By Danica Shaw
Private initiatives are playing an increasingly important role in the world of conservation. In Namibia this is perhaps nowhere truer than at the NamibRand Nature Reserve, probably the largest private conservation area in Southern Africa.
Established to help protect and conserve the unique ecology and wildlife found in the pre-Namib, the NamibRand Nature Reserve extends over an area of 172 200 hectares. Virtually all facets of the Namib Desert are represented here – sand, gravel plains and stretches of savannah alternate with mountain ranges and vegetated dune belts. Sharing a 100-kilometre border with the Namib-Naukluft Park in the west and bordering the imposing Nubib Mountains in the east, the reserve plays a critical role in facilitating seasonal migratory wildlife routes and protecting the area’s stunning biodiversity.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve originated in 1992 as the dream of J A (Albi) Brückner to extend desert frontiers by integrating a large number of former livestock farms and developing a wildlife sanctuary. Mr Brückner’s vision began soon after purchasing the farm, Gorassis, in 1984. To date, thirteen former livestock farms have been rehabilitated into a single continuous natural habitat. Recognising the importance of wilderness areas, the NamibRand Nature Reserve has set aside more than 15% of its total area as the wilderness section of the reserve.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve is a non-profit private nature reserve. All land-owners belonging to the reserve have signed agreements and adopted a constitution that sets aside the land for conservation – now and in the future.
Planning for the future
The aims of the NamibRand Nature Reserve are multifold:
• to conserve and protect the sensitive and fragile environment and its rich biodiversity for the benefit of future generations;
• to create a nature reserve with a healthy and functioning ecosystem, providing a sanctuary for flora and fauna and facilitating seasonal migratory routes in partnership with neighbours (national parks, and so on);
• to promote ecologically sustainable utilisation through high-quality level tourism products and other projects; and
• to achieve a commercially viable operation to ensure continuance and financial independence.
Innovative approaches to resource management ensure that this critical area is effectively conserved. The reserve maintains a conservation policy of minimal interference with constant monitoring, implemented through an environmental management plan.
A new monitoring system has been introduced that includes population census methods. A road count is conducted bi–annually to monitor game populations. This method has been specially adapted for use on the NamibRand Nature Reserve from the well-known census technique developed by the Natural Resource Working Group, a joint venture between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the World Wildlife Fund and the Namibia Nature Foundation. The 2005 game census indicated that there were 7 400 gemsbok and 14 000 springbok on the reserve. These figures may seem high, but are appropriate when taken in the context of the total area of the reserve.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve supports the sustainable utilisation of its resources through high-quality, low-impact tourism including accommodation, photographic safaris, walking trails, and hot-air ballooning. The reserve also supports NaDEET (the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust), an environmental education and sustainable living centre. In addition, live game is captured and sold on a sustainable basis.
The reserve is an example of alternative land-use and has had very positive social impacts. Conservation and tourism provide jobs for a larger number of people than could be employed in the present-day agricultural field. Today, mainly tourism concessionaires employ more than 100 people on the reserve. As employees pay income tax and lodges pay Value Added Tax, substantially more income is generated from this land-use than from any other economic activity in the surrounding area.
Important to bear in mind are the third-party industries that are supported by conservation and tourism. Examples include contracts with local businesses to offer services such as provision of firewood, laundry, vehicle maintenance, provision of supplies, and construction.
Research conducted on the reserve is aimed at benefiting the management of the reserve directly and contributing to the national scientific knowledge base. Over the past two years, researchers have conducted studies on fairy circles, the ecology and social behaviour of the Namib golden mole and a long-term project on the social behaviour of ground squirrels. In addition, an archaeological dig was conducted as part of a long-term regional study.
The reserve recently established the NamibRand Desert Research and Awareness Centre. This Centre will provide support and guidance for local and international researchers and assist research focusing on management issues. It is envisaged that the Centre will initially function as a field base, providing comfortable but simple accommodation. Once it has proved itself, its scope can potentially be extended to include interpretive and awareness-raising programmes. The awareness programme would target decision and policy makers and other audiences, highlighting the importance of conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources, while the interpretive component could ultimately become a tourist attraction (as an interpretive centre with displays open to public viewing).
The reserve has certain priority research goals, consisting of key research topics, immediately providing better understanding and management practices (such as carrying capacity, vegetation survey, reptile and amphibian species lists, et cetera). Research on these topics will be encouraged and receive priority attention, as well as some kind of direct financial support through the centre.
The centre is also seeking strategic partner-ships with local and international institutions. An agreement will soon be finalised with the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre. This partnership will be mutually beneficial – providing alternative or com-parative research opportunities for researchers from Gobabeb and ensuring access to technical support as the Namib-Rand centre becomes established.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve is a model for private conservation in Southern Africa as it demonstrates holistic biodiversity conservation balanced with financial sustainability. Low-impact, high-quality ecotourism is a means towards sustaining our conservation efforts through park fees. Five tourism concessions have been awarded by the reserve and these pay a daily, per-bed fee to the reserve, generating funds that enable it to be financially self-sustaining.
Although the daily management of the reserve is adequately funded through tourism, special projects require additional funding. To help fund such projects, the reserve has established the NamibRand Conservation Foundation. This independent organisation raises funds through initiatives such as the Adopt-a-Fairy-Circle Project. The foundation has already provided the Research and Awareness Centre and the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) with significant funding and hopes continue this support, as well as identify new projects.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve looks forward to the future, forging new relationships and continuing to conserve a unique piece of Namibia for future generations.
This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.