Private land conservation in Namibia

Developing tools to interpret the environment
July 26, 2012
Communal Area Conservancies in Namibia – a unique and successful initiative
July 26, 2012
Developing tools to interpret the environment
July 26, 2012
Communal Area Conservancies in Namibia – a unique and successful initiative
July 26, 2012
Private landholders in Namibia have played a significant role in the conservation of wildlife, resulting in several outstanding examples of conservation initiatives on privately-owned land. The largest of these is the NamibRand Nature Reserve, a vast area of over 180 000 ha situated south of Sesriem. Its creator and owner, Albi Brückner, defines his philosophy and details the initiative behind NamibRand, as does Manni Goldbeck of the Gondwana Cañon Park. Several lodge owners have also created private nature reserves on their land, focusing on the conservation of certain species of wildlife. Travel writer Willie Olivier details the Huab Private Nature Reserve, Fischer’s Pan Private Game Reserve and the activities of the AfriLeo Foundation on Farm Kaross.

At an international symposium on privately-owned nature reserves that took place in Hannover, Germany, following Expo 2000, local businessman Albi Brückner, creator of the Namib-Rand Nature Reserve, made the following observations in his address on the private initiative regarding wildlife conservation in Namibia:

namib rand adventure namibia

Namib-Rand. Photo:

“The fate of the wilderness of Africa will not be decided by the hands of the clock, heralding in a new century and a new millennium. It is up to mankind to make it a turning point in the natural history of the continent. The ground-swell of awareness that has erupted, particularly over the past decade, has brought to light the damage man has perpetrated in his headlong rush in the name of progress. However, it has also shown that man does not lack the knowledge and ability to stop the destruction, repair habitat and conserve the many species teetering on the brink of extinction.

“By the turn of the last century loss of habitat, disease and commercial hunting had virtually wiped out wildlife on the continent. Conservation laws had been passed too late, far too late for endangered species such as the quagga, to name but one. At the same time many animals were classed as vermin and rewards were offered to have them decimated. How much longer will it be before man really understands the vital part he plays in nature’s master plan?

“If Africa’s wildlife is to recover and survive for another millennium, we need to invest in its future by increasing the size of existing national parks and private reserve areas to encompass complete natural systems. Private enterprise has already made a significant departure in this direction. If this current trend continues, migratory species will once again be able to move north or south and east or west, following summer rainfall and grazing patterns. This frequently conflicts, as it has in the past, with demands for land for farming purposes, much of which is far too often unsuitable because of poor soil and haphazard rainfall patterns.

“The solution is to recognise that wilderness can support a major industry based on natural resources alone, and that jobs can be created from which many people can benefit. Economic growth is vital to conservation in Africa. This new approach will not only break down the barriers presented by man-made fences. It will also aid regional and national co-operation and development. Nature recovers rapidly. The right actions now will set off a series of chain reactions that will benefit all: the people, the animals, the birds, indeed, the entire world in which we live.

“If there is one lesson to be learnt from the past, it is that our planet will not wait another hundred years for mankind to act.”

NamibRand Namibia. Photo: Paul van Schalkwyk

NamibRand Namibia. Photo: Paul van Schalkwyk

NamibRand Nature Reserve

To the south-west of Namibia’s capital Windhoek, close to Sossusvlei, lies the NamibRand Nature Reserve, one hour’s flight by aircraft. To the west the Reserve shares a common border with the Namib-Naukluft Park, over a distance of nearly 100 km. The imposing Nubib mountain range forms a natural border to the east. Extending over nearly 180 000 ha, NamibRand is probably the largest private nature reserve in Southern Africa.

The particular attraction of NamibRand is the diversity of different desert landscapes found in one cohesive region. Virtually all facets of the Namib Desert are represented here. Expansive sand and gravel plains and endless stretches of grass savannah alternate with majestic mountain ranges and vegetated dune belts of deep-red sand. The variety of flora and fauna is as fascinating as the colour nuances of the landscape, which change continuously as the day progresses. This unique, ever-changing diversity cannot be captured in photographs or on film, nor can it be given justice in articles or guidebooks – it can only be experienced on the Reserve itself.

Before NamibRand became a private nature reserve it consisted of sheep farms, surveyed and allocated in the early fifties to ex-soldiers of World War II. Because of the low rainfall in the region, farming with domestic livestock soon proved to be futile. Due to bad farming practices, the environment deteriorated drastically, mainly through overgrazing. Today the scars of these farming efforts are still visible. The severe drought conditions of the early eighties made even the most persistent of desert farmers realise that commercial farming was not a viable proposition. Only one source of income remained – game. Thus the large herds of gemsbok, springbok and other animals that formerly roamed the area were decimated and the ecological balance became severely disturbed.

