Kaoko, ko or ok – by Joh Henschel
The same land which the 19th century explorer Charles John Andersson described as uncouth, frightfully desolate and infernal was recently more appropriately described by Garth Owen-Smith as ‘Arid Eden’, a shining example of good conservation in Africa: the Kaokoveld.
As every Namib toktokkie knows, the Kaokoveld is an outstanding place. Its myriads of nooks and crannies across mountains, valleys and plains constitute superb niches for Toktokkies and Co. Not to speak of its unspeakably vista-rich landscapes with horizons upon horizons, which dwarf the concept: awesome.
It encompasses extreme contrasts, rock and dust, fractures and interconnections, crags and flat plains, glaring brightness and mellow pastel, punctuated with pockets of diehard vegetation and areas seemingly as bare as Kojak’s top.
This thirstland is definitely not for the feeble, though several extraordinary oases give respite. The waters of the perennial Kunene River are, of course, unmatchable, but here and there springs feed narrow wetlands, laden with quenching water and an array of aquatic creatures.
Toktokkie has heard rumours that there are also impressive populations of desert elephants, giraffe, lions, rhinos, zebras, gemsbok, springbok and dikdik.
Their populations have seesawed, and are, thank goodness, back up to healthy numbers, where they will hopefully remain. The dark ages when wildlife populations nearly hit bottom zero as a result of relentless hunting by careless comers and goers were overcome through a Renaissance in conservation.
This built on and recast the relationship between the resident people – particularly Himba and Damara-speaking communities – and big game. Next to their mainstay of livelihood, cattle and goats, resident people now treasure wildlife and the landscape integrity as sustainable resources, including their touristic values.
Difficulty of accessibility to outsiders has been the hallmark of the Kaokoveld until now. Humble, tough, determined people traveling on foot or donkey-carts, or the not-so-humble traveling in superbly-equipped four-by-fours or small aircraft, venture across the rugged terrain.
This trickle of travellers has helped conservation efforts, both actively and passively: actively, through the residents, NGOs, conservationists and researchers; passively, by limiting it to mostly those who come with appreciation of and commitment to nature.
This status-quo entails finely balancing many different factors. Development can proceed at a pace suitable for both people and nature – a micro-cosmos of sustainable development. But wait, haven’t we heard talk of a big dam at Epupa, a major harbour at Cape Fria or thereabouts, of massive mines right in the heart of the Kaokoveld? Suddenly new cities, industries, highways and other infrastructure would spring up where none are now. The hasty pace of mega-business would leave scant time to adjust the pace of development so as to sustain the Kaokoveld’s real values: its people, landscapes and nature. How to prepare for this case?
Zophosis moralesi finds that Namibia can be justly proud to have succeeded in conserving the Kaokoveld while preparing it for current realities, and hopes that this may continue to build on the area’s own conditions, so that development does not render the Kaoko KO, but OK.
Toktok Talkie is a popular series written by Joh Henschel – to connect for more, join Joh’s Toktok Talkie mailing list by emailing him at email@example.com