We are extremely proud of our partnership with the community of the Torra Conservancy at Damaraland Camp and of our ongoing commitment to ecotourism in Namibia”, says Rob Moffett of Wilderness Safaris. “Our country’s unique model of conservation, community development and tourism is setting a global standard in the protection of the environment and wildlife, and in engaging with and empowering rural communities in the process.”
After independence in 1990, Namibia was the first African country to incorporate environmental protection into its constitution. The national government reinforced that commitment by giving communities the right to manage wildlife through communal conservancies. As a result, residents of conservancies could set up joint ventures with investors and travel businesses to operate lodges and tented camps, targeting the eco-travel market.
To date, 79 communal conservancies have been established, incorporating 19.5 percent of the country’s land. Over 40 joint-venture lodges and campsites are operating in partnership with conservancies, and more are in the works. Support organisations such as The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), Save The Rhino Trust and NACSO (The Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), have contributed to the success of the ground-breaking national policy.
Wilderness Safaris partnered with Torra Conservancy in 1996 to pioneer the joint venture concept with Damaraland Camp, and is engaged with similar ventures with a further four communal conservancies in the remote north-west of the country.
Torra Conservancy holds a 40% equity stake in Damaraland Camp and the democratically elected community body also receives a tourism levy for each guest visiting the camp. More than 95% of jobs at the camp are filled by community members, including lodge and guiding staff. Wilderness Safaris has been in the forefront of empowering local community members, including the manager of Damaraland Camp, Maggie Vries. She and other Wilderness managers have risen through the rank s to work in lodge and tourism management.
Nationwide, more than 1 000 jobs have been created through joint venture partnerships and it is estimated that each job supports a further nine family members. Direct revenue to conservancies from these partnerships is used to fund conservation activities, anti -poaching patrols, school programmes and other needs identified by communities.
The conservancies have made a commitment to conservation and developed innovative strategies to deal with human-wildlife conflict. These wildlife-friendly land uses are paying off – Namibia has increased its free-ranging lion population, as well as numbers of numerous other desert -adapted species such as springbok, oryx, giraffe and even Critically Endangered black rhino. This c ommunity-centred approach to sustainable land use has attracted delegations from 22 countries, including some struggling to save their tigers, to learn how it’s done. The overall philosophy in Namibia can be summed up in five words: “We will live with wildlife!”
Weather and Landscape
April was the last month to hope for rain here in the north -west of Namibia – and it has come and gone with no relief from the dry weather. All we had was an isolated rainstorm in the southern areas of the concession at the beginning of the month. This stimulated rapid grass growth, extensive flowering and fruiting of some bushes in this area. The rest of the area is dry, especially the lower valleys.
Wildlife Wildlife is quite dispersed at the moment because of the lack of rain. The one area that received a bit of rain in the south has attracted springbok, zebra and gemsbok in their hundreds. The most impressive sight must be the springbok filling the valleys, slopes and mountaintops in their hundreds. Giraffe have also been attracted to the new growth on the trees. Most of the zebra and springbok that we encountered had many young calves and fowls which was quite a treat.
Another highlight for the month was the presence of a c lan of hyaena on the southern side of camp during the darkness of night. The hyaena were chasing a dazzle of zebra. Unfortunately none of the guests got to witness the event as all guests in camp were in the northern side of the camp. However, some staff g ot to witness this. The next morning, guides headed out and found a zebra carcass which had been fed on extensively by the hyaena.
Conservation The Save the Rhino trackers have been out patrolling in the less -visited areas and our Chief Game Warden also did several patrols towards the northern parts of the concession.
The overpowering instinct of a mother’s love has yet again been demonstrated at Desert Rhino Camp recently. Imagine a mother breaking her back defending her offspring. Guide Nestor and the S RT trackers saw a rhino cow with a calf in the Uniab River. Both were limping. The three -month-old calf had a bite wound in her haunch. It seemed as if the cow and calf had been attacked by lions. Wilderness and SRT staff guarded the rhinos for two nights. Although lion tracks were seen among the rhino tracks at the first sighting, there was no sign of lions in the vicinity of the rhino for the following two nights. That could be an indication that the lions were driven off, injured or even killed by the rhino cow.
On the morning of the third day the cow’s injury had become progressively worse. She was not able to stand on her hind legs. She was dragging her hind quarters.
Dr Mark Jago, the state vet flew in from Okaukuejo. The decision was made to try and rescue the calf. It was darted, removed from her mother and taken to Camp where a small boma was constructed. The cow could not be saved. Close inspection showed no external lion wounds. A post mortem showed haemorrhaging around the lower spinal column. T he cow must have injured her back, fighting off the lions.
The calf was kept in the boma overnight. The lion bite on her haunch was very septic and treated by the vet. There she was taught to bottle -feed by Wilderness staff – some of us still have the scars to prove it. A lion male and some hyaena were attracted by the calf’s calls to its mother during the night, but they did not venture too close.
The next day a crate and trailer arrived from Etosha to take her away to proper care and holding facilities. She made the journey and lived for two days more. She drank milk and showed signs of recovery. Then tragically, she died. The post mortem showed an old fracture on her right front leg. It was her limp that probably attracted the lions in the first place. The fracture, the septic lion bite, the trauma of the attack and the eventual capture and translocation proved too much.
Although lions attacking rhino in the wild is a natural occurrence, the decision to rescue the calf was made because of the endangered nature of black rhino as a species. During the poaching incident over Christmas a black rhino calf was also unnecessarily lost. We thought this could partly make up for that loss.
Thank you to all DRC, SRT and MET staff who assisted with the operation.