NamibRand. Photo: Tok Tokkie Trails.

NamibRand. Photo: Tok Tokkie Trails.

The birth of NamibRand

It was only on Albi Brückner’s farm Gorrasis that the fauna and flora were protected. He had bought the farm in 1984, because of the extraordinary range and beauty of its landscape. In 1988 he purchased the bordering farms Die Duine and Stellarine – and the idea of creating a private nature reserve was born. In the years that followed, more farms were acquired in the area, the objective being to consolidate all of them into one large conservation area.

Today’s area of some 180 000 ha is made up of 13 former commercial farms, owned by seven landowners. The visitor can once again admire nature in its original state, as animals and plants are back where they belong. Gemsbok, springbok, hartebeest, ostrich, zebra and leopard frequent the area, as well as smaller desert dwellers, such as the endemic golden mole, ground squirrels, geckos, snakes and tenebrionid beetles. An unexpectedly rich variety of birds is encountered in this dry region, with 120 different species having been identified over the past ten years

Granting of ecotourism concessions

To ensure the long-term, sustainable existence of the Reserve, substantial funds are needed. Since these cannot be generated from private means, exclusive safaris have been offered in the Reserve since 1984 to nature lovers from many different parts of the world. Guests are encouraged to admire the uniqueness of the environment, accompanied by trained rangers and field guides – on foot, by cross-country vehicle or from the sky in a hot-air balloon – placing as little strain as possible on the environment.

Guest beds in the Reserve are restricted to one bed per 2 000 ha, with a limit of 20 guest beds in any one location. There are currently five concessionaires conducting tourist operations in the Reserve for their own account, while paying a levy to the Reserve in the form of a percentage of their billings. These are NamibRand Safaris ( Wolwedans), Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge, Tok Tokkie Trails, the NamibRand Family Hideout and NamibSky Adventure Safaris (hot-air ballooning).

How the concessions work

As yet income from tourism is insufficient to meet the financial needs of the Reserve. A framework has, therefore, been created to ensure the future stability of the project, as carried by three organisational structures:

• The “NamibRand Nature Reserve Association”, consisting of the landowners;

• The NamibRand Conservation Foundation, which supports the envisaged “NamibRand Desert Awareness and Research Institute“; and

• Tourism Concessions, represented by independent safari operators, who hold concessions in the Reserve.

The NamibRand Nature Reserve Association represents the interests of the landowners, made up of individuals and a holding company. Potential investors may either acquire shares in the holding company or buy land bordering on these farms and incorporate them in the project, on condition that the investor accepts the NamibRand Constitution. Depending on the size of the incorporated land, the investor will have a vote to represent his/her interests.

The prime objective of these investments is the conservation of the Reserve, not its commercial utilisation.

Today the NamibRand Nature Reserve is financially sustainable. It is foreseen that anticipated profits will soon be paid out to the investors in the form of dividends, although this should not be an incentive for investing in the project. However, rising land prices and the upward trends in the tourism market, especially in respect of individual travel, ensure a safe and successful investment.

NamibRand Conservation Foundation

The NamibRand Conservation Foundation (NRCF) is an independent non-profit-making organisation, established during 1997 under the patronage of the Namibia Nature Foundation. The aim of the NRCF is the promotion of conservation and facilitation of research projects in the NamibRand Nature Reserve and the south-western Namib region. Education programmes for Namibians, tourists and particularly present and future decision-makers are envisaged as a priority. The hitherto largely unknown region will be explored from a desert awareness education and research institute within the Reserve, from where the newly acquired knowledge will be shared with scientists, the public and the authorities.

In this context the NRCF is seeking contact with national and international conservation organisations pursuing similar objectives. To facilitate its work, the NRCF has to rely on financial support provided by established organisations, and on private donations from conservation friends all over the world. In order to start the funding, the “ADOPT A FAIRY CIRCLE ON NAMIB-RAND NATURE RESERVE” concept was launched during January 1999. To find out more about the work of the NRCF, adopt a “Fairy Circle” or become a member, kindly contact us.

A Greater Namib Wilderness

  “Give back to nature

         what belongs to nature”

This is the credo of Manni Goldbeck, for many years an active player in the tourism industry and currently owner of two accommodation establishments in the south, Cañon Lodge and Cañon Roadhouse in the Fish River Canyon environs.

