London to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Nairobi, Nairobi to Ethiopia, Ethiopia to Namibia. In total around 16 hours of travel not including layovers.
Namibia is our first destination of our 14-month journey for many reasons. One, this is a country that has found ways to live not only amongst the wildlife but with it. Two, this is one of the only countries in the world that has written conservation in its constitution. Three, there are many problems regarding the wildlife such as poaching and many animals are endangered, some are nearly extinct, but despite these problems there is a lot being done here to protect wildlife and their habitat.
Namibia is in the southern part of Africa bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. It’s neighbors are Angola, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. Namibia only recently got its independence in 1990, after decades of rule under South Africa. Namibia got its name from the Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world, estimated at 55-80 million years old. It stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers along the Atlantic coast of Southern Africa. There are approximately 13 different tribes in Namibia.
Namibia is one of the only countries in the world to specifically address habitat conservation and protection of natural resources in their constitution. In the Namibian constitution, Article 95 states, “The State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting international policies aimed at the following: maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity of Namibia, and utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.” One of the ways in which this is addressed is by integrating conservation into the school system, school children are taught conservation at every grade level.
We have spent the last week in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We have been researching, exploring Windhoek, and working. We met up with World Wildlife Fund (WWF for short). We walked to WWF’s Namibian headquarters located in Windhoek, and talked to Chris Weaver and Steve Felton. Chris is the director of the program in Namibia and funnily enough is also from Colorado, our home base. We talked to him about what WWF is doing in Namibia and how it works with the wildlife and the communities. He told us that WWF is not actually working with the wildlife in Namibia directly but they are working with the civil society and infrastructure. They are teaching communities how to protect wildlife in and outside of parks and helping to set up conservancies, which give communities a source of income and create incentives to protect wildlife. If the wildlife is benefiting them then they will see a reason to protect it, and become additional resources against poachers.
The next day we went back to WWF but this time to meet with Michelle who is in charge of the wildlife crime research. We asked her about poaching and what is being done to protect the animals in Namibia. We asked her about what she does and the ways it benefits Namibia’s wildlife. She told us that in Namibia wildlife crime is not seen as a crime and so they are working with government to get stiffer penalties for wildlife crime. “It’s not about protecting animals because you can just put a fence around them and put them in a cage if you wanted to protect the animal, it’s about protecting species and their habitat.” So the best ways to protect species is to give ownership to the communities that live with the wildlife and to make sure that you have enough rangers on patrol to report as eyes and ears. In a place like Etosha National Park you have a lot of poaching simply because of the environment, it is so vast and very hostile. The park is protected but it is 20,000 square km. It makes it very difficult for rangers to patrol so much space. For example last year, 80 rhinos were killed in Etosha and only 3 or 4 were killed in smaller conservancies.
Lots is to learn in the weeks ahead. We are leaving for 6 days on the northern remote Skeleton Coast tomorrow to learn about this unique ecosystem and hopefully see desert adapted lions, rhinos, elephants, and giraffes.
Favorite animals from the WWF staff:
Chris – wild dogs
Steve – insects
Michelle – leopard