Life on a table recipe #182 – Broccoli and feta soupMay 10, 2017
A tourism reverieMay 11, 2017
Text Ginger Mauney
A long the dirt roads that wind their way through the Namib Desert, there are subtle signs of change. These signs read “No Fences.” They indicate areas where fences have been taken down to allow for the free movement of wildlife and the integration of land back to its natural whole.
The significance of these signs is so self-evident that we are forced to pause and recognize that it hasn’t always been this way. There were obstacles, barriers to movement, limits to cohesion that had to be forcibly overcome.
These signs, their message and their effectiveness, are as understated and important as the man behind them, the late J.A. (Albi) Brückner.
An astute businessman and a keen conservationist, who served on the Board of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) and the Chairman of the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), Albi’s connection to the Namib Desert has become part of desert folklore.
In 1984 he purchased the Farm Gorassis for the price of a Volkswagen Beetle. The land was overgrazed, sheep farming throughout the south was in a decline and wildlife had been shot out, so where others saw the chance to sell and get out, Albi saw the opportunity to stake a claim not only to the land, but also to the future.
He purchased another farm and then another, and by the mid-1990s, he had established his vision for a private nature reserve where fences would be removed, water points restored and wildlife would return to the land that it is so well adapted to inhabit. Local and international investors were inspired to purchase and connect more farms into the mosaic that formed NamibRand Nature Reserve.
For Albi, life was always about tearing down boundaries. This desire may have been ingrained in him when he was a child, growing up in war-torn Prussia where he learned to be both firm and open-minded.
14 August 1930 – 08 December 2016
In his teens Albi returned to Namibia, the country of his birth. Prior to Namibia’s independence he was among a group of Namibian businessmen who met with Sam Nujoma, then the leader of the opposition resistance party, SWAPO. Afterwards, some members of the business community rejected Albi and his efforts to understand Nujoma, but for him the meeting was another way of tearing down fences.
When he was 60 years old, Albi’s commitment to the environment culminated in this boldest move yet, the purchase of 100,000 hectares of land adjoining NamibRand.
“This put him under enormous financial pressure,” says Stephan Brückner, Albi’s youngest son and the driving force behind Wolwedans, a series of high value, low impact tourism lodges on NamibRand. “But it was never about the money. It was always about the land, about leaving a legacy for future generations.”
The colours of the desert and the sheer sense of space always captivated Albi. Whenever he got the chance, he left Windhoek to explore NamibRand, visiting every corner of the property and often returning to the Farm Gorassis where it all began.
“I believe that my father wanted to inspire people to do more, to give more, whether it was to conservation or socially. He believed in growing old with a purpose,” Stephan says.
For more than 30 years that purpose was NamibRand. By combining farms to re-establish the integrity of an eco-system and using sustainable tourism to pay for the long-term preservation of the land, NamibRand became an international model for private sector conservation of large landscapes and for its contribution of the unique and fragile Pro-Namib ecosystem.
“My father’s biggest hope for the future was that NamibRand would continue as is, that through our tourism model the land would be sustainable and that greed would not interfere. NamibRand has a sound constitution and structure, so he left knowing that it is in good hands for generations to come,” says Stephan Brückner.
NamibRand was Albi’s inspiration and his solace. When his wife of 55 years passed away, he found peace in the desert, and now they lie side by side in a fairy circle, the perfect place for one who gave so much to conserve the space, the integrity and the mystery of the desert.
WHAT FOLLOWED HIS VISION:
With a generosity of space and spirit, the late Albi Brückner’s vision for NamibRand inspired new initiatives that support conservation, our visceral need for wild places and the future of our planet. They include:
Tourism concessions – NamibRand is an internationally renowned model for using low-impact, high-quality ecotourism to support conservation. Tourism concessions pay a daily, per-bed fee to the reserve, generating funds that enable NamibRand to be financially self-sustaining.
The vast space is dotted with a selection of unique accommodation options and activities with guaranteed privacy and respect for the environment. They include the Wolwedans Collection (Wolwedans Dunes Lodge, Mountain View Suite, Boulders Safari Camp, Dune Camp and Private Camp), andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, Tok Tokkie Trails Namibia and the NamibRand Family Hideout.
Adopt a Fairy Circle – For those wishing to share in the mystery of the Namib Desert, Wolwedans has come up with the innovative ‘adopt-a-fairy-circle’ concept, which encourages nature lovers to ‘adopt’ one of the thousands of fairy circles that dot the landscape.
One hundred percent of the funds collected from the adopt-a-fairy-circle programme go to the NamibRand Conservation Foundation (NRCF), which supports conservation and environmental education projects on the reserve.
The International Dark Sky Programme – The magic of the Namib is everywhere and it shines most brightly at night, when the Milky Way expands and the Southern Cross appears in the night sky.
Recognizing the importance of the dark sky to animal behaviour and the delight of its guests, NamibRand instituted a light management programme that reduced the number of exterior lights, shielded the few remaining lights and undertakes a light audit each year. On 24 May 2012, NamibRand was recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the first of its kind in Africa and the first to be given a Gold Tier award as one of the darkest places on earth.
Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) – Located in the southern part of NamibRand Nature Reserve, the NaDEET Centre is an example of sustainability and environmental education in action. Since its founding in 2003, NaDEET has provided more than 10,000 children and adult Namibian participants with the opportunity to learn first-hand about sustainable living, biodiversity and the balance between humans and the environment.
Namibian Institute of Culinary Education (NICE) – Recognising that growth in the tourism industry in Namibia and the expectations of discerning guests need to be aligned, nice and the Wolwedans Desert Academy work together on a joint finishing and training programme for chefs that exposes trainees to both lodge and city based hospitality and restaurant operations, while providing a balance of theoretical and practical exposure to ensure that all graduates are ‘employment ready’ at the end of the programme of their choice.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Autumn 2017 issue.