Getting there – facing challenges in conservation

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Text Dr Conrad Brain – Environmental scientist and pilot | Pictures Paul van Schalkwyk

IF AN ARTIST WERE TO SIT IN FRONT OF A BIG BLANK CANVAS WITH ONLY THE OUTLINE OF NAMIBIA ETCHED ON IT AND WAS ASKED TO PAINT THE AREAS UNDER CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT IN BROWN, HE MIGHT THINK ALL IT REQUIRED WAS 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.

T he 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.

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. Amongst 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 which 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.

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. Westair offers specially modified aircraft that are capable of carrying the required equipment for a wide range of aerial survey operations. In addition to several geophysical surveys Westair has also conducted aerial patrols to inspect and control illegal fishing operations off the Angolan coastline as well as several other anti –poaching patrols across Namibia. Wilderness Safari­s has also 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.
Namibia’s aviation industry is historically well known as a major contributing factor for 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 was first published in the Flamingo June 2010 issue.

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Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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