A paradise for game and hikers
by Sven-Eric Kanzler
Visitors to the Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia reap a double reward these days.
Such a variety of species in Namibia’s deep south may come as a surprise to some. But there is a very simple explanation: east of the Fish River Canyon lies the Gondwana Cañon Park where game species which used to be endemic to the region have been re-introduced.
Ever since the private nature reserve was established in 1995 and stock farming was abandoned, the numbers of game have risen dramatically.
In 1997 it was estimated that 500 springbok, 40 gemsbok, 30 ostrich, 30 kudu and 20 mountain zebra lived in the area.
The latest game count in mid-April had this result: some 5 000 springbok, 540 gemsbok, 490 ostrich, 700 kudu and 290 mountain zebra.
In addition there are about 90 red hartebeest, 36 Burchell’s zebra and 33 blue wildebeest. These species are still small in numbers because they were released in the area only recently.
But they, too, have adjusted very well: on their regular patrol drives park wardens Rachel and Danie Brand have discovered several calves in each of the groups. Considering its success so far, the game programme of Gondwana Cañon Park is set to continue.
The larger the variety of species the more stable the ecological system. Therefore it is planned to also re-introduce giraffe and eland. Both species used to be endemic to the area.
During the 19th century hunters wiped out or drastically diminished most of the game in southern Namibia. Livestock was kept at the canyon for roughly 100 years, even though the land was hardly suitable for stock farming; average rainfall is just 100 mm per year. This often resulted in overgrazing.
But when Namibia gained independence in 1990 and tourism increased, the opportunity presented itself to turn farmland into a nature reserve and use it for hospitality purposes.
Soon after stock farming ended, the land started to recover, grasses and shrubs spread out again, and the game multiplied. Two park wardens and five rangers regularly monitor the condition of plants and animals, maintain the water pumps, control exterior fences and take action against poachers.
Nature conservation is financed with income generated by the accommodation facilities and activities. Guests have a choice of four establishments: Cañon Lodge (mainly for individual travellers), Cañon Village (for groups), Cañon Roadhouse (with camping site; for individual travellers) and Cañon Mountain Camp (self-catering).
None is further than 25 km from the canyon’s main lookout point. Activities include trips to the canyon, nature drives in the park, short hikes and horseback excursions.
In early January the north-western part of the park was extended by 14 000 ha and is now joined to the northern reaches of the Fish River Canyon. Hikers can explore the wilderness area on tours of several days – on their own, with a guide or even with mules.
With its plateaus, terraces and gorges, this is an area made for hiking. Routes for mountain bikers, guided tours for all-wheel drives and roads and resting spots for self-drives are in the pipeline.
But nature conservation always remains the priority: accommodation and activities are limited to 10 per cent of the total area of the 126 000-ha (1 260-km2) park. This leaves enough space for the game to move about unhindered and multiply – so that hopefully in future even more animals will be seen on both sides of the road.
This article appeared in the June/July ‘09 edition of Travel News Namibia.