris in Damaraland, Omatendeka in the Etendeka Valley, Sheya Shuushona on the northen border of Etosha or Xaudum Lodge in Khaudum National Park, visit www.namibia-exclusive.com.