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Namibia, Africa: Parallels in Conservation

By Lisa Fimiani


If someone had told me that I’d find all kinds of parallels between the environmental conservation efforts in southern Africa and what we are doing here at the Ballona Wetlands, I’m not sure I would have believed them. But a fifteen day trip to the country of Namibia made me a believer.


My trip started in the capital of Windhoek (pronounced “Vinhoak”), where many of the total population of 2.3 million people live. I was pleased by the signs everywhere encouraging recycling, and found the city to be modern and charming.


Namibia is a land of extremes, and the first leg of our safari took us from the comfort of city accommodations to a quaint guest farm in the Sesriem area at the edge of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world with some of the tallest sand dunes anywhere, more than 300 meters (about 1,000 feet) above sea level.












Everywhere I looked the scenery was breath-taking: the colors and textures of the sand, the sky, the grasses and the plants. All were were rich and starkly defined in the glow of morning light. I felt grounded, as if I was anchored to the most secure land mass in the world, and truth be told, I was. With an overall area of 49,768 km², the Namib-Naukluft is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. The most well-known area of the park, where we were, is Sossusvlei, the main visitor attraction in Namibia.


Namibia itself is the fifth largest country in Africa, as large as the states of Texas and Louisiana combined. Mining of diamonds and semi-precious stones, uranium, fishing, agriculture (livestock and meat products and crop farming), and tourism are the four top industries, in that order, with tourism steadily on the rise. Why? Because the land is so incredibly beautiful. and the Namibian government seems to have realized its greatest asset for long term profitability. I was struck by how many game farms we passed, most of which were turned into tourist destinations, where the only thing pointing at a lion or elephant or zebra would be the lens of a camera.


There were still the others, however – game reserves that had tall fences all around, much taller than the open reserves designated as park land, where hunters paid a steep price for the privilege of killing wild animals. Canned hunts, they were neither condoned nor encouraged by the government, merely tolerated. For the most part, even with the ever-present poaching threats of the largest concentration of Black Rhino in the world, and the other spectacular “big five” game animals (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo), Namibia treats its wildlife like the assets I hoped they would – a surprise to this fresh and naïve tourist from the states visiting the continent of Africa for the first time.


While watching herds of springbok and wildebeest, I thought of the annihilation of the American Buffalo in our country, brought to the edge of extinction without half the care and concern I found evident in Namibia over it’s precious animals, most of which roam freely over and through the country during migration. Not to say there were not issues.


My greatest lesson in conservation was visiting the Cheetah Conservation Fund headquarters outside of Otjiwarongo, 100,000 acres of property run by the non-profit organization as part of the Waterberg Nature Conservancy. I learned about the collaboration with local farmers, who were willing to try using specially trained Anatolian shepherd dogs to guard their cattle, goats and sheep, which would offer the balance necessary for wild cheetahs to live and thrive, feeding on wild game while sharing the same land with the farmers. Of course we found all this out later, but the first thing we saw as we approached the compound were four “ambassadors”, cheetah cubs, being led on a leash for their afternoon walk. One of the walkers turned out to be the organization’s founder, Dr. Laurie Marker.


Nothing prepares you for this of course! How often does one see a cheetah, up close, calmly looking at you? We were invited in to sit with the cheetahs as they smelled us and licked our hands, all the while purring so loudly that we couldn’t help but laugh – partly out of nervousness, which soon subsided as we realized these overgrown cats pose no threat and are feeling right at home among us humans.


Of course this is not the norm! The majority of the cheetahs housed by CCF are being rehabilitated to go back out in the wild, to populate areas where there are too few cheetahs. These four were found when their mother was killed, there was no chance of them being able to make it in the wild on their own. One of the greatest teaching tools Laurie Marker has is the role a captive cheetah plays in affecting audiences with their charm and unique qualities that are exclusive to the cheetah. No wonder the farmers are willing to find ways to coexist with the cheetahs. Education at CCF involves demystifying the stereotypes of cats in general, cheetahs in particular. CCF is also training locals on making goat cheese, which we sampled in abundance during lunch and dinner, and starting another business making bushbloks out of acacia scrub bush that tends to blind cheetahs with its thorns. This scrub brush becomes too thick when the ecosystem is out of balance from lack of browsing and grazing wild animals for cheetah to prey on.


Here were concepts close to my heart – the intricate connections between wildlife and habitat, the delicate balance that can so easily be thrown off, and what we all can do to help bring it back! For the fastest animal on earth, able to reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour, these sleek cats must be able to run unencumbered through habitat that does not put them physically in peril. I really enjoyed getting to know the staff at CCF, the majority of whom were local Namibians trained to implement these new and creative ideas on restoring balance to the ecosystem.










Go to the CCF website for more fascinating information: http://www.cheetah.org/


Etosha National Park was everything I had heard it was, a watering hole which attracted all kinds of animals, day and night. Since the moment we arrived, I’d been excitedly anticipating seeing my first wild elephant ever. When it happened, it felt time had slowed down, like everything was in slow-motion. We hadn’t even settled into our rooms, which were 20 feet away from the viewing area, when I heard someone say, “Here comes an elephant!”


I stood frozen and watched. Two elephants started walking towards the water hole from seemingly out of nowhere. I raised my camera to take pictures and had to pause to remember to start breathing again. My heart felt like it was swelling and filling up my throat with such admiration and awe, tears welling up in my eyes. Someone said something to me, and I found I could not speak. That was my moment. I felt one with these magnificent creatures. Some of my travel companions called it the “wow” moment. There were still many to come.





