In redefining the term “Land-owner”, Manni quotes the perspective given to the concept by Kuki Gallman in her best-selling autobiographical account entitled “I dreamt of Africa”, in which she tells the story of her life on a Kenyan farm.

“Landowners” I spoke from my heart. So often I had thought about that very point. I don’t feel like a landowner. I cannot believe that we really own the land. It was there before us, and it will be there after we pass. I believe we can only take care of it, as well as possible, as trustees for our lifetime. It is for me a great privilege to be responsible for a chunk of Africa.

In his plea entitled “A Dream of a Greater Namib Wilderness” Manni argues that “landowners” should deem themselves fortunate because they have the opportunity to oversee land and live off the “interest” provided by the environment. This is a trend emanating from a new generation of landowners, better defined as land custodians, in the south-western regions of Namibia. Members of this group have realised that they cannot borrow from the environmental capital (as their predecessors did) without paying with a deficit on the environmental balance sheet.

They have further realised that they need to reinvest in the environment in order to live in harmony with nature. This can be achieved by bringing visitors and potential investors interested in wilderness into the area. This ultimately contributes to the welfare of the country, both economically and socially. More important, it changes the essence of land use and establishes a conservation ethic to protect the land.

Even if this new generation of land custodians, who are dispersed over the length and breadth of south-western Namibia, have no formal grouping, they are laying an all-important foundation to realise the “reconstruction” of south-western Namibia to its former wilderness state. They have discovered a new form of land use, namely sustainable tourism, and are investing financially to reduce the environmental deficit.

All of them, whether individuals or a group of individuals, a conservancy or a guest farm practising ecotourism, are working towards protecting their particular area with the objective of restoring it to what it was before the advent of commercial farming and other ramifications of colonialism. The ideal is that ultimately these various pockets of “restored” land will fall into place like a puzzle to form and protect a greater ecological system. Most of these parties are well aware that the damage caused by intensive and uncompromised “cheap” farming will require a great deal of reinvestment and dedication from several generations to come.

The ultimate dream of a Greater Namib Wilderness is an area with a minimum of fences in which former game migration routes have been reopened as far as possible, with the natural flora sufficiently recovered to allow the reintroduction of game species that once occurred there naturally.

Formation of the Gondwana Cañon Park

The Gondwana Cañon Park borders the eastern rim of the Fish River Canyon in Namibia’s “deep south”. The idea of establishing the park was born in 1996 when a small group of dedicated Namibians decided to preserve the 102 000 ha stretch of land, manage it as a nature park and open it to the general public. In earlier years this land was used for sheep farming, but was proved to be unsuitable for livestock farming, since it falls in a semi-desert area that receives less than 100 mm rainfall annually.

What started out as a small idealistic concept, has become a reality in a full-scale private park of approximately 100 000 ha. In a short period of four years, assisted by the good 1999/2000 rainy season, the flora and fauna in the area have recovered to a surprising degree. Existing fences have been removed and water points established for the game. Regular counts have established that healthy albeit small populations of kudu, gemsbok, springbok, ostrich, mountain zebra and a variety of smaller antelope are gradually relocating in the area. Even leopard have been sighted. Future plans for Gondwana include purchasing additional game to increase these numbers, and to reintroduce species endemic to the area but currently not present.

A substantial amount of the funding for the Gondwana Cañon Park is generated from the 5% bed levy paid by visitors to the Cañon Lodge and Cañon Roadhouse. These bed levies are transferred directly into the Gondwana Cañon Park Fund. Each guest staying at either of these two establishments, therefore, contributes to the principle of giving back to nature what belongs to nature.

Huab Private Nature Reserve

Situated in the upper reaches of the Huab River, the Huab Private Nature Reserve covers 8 060 ha of spectacular scenery. Since its inception in the early nineties, the Huab Conservation Trust has been quietly at work, restoring the land and creating a sanctuary for the area’s desert-dwelling elephants. This has been a slow process and although considerable progress has been made, the scars of many years of mismanagement are still clearly visible.

Says Jan van der Reep, one of the partners of Huab Private Reserve and a passionate conservationist: “When we bought Monte Carlo, there was barely a blade of grass in sight and not a single animal, as the game had been shot out to the last one. One of our principal aims is to establish a refuge for the Huab’s desert-dwelling elephants. Although they roam freely, their habitat needs protection from ever-expanding human activities.”

