They were not born in Namibia. But here these dynamic people share their Namibia and why they have gladly lost a small part of their hearts to this vast land …
Nominated as a World Heritage Site
Mary Seely, Board of Trustees: Gobabeb Research and Training Centre (director for 28 years); Associate of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (founder and director for 16 years) – shares what she discovered in Namibia
The smallest herbivorous lizard known inhabits the dunes in the Skeleton Coast Park. Year after year a team of scientists from many countries camped in the dunes amongst roaring afternoon winds and the foggy mornings of the Uniab River delta. Photographer friends with a microlight helped us spot likely places where Gerrhosaurus would spend its days beneath the sand near a !nara plant, with brief forays to nibble.
The world’s fastest beetle, a sand-swimming reptile-like mammal, fog-basking and fog-trench building beetles – all were to be found in the dunes on the south bank of the ephemeral Kuiseb River opposite my home at the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre. The comparative research potential was illustrated by the proximity of three species of adders: the horned adder on the plains, the puff adder in the river course and a side-winding adder in the dunes. And now this incredible Namib Sand Sea that I have come to know so well has been nominated as a World Heritage Site!
As a result of Namibia’s independence, the lessons learnt in this most arid part of the country could be brought to bear throughout the land where aridity was not so extreme but the principles remained the same for people attempting to eke out a living. Is there still any question why I was hooked from the outset?
Aside from the scenic splendour, rich wildlife, and wide-open spaces, Namibia is a place of amazing people – people with vision and grand desires for change!
Namibia’s independence in 1990 removed the shackles of apartheid, allowing new ideas and groundbreaking approaches to empower the country’s rural poor. For the first time conservation-related policies and legislation gave recognition to the importance of rural communities as stewards of wildlife.
Little did we realise how eagerly this revolutionary change would be embraced. From the embryonic establishment of four communal conservancies in 1998, we now have 76 communities managing and benefiting from their wildlife resources. Communal conservancies now cover almost 19% of Namibia’s land and encompass almost one eighth of the country’s population – conservation on a scale that is unheard of elsewhere!
The paradigm of conservation in Namibia is shifting like the grains of sands in our deserts. People are no longer viewing wildlife merely as meat to poach for the pot. Rather, wildlife is increasingly being seen as a valuable asset. This enables wildlife populations to rebound and prosper, which in turn sends out an exciting message to Africa and the world that conservation and development can be combined.
The satisfaction of working with such amazing people, such enthusiastic communities, and in such incredible settings is a reward in itself. As many before me have said: “Once Africa gets into your blood, you never want to leave…”.
Namibia and the many people who come and settle here are a testimony to this!
My Namibia is a family adventure
Keith Sproule, Tourism Business Advisor, World Wildlife Fund in Namibia, shares his family’s Namibian adventure
Our Namibian adventure began for real the night we told our 16-year-old high-school sophomore that we were moving to Africa. She immediately burst into tears, crying out, “But I wanted to go to a prom!”
Fast-forward three years and there’s a beautiful photo of our daughter at the matric farewell dance (equivalent of a prom) hanging on the refrigerator, resplendent in a blue evening gown, with a corsage and boyfriend, and smiles all round.
In many ways the photographs on our refrigerator tell the story of our Namibian adventure.
Our youngest was three when we moved here. On one of our first outings we went camping in an area well known for desert-adapted elephants. Hanging on the refrigerator is a photo of her sitting in the sand – inside the massive footprint of an elephant.
Our next in line is something of a fashion queen. Displayed on the fridge is a shot of her while on a four-day rafting trip on the Orange River, the border between Namibia and South Africa. Typical of the designer she was to become, she’s not paddling in the photo – she’s lying in the middle of the raft sunbathing!
Our middle son, who wants to be a pilot, spent six months convincing his mother to let him go skydiving. For his sixteenth birthday, he made a tandem jump from a height of 16 000 feet. There’s a great shot of him in his skydiving suit on the refrigerator.
Our second-oldest son became involved in skeet shooting in Namibia. When he signed up for a competition, we didn’t realise that it was a regional event in which six countries were represented. He came in second and during the awards ceremony, the American flag was raised. There’s a shot of him with the stars and stripes waving in the background.
From matric celebrations to elephants, with skeet shooting, river rafting and skydiving thrown in, Namibia has been a giant adventure for the entire family.
Share my Namibia
Dr Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation fund (CCF), shares her story
When I first came to Namibia in 1977, I came as a researcher. I was passionate about cheetahs and felt driven to find a way to secure a future for this endangered species. As home to about 20% of the world’s population of wild cheetahs, Namibia held the greatest potential for my work, and the country did not disappoint.
When I made up my mind to relocate to Namibia in 1990 and create the Cheetah Conservation Fund, I was drawn to the Waterberg Plateau, in part because of the vast array of wildlife. In addition to cheetah, there are caracal, eland, over 200 species of birds, and countless other animals that call this region home. The Waterberg Plateau has an almost mystical quality, rising 300 metres above the plains, offering the kind of rugged, unspoiled beauty you imagine when you dream of Africa. Sitting on a veranda in the evening enjoying a sunset, you feel as if you could touch the sky.
I soon discovered that Namibia and the Waterberg Plateau not only had extraordinary wildlife, but also extraordinary people. It was obvious from the outset that saving the cheetah required the participation of conservationists, farmers, landowners, administrators, volunteers, tourists and business owners alike. The people of the greater Waterberg area have shown an incredible willingness to collaborate, and the research, education, and land-use programmes we created have become a model that informs cheetah conservation efforts across Africa.
Namibia’s Waterberg has been an ideal location to pursue my passion. One of my greatest joys is sharing what we’ve learned about saving the cheetah with our many visitors who come to CCF. I invite you to share my Namibia – to watch our cheetahs run, meet our Cheetah Ambassadors, and stay onsite at The Babson House.
Finding Namibia many times over
Ginger Mauney, writer and film-maker, explains why she decided to settle in Namibia
I pulled in at Etosha’s Okaukuejo Rest Camp and headed for the tourist shop, swinging my legs over the camera mount on the door. As I climbed out of my Land Rover, a woman ran across the parking lot, screaming: “Where’s Knob Nose?”
Well, my nose is normal and has neither knobs nor warts, but I knew what she meant. Knob Nose is the matriarch of a breeding herd of elephants and was the star of our National Geographic film documentary, Giants of Etosha. The woman had seen the film and flown all the way from Canada to Namibia to find Knob Nose. She’d come to share my Namibia.
Over the years I’ve found my Namibia many times over, woven through the lives of remarkable people and extraordinary animals. I’ve found it in the dust of Etosha where elephant calls bounce off an inversion layer and travel for hundreds of miles; in Bushmanland, where I shared a dance so powerful that it healed a hunter’s aching heart; and when covering the work of researchers and community members who are passionately redefining conservation. Namibia amazes me.
Some stories smack you in the face, like the sting of the east wind, while others take longer to unfold. In the Kuiseb River environs, my home for four years, I witnessed the struggle of a troop of baboons destined for disaster. Knob Nose inspired me for two years in Etosha with her sensitivity and her wise choices on behalf of her herd. When she lost two of her calves to anthrax within a few short months, her profound mourning opened a window to a world so close to our own.
I laughed with the Canadian woman and pointed her eastwards to the sandveld near Namutoni, where she was bound to find Knob Nose with her herd. For this lovely woman, this would undoubtedly be the beginning of her own Namibia, which she would surely come to share.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2012 edition of Travel News Namibia magazine.
You can download the magazine here.