Damaraland was almost magical. We visited some of the oldest petroglyphs known to man. The site had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I was so impressed with the great care our local guides took at instructing us on where to walk and what we could touch and not touch. Almost as incredible as the history of the area was the place we stayed for only one night, regrettably. Camp Kipwe, situated in the heart of the Twyfelfontein Conservancy, was an absolute marvel of architecture, giving one the feeling of being imbedded in rock, invited in by the gecko that greeted us on the side of our unique dome-shaped rooms with an outdoor bathroom and shower. It was pure enchantment.









The last part of the trip was the closest to going on what I imagined to be a true safari, in the oldest sense of the word. We were loaded up into 4×4 safari trucks, quite comfortable by modern standards, and off we went over rocky, hilly terrain that took us through river beds and up steep cliffs. No wonder they had bars to hang onto – this was the best roller-coaster ride I’d ever been on! Again, everywhere you looked the scenery was unbelievable. Our mission one day was to sneak up upon a black rhino and get photos. We soon realized that trying to find a rhino in country that goes on forever, set in the 450,000 hectares (1,700 miles) Palmwag Concession, was going to be like looking for needles in haystacks.


It took great skill and most of one day on the part of our local guides to find where a rhino was, one of only seventeen – ironically, the largest free-ranging population of Black Rhinoceros in Africa. As they say, the thrill of the “hunt” was almost as enjoyable as actually seeing one. Conservation in this camp took on a sense of urgency, since Black Rhinos are so endangered. Go to Wilderness Wildlife Trust and Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) for more information: http://savetherhinotrust.org/














Back in Windhoek, our trip was coming to an end. One of the last adventures we went on happened by chance. We got in to see the local National Museum of Namibia just before closing. There we met one of the Chief Display Officers, Antje Otto, who was delightful, showing us the latest exhibit and telling us about her challenges to keep the museum going. It was there that I saw the exhibit of the Nama rush-huts. So similar to our Tongva Native American “Ki”, except theirs was a traveling home befitting the nomadic life of their tribe, these huts had an uncanny resemblance to a Ki.


Both are made out of lightweight plant material, both made with biodegradable materials, both dome-shaped. It was very interesting to read how they were made. It was fascinating to learn about the different ethnic groups of Namibia, and some of my favorite experiences were with people we met along the way who made our trip so delightful. The Namibian accent was particularly endearing. For example, after I’d thank them for something they would respond by saying, “Pleah-shaah” (pleasure), spoken with a two-tone lilt and a smile that lit up their face from ear to ear.









I came home to Los Angeles with a new appreciation for the country of Namibia, particularly their efforts to conserve their priceless natural resources. It seemed everywhere I went there were programs for local Namibians to get involved in, from water conservation to animal protection. So many of the guides I met spoke of their love for their country. The stunning parade of animals and topographies will certainly last as precious memories throughout my lifetime. I could go on and on, but the following photos will speak for themselves. Needless to say, I was in a birder’s paradise, having identified 128 of the 620 species native to Namibia. My favorite by far is the Crimson-breasted Shrike.













Hopefully these photos will entice you to visit one of the most welcoming countries of the world. I would go back in a heartbeat, after all, there still is the Caprivi Region to see, where water buffalo and hippos roam. Suffice to say, I am content for now with having captured some of the most beautiful creatures on earth. Enjoy!


Click here to see even more photos on our Flickr page.
































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Comments

Comment from john carfora
Time October 13, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Lisa,

It looks like a terrific trip. Outstanding photos and narrative.

Comment from Sparky
Time October 13, 2011 at 7:40 PM

WOW! Thank you for sharing your marvelous photos and interesting trip. I visited Kenya and had a similar experience. We are truly blessed.

Comment from Garry George
Time October 13, 2011 at 7:43 PM

Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Welcome to my world.

Comment from Susan Castor
Time October 14, 2011 at 7:29 AM

Outstanding report and photos.

Comment from Michele
Time October 14, 2011 at 1:26 PM

This blog and your pictures are so wonderful!! This brings it all back (seems like so long ago!). Hope to see you in Nov when I come to LA. 🙂

Comment from Sherry
Time October 14, 2011 at 8:31 PM

Great photos! I felt like Thanks for sharing I felt like I was on the trip.

Comment from Norma
Time October 15, 2011 at 3:00 AM

Lisa, Mary shared this with me and I’m so glad she did. Absolutely outstanding narrative and photos. I want to go!!

Comment from Brian Hausner
Time October 15, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Lisa, What a great way to say hello, after not being in touch with each other for sometime……
This is awesome!!

Comment from Catherine
Time October 15, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Lisa, these photos and the story are just amazing. What an experience!

Comment from Regina Phelps
Time October 16, 2011 at 9:10 AM

Fabulous blog…great pics and wonderful writing…you go girl!!!!
😉

Comment from Sally
Time October 16, 2011 at 8:32 PM

Wow! How truly blessed you were to get to go. All the photos were beyond expectations. The birds and those 3 lined up zebras great camera work. Great reporting.

Comment from Emily Odza
Time October 17, 2011 at 10:51 AM

I’m so glad Kathy S shared this with me! Photos tell a great story and I’m going to read the blogging as well. I am amazed!

Comment from Diane Barretti
Time October 17, 2011 at 2:26 PM

Amazing story and photos, makes me want to go . . . thank you for sharing.

Comment from Susan Conti
Time October 18, 2011 at 2:35 PM

I am very jealous. So different than sitting front of a computer screen all day. Good works all.

Comment from Jenny Jones
Time October 19, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Awesome photos Lisa! Namibia is now at the top of my list. What an amazing country.

Comment from Matt Reidy
Time October 19, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Lisa, thank you for sending this, and for sharing the story of your amazing trip!

Comment from Mia
Time October 24, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Amazing!!

Comment from Ali Sheehey
Time October 24, 2011 at 3:42 PM

What a wonderful journey and narrative. Thank you for sharing your adventure!