To prevent damage by elephants, the cement dams have been rebuilt with double walls and strengthened, while water outlets have been provided for animals to drink. In addition, windmills have been dismantled and replaced with submersible pumps and solar installations and all internal fences have been removed. Game numbers have increased steadily since the establishment of the reserve. Among the larger species to be seen are kudu, gemsbok and Hartmann’s mountain zebra, while klipspringer and a variety of smaller animals also occur. Ostrich and giraffe have been reintroduced, although the giraffe have since moved out. Further reintroduction of animals that formerly occurred in the area is planned.

To combat erosion of overgrazed areas, 20 cm-deep parallel trenches were dug to act as traps for wind and water-borne sand and grass seeds. The results have been encouraging and grass has begun to colonise these shallow traps. There is also an active programme to eradicate alien plants that thrive in the Huab River, among them wild tobacco and Datura species. The trees and plants are physically removed each year before they seed. The stone and thatched Huab Lodge blends in well with the surroundings, and since solar energy is used for electrical requirements, the night sounds are not drowned by a generator.

The Huab Conservation Fund is funded through voluntary contributions from guests to Huab Lodge.

Fischer’s Pan Private Game Reserve

Covering 7 000 ha, Fischer’s Pan Private Game Reserve lies next to Namibia’s flagship conservation area, the Etosha National Park. Formerly used for cattle ranching and hunting, the farm was bought in 1993 by four investors, who transformed into a sanctuary for wildlife to complement the small upmarket Etosha Aoba Lodge they were developing.

Internal fences were removed, permanent waterholes were established and today animals which used to flee when hearing a vehicle continue grazing or drinking peacefully. The policy of “live and let live” has also resulted in an increase in predators. The reserve is home to three resident leopard, hyaena and jackal, as well as a variety of smaller predators. Lion from neighbouring Etosha are occasional visitors, although on account of the dense bush, they are not often seen.

Since it is only the western boundary of Etosha that is gameproof fenced, animals can move around freely and numbers have been increasing steadily. Among the larger species commonly seen are giraffe, kudu, Burchell’s zebra, springbok and blue wildebeest. Although the Big Five are naturally absent, says one of the owners, Christine Ridge-Schnaufer, the reserve certainly has the Small Big Five: Lion ants, Leopard tortoises, Buffalo weavers, Elephant shrews and Rhinoceros beetles.

The lodge strives for self-sufficiency in its food requirements. Guests are offered home-made jams made from Eros plums or marula fruit, while omajova mushrooms are served in season. “Home-grown” meat is served as game paté or kudu steaks, or as roast beef from cattle reared biologically. There is also considerable emphasis on fresh vegetables and salads.

To reduce waste, packaging that can be recycled is used as much as possible and most beverages are purchased in returnable bottles. All non-combustible material such as wine bottles and tin cans are transported to Tsumeb for recycling, while metals and batteries are also removed and recycled.

The lodge is surrounded by a natural garden that requires no irrigation. This has the added advantage of reducing the number of insects. The small surface area of the pool and its setting amongst a clump of tall trees help reduce evaporation of its contents.

Afri-Leo Foundation on Farm Kaross

Three years after the Afri-Leo Foundation relocated two adult male lions and three captive-bred cubs from the Ekongoro Zoo at Rundu to Farm Kaross, the Afri-Leo Project was set to move into its second phase: the release of the three sub-adults into a 150 ha area of mopane bushveld.

The female and two male cubs were initially placed in a holding camp before being released into a 1-ha camp early in 1998. Funding for the second phase of the project was provided through a generous donation by a Swiss couple. Although it will not be possible to return these lions to the wild, it is hoped that they might start hunting small animals and birds. By joining a guided drive in a closed vehicle through the enclosure, guests to Kavita Lion Lodge will have the opportunity to view the lions and learn more about the work of the Foundation. 

The third phase of the project will begin once funding becomes available to fence off an area of approximately 4 000 ha to 6 000 ha for the sub-adults, which will hopefully be able to catch their own prey by this time, or at least supplement their diet. As designated funding becomes available, the other lions will be released into separate larger areas.

The Afri-Leo Foundation was established by Tammy and Uwe Hoth on Farm Kaross in February 1997. The Foundation has as its mission: The protection and conservation of wild and captive lion populations in Namibia, in co-operation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and non-governmental organisations, to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

One of its short-term objectives is the development of an Environmental Education Centre to increase awareness and understanding of environmental issues and to promote greater tolerance for lions outside protected areas. Another short-term objective is raising funds for lion research and monitoring programmes in central and western Etosha.

Medium and long-term objectives include the expansion and further development of the Environmental Education Centre, assisting in the Lion Monitoring Programme initiated by the MET and working towards greater tolerance of lions outside national parks and other protected areas.

This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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