If there was ever an animal that could have spawned the legend of the unicorn, it is Namibia’s magnificent Gemsbok antelope. It has two rapier-straight and devastatingly sharp horns, and viewed side-on in the setting Namib sun, it could be mistaken for the mythical creature itself.
Namibia, the Gemsbok is not in danger of becoming the stuff of legend. The
antelope is the southern African country’s national symbol, and its population
is thriving due to the fact that Namibia is one of the few countries in the
world that constitutionally enshrines its land and wildlife conservation values.
In fact, this poor, arid and sparsely populated land lays claim to one of the
world’s most successful wildlife conservation stories.
of vulnerable and endangered animals like desert elephants, cheetahs, black and
white rhinoceros, lions and endemic birds are stable or increasing, protected
both in national parks and community-managed private lands. Namibia bases its
brand of conservation on the principle of alleviating poverty through the sustainable
use of its wildlife resources. This means attracting visitors to see the animals,
involving locals in the necessary infrastructure, then investing profits back
into communities. Locals are employed as anti-poaching guards, and in some
places, carefully managed hunting is allowed. It is a win/win strategy for the environment
and local communities.
From Gemsbok to African wild dogs, visitors have the chance to spot some of Namibia’s
most characteristic wildlife and witness the country’s innovative conservation
measures first hand.
long horns, bay-coloured coat outlined in charcoal and elegant gait, the Gemsbok
is a striking national symbol. Able to live on little water and partial to wild
desert melons, it is ideally suited to Namibia’s desert landscapes (the country
is 44% desert or semi-desert). Though numbers fell during the Namibian War of Independence
(1966 to1988) and throughout the severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, the
population has since rebounded strongly. There are currently more than 200,000 Gemsbok,
with the largest proportion living on privately-owned farming land managed for conservation
by communities (although it is possible to spot herds almost anywhere outside of
Namibia’s urban areas). To photograph Gemsbok against a spectacular desert dune
backdrop, head to the Sossusvlei region of the Namib Naukluft National Park, in the
fastest land animal thrives in Namibia. The country is estimated to have about
a quarter of the world’s total cheetah population, the majority of which live on
privately-owned land conservancies. Public and private conservation bodies have
been working for two decades on rehabilitation and capture-and-release programs,
to re-integrate injured animals into the wild and help build populations. One
of the best places to spot cheetahs is on the Waterberg Plateau,
near Otjiwarongo in Namibia’s north. Here cheetah, leopard, buffalo, roan and
sable antelope and other endangered species roam in more than 400sqkm of national
park and adjacent private conservation land. Close to the park is the headquarters
of the Cheetah
Conservation Fund, where you can visit their education centre and get up
close to cheetahs that have not reintegrated into the wild.
after decades of war, people were desperate and poaching was lucrative. In
Namibia’s far northwest Kunene region (also known as Kaokoland), black rhinos
were almost extinct. Today, Kunene has the largest number of free-roaming black
rhino in the world -- the only rhino worldwide living on communally- and
traditionally-owned land without formal conservation status. Namibia created a
culture of good human-wildlife interactions by involving communities, employing
locals in anti-poaching patrols and generating income from rhino-related
tourism. Lodges like Palmwag
Lodge and Serra
Cafema offer varying degrees of luxury as well as trips to see the desert
rhino by vehicle or on guided walks.
is Namibia’s prime national park, one of seven national parks in the country. A
22,750sqkm wildlife sanctuary in the country’s north, it encompasses a vast,
shallow pan that attracts thousands of flamingos after heavy rains. There is also
a network of perennial waterholes that draw large herds of game from the arid
savannah grassland and thorn scrub. Etosha is home to 114 mammal species --
several of which are rare and endangered -- and 380 species of birds. The abundance of elephant at Etosha
(about 2,300) means sightings here are almost guaranteed; the best place to
spot them is at the permanent watering hole close to the Okaukuejo rest
camp. The rare black-faced impala is often viewed here too, as are herds of
Gemsbok, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and rhino. Some species have become so
abundant that Etosha now re-locates animals to other parts of Namibia.
African Wild Dog
African wild dogs are Namibia's most
endangered mammal species. Distinctive for their mottled coats and large ears,
these pack-living canines are elusive
and fast moving, ranging over an area of up to 3,000sqkm, and sometimes moving
50km in one day. The isolated northeast
of the country is home to an estimated 300 to 600 wild dogs, but only five
percent of that area is protected. Though sparsely populated, this part of
Namibia is also home to pastoralists of Namibia’s Herero tribe, resulting in negative
human-wildlife interaction as the dogs may attack livestock. NGO- and
government-run loss mitigation and educational programs are working intensively
in this area to protect the wild dog. New communal conservancies in the
Otjozondjupa and Omaheke regions on Namibia’s north eastern border with Botswana,
and also remote Khaudom
National Park on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, may become one of the last
strongholds of African wild dog – and judging by the success of the country’s national
park- and community-based conservation efforts, the endangered wild dog may be coming
back from the brink – in Namibia at least.
The article 'Caring for wildlife, Namibian-style' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.